I don’t know about you, but anytime I hear a dog training product described as “revolutionary,” I get worried. And for good reason. Have you heard about the new “revolutionary way” to walk your dog? It’s called SimpleLeash, and it is guaranteed to work on “dogs of all sizes and temperaments.”
What’s the revolutionary idea? Your dog gets a shock if he pulls on the leash. Ah, but it’s not called a shock. I couldn’t find the word shock anywhere on their website. No, no shocks here, just a “harmless correction stimulus,” that intensifies the harder your dog pulls. There is simply nothing for the owner to do, the collar automatically does it all! Thus, the SimpleLeash. “You literally don’t do a thing except hold the end of the leash.”
Well, maybe one more thing, like scrap up the puddle flattened on the sidewalk, the one that used to be your dog, and carry it home repeating “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” over and over again, as if it would help.
Speaking of sorry, I apologize for being so blunt. But oh dear, oh dear, will there ever be an end to people making money off of inhumane training methods? Here are some of the things a dog could learn from this collar:
1) Walks are dangerous. I will do all in my power to pee in the back bedroom and never go out again.
2) Every time I pull toward another dog I am injured. Using my doggy brain and able as I am to associate 2 things together, it is obvious, even to knucklehead here, that other dogs are dangerous. I’d better start growling and barking at them to keep them away.
3) Ooops! I tried to pull toward the hedge to poop in a good place and got shocked. Pooping bad. Okay, I’ll hold it as long as I can. She can walk me for an hour, but by golly, I’m holding it in if it kills me.
On their website, the owners of the business explain that they are dog lovers, ones with some labs (based on the photo) who could not be trained through “professional training, treat training, clickers, choke collars, those collars with spiky things… and the leader that goes over the nose.” Wow. I’ll grant that teaching a dog to walk politely on a leash is harder than things like teaching a sit or a lie down, but my goodness, those must have been remarkably difficult dogs. After working with these virtually impossible dogs, one owner one paired up with a brother-in-law and came up with SimpleLEASH.
Could it ever work to teach a dog not to pull on a leash by shocking her when she does? Sure. Of course. Sometimes. You can stop children from mouthing back by slapping them on the face too, but that’s not where the story ends. Stopping a particular behavior with force, especially one as primal as a shock, usually has a raft of side effects that aren’t so pretty (see above to name a few). This is why it’s a good idea to talk to professional trainers and behaviorists before one promotes a product that can have serious side effects. And why it’s a bit dodgy to say that one “firmly believes in positive reinforcement training” and offer a collar that would give a dog a high level shock for bolting away from you in fear if a car backfired. It also helps, if you are going to refer to Pavlov on your website, that you understand Pavlov’s greatest accomplishment was discovering that the conditioned stimulus (the bell that signals food is coming, or in this case the sound that says a shock is coming) gets the SAME reaction as if the food did come, or the collar did produce a shock.
I just hope that people new to dogs aren’t overwhelmed by the seduction of this “Simple” and “Unbelievable” and “Brilliant” device. It’s a shock collar, and one that can deliver its highest level shock when a dog is terrified of something, under attack by another dog, intent on peeing on the right instead of the left of the light post because that’s where any dog would want to pee but their owner can’t smell anything so has no clue why it’s so important…. and on, and on.
Here are three things we need to teach dogs what we want when they are on a leash. Yes, some dogs are harder than others, but really… it’s not rocket science.
TRAINING: Check out my Teaching a Beginning Heel video to teach a dog to stay by your side. It’s the top video on the page I’ve linked to. Also, see The Puppy Primer for getting a young dog started, and Family Dog Training for step-by-step exercises to teach a dog to walk beside you on a leash. Does it take some time and some skill. Yup, of course it does. It takes time and some skill to learn to drive your new car, to figure out how to program your DVR and to learn how to talk to Aunt Sally without bringing up the horrible things she said about Uncle Paul that last Christmas. Just do it. If you like being with your dog and you learn the basics, it’s fun. Really fun. You did get a dog to enjoy doing things together, yes?
DEVICES: I’m the first to agree that it takes a while to teach a young dog especially to not pull on a leash. No one walks a young horse through a crowded stable yard with the expectation that he’ll follow along quietly without a halter on while you’re doing your other training. That’s why I used a Sensation Harness on Willie when he was younger when I was walking him in town or to the vet’s. It’s one of the body harnesses that attach in the front — my favorite tool for controlling a dog while you teach him to stay by your side (and walk at the undoubtedly boring-as-death pace of an adult human on a walk.) Another good brand to consider is the Easy Walker by Premier. Some brands fit some dogs better than others, you’ll just have to see what works best for you. These harnesses work very well for small and medium dogs, but if you have an especially large or strong dog, you might consider going to a head collar, like a Gentle Leader or a Snoot Loop.
YOUR HEAD AND YOUR HEART: You can’t teach a dog to walk by your side without engaging these. Your head needs to know that walking side-by-side isn’t something dogs do naturally. Just because us primates do it doesn’t mean our ‘best friends’ understand the concept, or want to play along once they do. Your heart needs to know that your dog is a good dog, really he is, and he is just being a dog if he tries to pull to sniff where the squirrel just peed. He doesn’t need to be hurt and scared just because he wants to sniff something, does he?
AND YOU? What are your tips for people with dogs who pull? With new dog owners with enthusiastic puppies who haul them across the lawn to the neighbor.. the one who hates dogs?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Rain! Not much here, but still, I now have faith that it can rain, and that it might sometime again in the future. We actually got very little here, only a half an inch, while friends 6 miles away in one direction got an inch, others the same distance in another direction got 2 and a half. Go figure. It’s going to be brutally hot and humid this weekend though, so Willie and I are going to take advantage of a slight cooling off today and go up the hill and work sheep. Wheeee! We’ve done it so little I barely remember his whistles. (I actually went to the car to remind myself how to whistle his signals at the trial on Sunday. All of a sudden I felt like, “Wait! What does it feel like to whistle Come Bye?” (Which means go clockwise around the sheep in herding speak.) Barbie, get ready, here we come.
And more good news: no watering necessary today for the first day in… how long? Don’t know, I’ve lost count. I’ve mostly watered the trees and my perennials, it’s really been a kind of a triage operation. Here’s my primary flower garden that I have kept up with watering. It’s starting to fade, but still colorful and brings me so much happiness. The grass right around it is bountiful, the grass farther out is the color of potato chips. The botanists say that much of the grass that is brown isn’t just dormant, it’s might actually be dead. I don’t care so much about the lawn, but I am truly worried about my two acre pasture up the hill. It’s convex (with a hill in the middle and tends to be pretty dry anyway), but only time will tell if our little bit of rain came soon enough.
And here’s Calico, finishing a stretch when I woke her up from a nap: