The impetus for this topic came from an article I sent out on Facebook on how to behave around a service dog. The article made many good points about respecting the space around a working service dog and his/her human, but I didn’t notice that it came with a photograph of a dog wearing a prong collar. Many people commented on the content of the article, but several also called me out for sending around a photograph of a service dog wearing a prong collar.
After initially being abashed abut not noticing the dog’s collar, I realized that this created an opportunity to have a dialogue about the state of dog collars in 2017. Our family dog, Fudge, had the same collar worn by all the dogs in the neighborhood–leather, buckle fastener. I’m sure she would have pulled us around like a wagon if we’d ever taken her on a leash walk, but I don’t remember that happening. She must have been leashed for her annual trip to the vet, but that was only once a year. Otherwise, we opened the door in the morning and let her out. She met up with the rest of her neighborhood community during the day for occasional walks with the gang, but otherwise stayed close to home. (Of course, I would never do this now, but see a post from 2012 if you’re interested in a discussion about dogs and autonomy.)
Fast forward ten plus years, when I was 19 or 20, and my first husband Doug and I decided to buy a Saint Bernard with wedding present money (intended for engraved silver, sent by my Houston aunt). We named him Cosby. (Yes, after that Cosby, whose vinyl comedy albums were the funniest thing we’d ever heard. Sigh.) I enrolled him in training classes outside of North Hollywood, CA, where we moved for Doug to break into television. I remember the first class as if it had been yesterday. We arrived with the prescribed “training collar,” and a five-foot leash. We were instructed to say “sit” like a drill sergeant, and then pop the leash if the dog didn’t comply. This didn’t go well with a young Basenji who was also in the class. In a matter of minutes the instructor had the dog in the center of the class, jerking the leash harder and harder because the dog wasn’t sitting as required. (How the dog knew that sitting was expected is still beyond me.) Still burned into my brain is the image of the dog eventually attacking the instructor, who ended up hanging the dog in mid air, the collar getting tighter and tighter as time went on. The instructor screamed SIT! SIT! SIT! while the dog growled, and snarled and somehow managed, amazingly, to move up the leash and attack the man who appeared to be trying to kill him.
I don’t know what eventually happened. My wise-beyond-his-years Saint Bernard watched this for a minute, then turned around and lay down facing away from the horror. I took one look at him and said “You’re right, Cos, this is awful.” We left and never returned. (FYI, if I saw that happening now I would intervene and call the police.)
Fast forward to the 1980’s, when I was in graduate school in Madison, WI, studying hard but also committed to becoming a dog trainer. I didn’t have my own dog, but I borrowed a friend’s husky and we enrolled ourselves in what was, at that time, the only game in town. Nobody hung a dog, but there was a lot of leash popping going on. Every dog was required to wear a choke collar. If the owner was having trouble controlling the dog with that device, the instructors had plenty of prong collars they could try. Prong collars were considered the “be all and end all” in controlling a dog. That was then. This is now.
But here we are in 2017, and prong collars are still being used. It should be clear that I’m not a fan. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The reasons not to use a prong collars are many: 1) They use “positive punishment” (positive does not mean good here!) to suppress behavior, which is associated with an increase in behavior problems [Herron et al Appl An Beh Sci 2009], an increase in aggression, and can diminish the trust between dog and owner, 2) they don’t teach the dog what you do want, and 3) they can cause physical damage to the neck, including to the sensitive thyroid gland, the spine, and the muscles of the neck. If you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a good article in Whole Dog Journal about this issue.
End of story? Well, no. Because several people wrote in on Facebook defending prong collars, explaining that they were the only way they could control their dog. This is a legitimate concern. It’s all very well to dismiss someone’s concerns about a dog pulling them around, but the fact is, the results can be serious. I write in The Education of Will about a woman whose dog-dog reactive Saint Bernard badly injured her shoulder while lunging toward another dog. People with service dogs often have limited physical ability to control a dog, and can be horribly injured if a dog breaks training and lunges forward. Imagine how vulnerable you would feel if you have a large dog, and truly felt you had no other choice than a prong collar.
Which brings me to the “collars I have loved part”. I’d like to initiate a discussion about the best ways to walk with a dog who is not yet trained to move through space like a primate (walking shoulder to shoulder while strolling with a friend), and walks like a dog (reacting to the environment in real time). Yes, of course, training is important, and if I were queen, all dogs would be walked with fixed nylon or leather collars and a set of great training sessions under their belt, uh… collar. But that’s simply not realistic for everyone, all the time. So what are the alternatives?
My favorite way to control most otherwise out-of-control dogs aren’t collars at all, they are front-attachment body harnesses. The brands I know the best are the Sense-ation Harness, and the Easy Walk harness, but there are a lot of other brands out there. What’s critical is that the attachment is in the front; an attachment at the top of the dog’s back allows a dog to haul you around like a wagon attached to a Clydesdale.
However, I’ve had a few clients whose dogs were so strong, and desire to lunge so great, that head collars were safer than a body harness. I remember when they first came out, Gentle Leaders being the leaders in the field. Dr. R. K. Anderson, one of the dearest men in the history of the world, and Ruth Foster co-invented the collar as an improvement on “choke” collars. And, indeed they were. What a wonderful improvement. Other head collars that are good, and still available, are Halti’s, as well as Snoot Loops, created by PhD animal behaviorist Peter Borchelt. I used head collars a lot when they first came out, but the fact is that many dogs dislike having something on their head. One has to be careful too, since the misuse of a head collar can injure a dog. Dr. Sophia Yin wrote a great article on how to use head collars safely.
That said, there are a gazillion brands out there. I’d love to hear what you have found most helpful with your own or your client’s dogs. Let’s have a conversation about what works, and remember to be compassionate to dog owners who don’t know that they have any options beyond prong collars. By the way, here’s a brief but interesting article about the history of dog collars. If you have time you might want to check it out.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Snow. Ice. Rain. Sleet. Cold. Warm. Colder. Warmer.
You get the drift. Right now we’ve had temps in the 40’s F, which is ridiculous for February. Just about all the snow is melted, and we’re left with nasty looking piles of dirty snow and the beginnings of serious mud. I talked to someone early last week during the snowstorm on the east coast and told them I was jealous. They were not amused.
But melting does create some lovely shapes. Here’s snow/ice falling off the barn roof on a warm and sunny day.
Here’s the color red the house:
glauber ribeiro says
Thank you for the history of collars link, that was very interesting.
I too used a prong collar. I always hated it, and only used it because every vet assured me it was the most humane way. I don’t want to ever use one again.
I took in a rescue dog a few years ago – he was young, very strong and weighed about 80 lbs. I had trouble controlling him on a leash, so I bought a Halti (which everyone said was great and would make it easy to walk him). I practiced around the yard for a few days before we went out and I thought he was doing really well. When I did take him out, we were walking up the road and he saw the neighbour’s dog. He took off towards the dog (fortunately, I didn’t lose my grip on his leash because he was a scrapper with other male dogs) and it pulled me face first down onto the pavement. One cracked cheekbone and a black eye later, I put the Halti away and never used it again.
My dogs both use flat buckle collars now but when Finna came to us her collar was pretty well poisoned. If I tried to touch it she’d snap at me so there was no way we could clip on a leash. We used a front clip harness for a couple of years while we worked on desensitizing the collar. She loved her harness so much it was dangerous to try to put it on her. She loved it so much that as soon as she saw it she’d try to leap into it, literally leap into it. I always found it aggravating since it takes me a minute or two to untangle the thing and get it properly oriented all while 60 lbs of excited dog is trying to leap into it. I finally got so anytime I was planning to take her on a walk or to training I’d sneak into the bathroom with it and then come out with it held so she could easily dive into it. Once her head was in it she’d stand patiently while I’d buckle it and attach the leash but that initial getting it reading and over her head was an adventure.
To desensitize her collar she wore it continually and I’d touch it click and treat, then when that wasn’t a big deal I’d hold it for a second, click and treat, hold it longer click and treat, tug it gently one way or the other click and treat. It took probably a year of going slowly going through these steps before she wasn’t concerned about her collar being handled. Today I can play the collar grab game where I randomly shout “collar grab” grab her collar and pull her toward me for treats and/or attention. She actually turns to make it easy for me to reach her collar because this is a wonderfully fun game. I figure it also makes her safer because if I ever do need to grab her collar in an emergency it’s not going to be a scary thing it will be a fun familiar game.
We walk with a flat buckle collar most of the time. I occasionally use a harness. We have an all-nylon, chain-free martingale collar that we used sometimes for Maddie if we had occasion to be near a busy road; she was an expert collar-slipper and this was done for safety reasons, not to prevent pulling.
I would love to say “never use a prong collar” but I think the answer to that is different for a 180-pound man walking a 40-pound dog than it might be for a 95-pound woman walking a 150-pound Mastiff. Having been charged once or twice by leashed dogs who outweighed their owners, I have in real-time wished some people were using a bit more equipment. SAFETY should be the number one priority. That usually means a collar capable of damaging the dog is off-limits, unless (in my mind) there is some reasonable risk that the inadequately collared dog might do serious damage to someone else. Training is the answer but it takes time, and in the meantime dogs need to go out. And depending on the dog, training may lessen but never completely eliminate a problem; a big dog with a high prey-drive who sees little dogs as prey may never be more than 90% safe around little dogs. If the owner can’t physically hold the dog, it should always be walked in something that helps the owner overcome the dog’s weight advantage. At least, that’s how I see it.
Oh, I remember those pop-the-collar days well from our first few dogs…Our Bullmastiff is wonderful on leash with her front-loop harness (Freedom No-pull, a misleading name) except if anything interesting is happening. Sigh. Unfortunately we have zero access to any trainers who could help us, but we manage. Head halters are a real problem for snub-nosed breeds, although we did try one – she would bloody her muzzle in an attempt to remove it, and we were concerned about how it rubbed under her eyes anyway. Her breeder’s recommendation? Prong collar or choke collar. Nope. We manage to get her a good off-leash walk every day and that seems to keep us all happy.
Vicki in Michigan says
One time I was leash-walking my corgi on a flat, buckled collar. She went on the other side of a tree, and stood looking at me. I stood still, and said to her “Figure it out.” She looked at me another moment, then turned around, backed out of the collar, and came and sat by me.
Umm. Yes. Well. Not *exactly* what I’d had in mind, but it certainly solved the “leash around the tree” problem…. 🙂 🙂 🙂
That was the last time I walked a dog in a buckled collar. I used slip collars. Not for punishment, but for confinement. I was afraid a dog would vacate the collar, and maybe I’d lose the dog. (My dogs all weighed significantly less than I, so basic control was not an issue.)
I was concerned about buckling a collar tightly enough that the dog couldn’t breathe comfortably. Is it actually trivial to buckle a collar just right so the dog CANNOT slip the collar, but can still breathe comfortably?
We live in town; the dogs need to be reliably confined. Cars. Cars. More cars……
What about martingale collars? I never tried one, but always meant to…..
I had never even heard of prong collars until I read about them on the internet – they may have existed in the UK, but certainly were not common. Choke chains on big dogs were very common when I was young, though now most people use a heavy rope slip lead or a halter. By the time I started taking my own dogs to training classes about 11 years ago, most classes insisted on a flat collar (or harness if more appropriate). My own dogs are very easy, and it was training a papillon puppy that really brought home to me the need for methodsother than yank and shove. I had bought a highly recommended training book that advocated collar pops, but specified that the pop HAD to come from the side, while acknowledging that with a small dog this meant being practically flat on the floor… Fortunately I eventually found other, more up to date sources of advice, but I wish I had started out knowing better.
I admit to being very uneasy about prong collars. Their proponents emphasise how safe they are “when used correctly” (I can think of any number of extremely dangerous things of which that can be said), that they are not a punishment because the dog can “choose” to avoid the pinch, that they have tested them on their arms and the collars are not really even very uncomfortable (so how do they change the dog’s behaviour?), that their dogs love the prong collar and show it by their excitement on seeing it (predictor of a walk), etc, etc. I am very far from convinced – and was particularly concerned to hear them being advocated to sharpen up an already well trained dog’s responses in competitive obedience training… On the other hand I don’t know many dogs that enjoy wearing a Halti or other head collar, either.
Kathryn Larson says
I foster dogs a large city animal shelter. Bullies predominate their population and they are my favorite so that’s what I bring home. Pulling tends to be a MAJOR problem with these guys when I first bring them home from the shelter. Running (away) too. I currently have one 65 lb pittie mix who has a bite on record and a tendency to snap if overstimulated. He is overcoming these issues (with careful socialization and training) but I have to be ultra careful to ensure that he doesn’t get loose. I double collar with a martingale and e collar (as a training tool i.e.. “leave it” when he sees another dog) and to control off leash (his recall and near are good) when we ride bikes at a rural field. The other fosters I always double leash with a martingale and various harnesses. Some work better on different dogs. I’ve tried a front leader and if I have a fearful or running dog I’ve had them pull out of the front leader in a flash. I am 115 lbs and even a 40 lb locomotive pittie can pull me down if she sees a squirrel or cat on a walk and since my fosters are city dogs and I live in the country that’s not unusual:)
Equipment is just a tool to use while training the dog. Collars, leashes, harnesses, head collars, are all equipment tools in my toolbox. What is not in my toolbox is a shock collar. I prefer to train with no leash, and with food and praise as reward. But, as many have stated, my dogs and I need regular walks and when a giant breed dog is well over 100lbs at 7 to 9 months of age, and training is still a work in progress, I’ll temporarily use what I have to for safety. IMO, head collars (halti, gentle leader, etc) have as much a risk, if not more for injuring the neck than a properly fitted and used prong collar. (although I do use them, just NOT for control against pulling).
But, I consider that either head collar or prong collar to be temporary tools until training completely sinks in. For walking more than one giant dog, the dog in training (service and competition dog in training) will wear both a martingale and micro or small-prong collar. Yes, you read correctly, a giant breed can use a micro or small prong as I want the minimum reminder necessary for the training that is taking place. I know the routes I walk and where the potential “trouble” spots are. That way I can walk with the leash on the martingale collar and add in the prong attachment only for those sections.
I can’t wait to eliminate it completely, but until then, my and his safety is paramount. I’ve taken way too many headers into the ground with severe injury to not be careful.
Then again, just last night I saw an instructor struggling with a young rottie in a poorly fitting prong that kept coming undone (no other collar on the dog) and when I tried to help using a slip at the end of the leash and had the rottie responding beautifully, she dismissed what I did and put him in a regular prong (in my mind unnecessary).
You know what’s funny, I too for much of my competition career used slip chains (choke chains), but I just realized that I haven’t bothered with them for years and years now. I dislike plain buckle collars for leash walking too. Too many slip over the dogs head or cause undue pressure on the front of the trachea. I like the martingale best when properly fitted. Even distribution of pressure, but limited so it won’t choke the dog.
For the casual pet owner that just doesn’t want the dog to pull and won’t commit to training, then I recommend one of the good harnesses.
Lane Fisher says
We not only need to teach dog owners to use gear kindly and appropriately, but we need to invite them to develop a habit of using their own bodies wisely.
When I first was learning yoga, I thought The Mountain pose was the silliest thing ever–just standing in balance and calling it yoga! Now I ask my students to stand in that pose and feel how centered and stable their bodies are. Then lift and extend the right arm, the way most people unthinkingly do when they have a lively dog on leash. You can feel a huge shift out of center. Add a pulling dog to put your back at a slight forward pitch, and you’re now at such a physical disadvantage that one of my husband’s dachshunds can drag you down our driveway.
Keep the body erect, engage the core muscles, and hold the leash close to the torso, and a dog is far less likely to abuse your body. Now, about that collar…
I feel like I’ve gone thru just about every harness out their trying to find the perfect and balance. I used to use a freedom harness I loved the velvet under the legs and the rear clip vs. front clip option. After Lily injured her shoulder I was learning that front clip harnesses might change the way a dog distributes their weight. I’m eager to see more research about this. I have different harnesses for different activities now but I’ve switched to a ruff wear for every day walks and jogs. I’m grateful Lily seems content by my side in the harness with a rear clip that doesn’t place extra pressure on her shoulders. For nosework and therapy dog we use a comfortflex, a different color for each. I’m grateful I have dog that understands not to pull and equally grateful for this discussion about honoring our dogs while finding a solution that works for humans and dogs.
I trained my Rottweiler to walk nicely with a Gentle Leader starting at about age 12 weeks. After about a year, I traded it in for a Sensation front-clip harness, and have been using it ever since. His collar is a Martingale without chain, and this works great for quick trips to the mailbox or back and forth to the car, etc.
He’s 5 years old now and way calmer than he was and I am thinking about getting a regular back-clip harness, because the front-clip one, while it keeps him from pulling, is an effort all the time to keep him from stepping over the leash and having to stop our walks to untangle him.
I would like to reply to Vicki.
Martingale collars are wonderful! I have greyhounds and they must be walked in either a martingale or a harness because of their needle noses and pencil-thin necks! Martingales (sometimes called limited slip collars) are a safe and humane choice.
I may write more when I have the time, but wanted to chime in quickly- we used a Halti on Otis, who came to us at 125lbs and completely untrained- it worked beautifully to manage him while we taught him to walk nicely, but he indisputably HAAAATED it. We were able to phase it out after six weeks or so, if I remember correctly, and now walk him with either a flat buckle collar or a soft nylon slip lead that we use with zero pressure ( honestly, any leash is just window dressing- he walks nicely by choice, in response to training, and there isn’t a tool out there that can hold him if he truly won’t cooperate.) We chose it because at the time I was concerned about finding a front-clip harness that fit well (danes have weird proportions) and worried that it might not give me enough leverage, since he is so tall and I am so short. It would have been the next stop if he hadn’t taken to training so well, though, since his obvious dislike of the Halti made it a less than ideal long-term solution.
Sandy we’ve only ever used flat buckle collars and nylon slip leads. She’s more biddable generally, and a great deal smaller (though still a big dog at 75lbs), though interestingly, of the two of them, Otis nearly NEVER slips up and puts pressure on the lead, while Sandy will still forget her training if excited and pull a bit until we remind her.
On the fun side, I think I have Willie’s exact collar for Sandy! She’s gotten more compliments on it than I have ever imagined a dog collar would. It looks super sharp on Willie’s handsome black and white coat, I must say.
Vicki in Michigan says: “I was concerned about buckling a collar tightly enough that the dog couldn’t breathe comfortably. Is it actually trivial to buckle a collar just right so the dog CANNOT slip the collar, but can still breathe comfortably?”
You want a wide martingale collar. The martingale loop makes it so that, if the dog were to put pressure on the collar (by trying to back out, for instance), the collar snugs down until it’s just the size of his neck. When the dog relaxes, the collar relaxes, and for all intents and purposes acts like a regular collar. A wider collar means that it is more comfortable around the dog’s neck than a more narrow collar (which can dig in if the dog pulls).
Paula Price says
About 5 years ago I rescued an adolescent pit bull mix. She was reactive with little self control, and she was strong. When I would walk her on a regular buckle collar, she would try to chase cars while I was still holding the leash. A couple of times she hit the end of the leash and it flipped her whole body around. I thought she was going to break her neck! So I switched to an Easy Walk harness. Lo and behold, she saw a dog (who was rudely barking at her) and she managed to flip her body in the air again, this time spraining a shoulder. So I finally got a Freedom Harness and a 2 buckle leash. It attaches to the back and front at the same time. If she tries to hit the end of the leash, she just sort of levitates in the air a couple of inches. Much safer! Glad to say, with some training and management, she doesn’t do that any more, but this is still my harness of choice with her.
Emily Williams says
I loved the post but do want to make one comment about flat collars. I have a bloodhound. That means that if at any point my dog decides to back up or make other moves the flat collar is useless as it simply slides off the head. You cannot get one tight enough to stay on because of the position of the ears and looseness of the skin.
That means using a martingale or what I call a sliding collar to avoid the negative connotations. And while it is generally loose I can tighten it to keep it from sliding off.
I also am able to control a dog without any abuse when using it as it means I can in an emergency position the head at my side with complete control, something else I can’t do in a flat collar.
I have two special needs rescues from severe abuse, highly reactive to all kinds of things. After years of positive re-enforcement training, we are able to walk without incident most days using Gentle Leaders, which, you are right, they don’t much like. However, we’ve been through traditional collars and harnesses both front and back, and these work best *if* something should come into sight that they perceive as a threat.
But, no, they will not prevent a dislocated wrist when two dogs encounter one gopher. Now a wrist brace is a part of our standard equipment….
One caution on the martingale collar — only use it to walk the dog, don’t leave it on as a regular collar. Years ago, we had one on our dog, and she was playing with our other dog and the loop got caught on our other’s dog tooth. As they both struggled, the collar got tighter and tighter. I still remember the sound coming from the choking dog, it was horrendous. Luckily, we were both home at the time and could each hold a dog while the collar was eventually unbuckled. It was a freak accident, but obviously can happen. I haven’t used one since, too traumatic for me.
I do prefer the Freedom Harness for the puller in the family. We tried several others and it was the easiest to get on, fit her the best, and I like the velvet under the arms.
Betsy Moynehan says
I have all your books, and am a big fan. I heard you speak in Naples Fl a few years ago.
I’ve had dogs all my 68 years, and never want to be without at least one in the house! My dogs have taught me a lot about so many things…and I continue to read whatever training information I can get my hands on, as we never stop learning.
I confess to have done some of the horrible techniques that trainers used to use, because I didn’t know any better and they were “the experts” back when I was in my early 20’s and had y first dog, a beautiful Irish Setter, who went on to get her CD. My favorite “collar” of choice now is the Freedom “no pull” harness. It is a little pricier than some of the others, but I like that it fastens on the chest and/or on the top of the back. It comes with or without a double-ended leash, for “dual control”. I often use it with my regular 6′ leash on the front and a short “handle-leash” (either my leather one, or the braided on by Mendota) on the top. I’ll be following this discussion to learn from others. Hope you’ll come to SW Florida again soon! I’m now going to check your speaking schedule. Thank you for all you’ve helped me with over the years!
My first dog training experience was in South Dakota with an ex-drill sergeant in a class full of hard-headed labs and pointers … and one standard poodle. The other dogs seemed to take the trainer’s gruffness and manhandling in stride, and then the trainer would come over to try to sweet-talk the poodle, who was doing her best to hide behind me.
The trainer was in the choke-collar-popping camp, but at least recognized that the poodle would need only the slightest correction to take it to heart. That ended up being the case. We moved to more rewards-based training and the choke collar was only ever used when geese were in the vicinity (the poodle’s kryptonite).
I tried using a prong collar on a large and forging poodle whom I inherited from a cousin. We both hated it. More effective was leash wrapping, which turns the leash into a no-pull harness. (here’s a video that shows the arrangement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_oJojyaHr4 ). This was a good solution for a dog who was simply eager to keep moving and needed just little pressure on his chest to remind him to slow down.
Adrienne Karoly says
I have a 26 lb. moyen size poodle (mother standard – father miniature). She is sweet and wonderful and very smart. But, she pulls me like crazy. How can a 26 lb. dog get the best of me I don’t know. I have tried traditional collars and also a soft harness. We currently use a Thunder Leash on her which goes under her belly and attaches on her side. This leash is attached to a traditional collar at the neck. There was some improvement when I first started using it. Now she seems to pull as much as ever. I have ordered and received a front attaching harness but have not tried it yet. I’m waiting to use it on he when our snow mounds recede which she wants to walk on top of. I just cannot see her being comfortable in a head halter. I know she will hate it. I just want to keep her safe and happy and be able to stand upright.
I always use a front attaching harness, and recommend it for dogs in our rescue group who pull. I am gettting a lot of resistance from the ‘older’ ones who reckon they are no good, but a lot of the newer carers, after using one, agree it really makes a difference. I think though, it does depend on the breed of dog and their behavioural issues on which kind of collar is best.
Great discussion so far, as I expected. Thanks to all of you who have chimed in so far. I’m especially grateful for comments about martingales, which I wish I had included in the main article. And I also appreciate the comments about whether harnesses affect a dog’s stride, bother his shoulders, etc. These are all very important questions to ask, especially if a dog is being walked on the device on a regular basis, and for a long period of time. I suspect that there are few solutions out there that can’t end up hurting a dog in some way under some circumstances; but the probability of injury varies depending on the device. It’s true that a plain, flat collar can injure a dog if she lunges at high speed toward something, so in that case a front attachment harness, especially one that attaches both front and back, would be safer.
By the way, someone on Facebook wrote in that prong collars are the safest of ALL training devices available, and that my article was “fearmongering” and spreading “hysteria.” If any of you out there are feeling hysterical, please sit down and have a cup of tea with me. Mint is nice.
I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost the knack of putting the time and patience into training. In this world we seem to want everything now, or maybe yesterday. Does this lead to panicky training and unresolved issues?
One of the biggest problems for loose lead walking training is that the owner can’t get from A to B in a hurry if they need to. So I suggest using a harness and collar for A to B and then for training, a broad flat collar and using clicker or just good timing (not for yanking, but for bringing the dog back and then rewarding whilst walking forwards by your side).
It doesn’t take long before most dogs get it.
Then, on walks, you can go from lead attached to harness to lead attached to collar. If the dog is used to the word/cue you use whilst perfecting the training (loose, heel, or close etc) then you can ask for this just a few seconds from home.
Then gradually change lead and give the cue a tiny bit earlier each time Before you know it, you are walking the dog on a loose lead. However, this takes time and patience. It’s called “dog training” 😉
I understand the worry about very big dogs being under control. I have found that understanding the centre of gravity is a big point. It’s basically if you hold your hands in front of your stomach, close in to yourself. That’s a great help.
I hope the knowledge we have about helping dogs to learn to respond to leads and kinder harnesses or collars will continue. We are doing so well. Let’s keep going and support each other as we learn and also educate our dogs.
I’d also like to add that statements about “the casual pet owner that just doesn’t want the dog to pull and won’t commit to training . . . ” feels very judgmental and dismissive to me. I’ve read this sentiment many times in many places, and I have to say that I have committed myself to my dogs and their well being, which includes training. Some dogs, like one I currently live with, are just pullers and you can think she’s got it one day, and the next day, you’re back to square one. It’s her nature. So, instead of everyday a new battle, I choose to work with the dog I have and use a harness that she likes and will tolerate. It’s the Freedom Harness, and I leash-clip it just on the back, so in essence it’s not being used as a no-pull, but once it’s on her, she pulls much less. Just wanted to put that out there.
Sam (a standard poodle) is a puller. As a hospital therapy dog, that’s not particularly appropriate behavior. We switched to a harness and he’s a model citizen now. I even got the same harness for the puppy mill survivor standard poodle female right after I adopted her since she had a strong prey drive. Neighborhood squirrels, cats and black birds were far too enticing. Having already had reconstructive shoulder surgery, I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive being a human kite with her pulling me but happy to say, the harness has definitely turned her into a model walker now. It’s easy to walk both these fine athletic dogs and stay safe.
To LisaW: I’m sorry that comments about “many owners not wanting to do a lot of training” feel dismissive. I wasn’t trying to dismiss anyone, but rather defend many of my friends and clients who love their dogs, but really don’t want to do a lot of training. They just don’t. They often feel guilty about it, and are often criticized for it, but I know how much they love their dogs, and wanted to argue that not every dog owner in the world should feel badly if they aren’t up to training a hyper-reactive Great Dane to walk on a flat collar. That’s all I meant by what I said.
Vicki in Michigan says
Thank you to Tori and Rachel for the advice on martingale collars! Much appreciated.
I had received some advice to try using a gentle leader on my recently adopted, sometimes reactive dog. I did all the initial desensitization work, but for a dog that lunges, lunging into a head collar becomes positive punishment akin to hanging (especially when the other owner’s dog is loose and they don’t call it back), and after having that happen twice, he got worse to the point where he started redirecting. For a stable dog when it’s absolutely necessary I’m can see where it can be a good tool but for a sensitive dog it can still be devastating.
colleen belanger says
I have alaskan malamutes and have been involved in malamute rescue.
My go to collar for their everyday collar is a martingale (no chain) or a flat buckle collar for training. I have used the no pull harness on some. I have had great luck with training in several venues from agility to obedience to nosework. I do use a chain collar in the conformation ring after they are trained.
They are trained to pull on sledding / carting / weight pull harnesses.
I have to admit that back in the day I used a chain (choke) and a prong collar. They were used in the beginning training on three of my dogs because that is what the instructor told me to use. I didn’t like them back then and went to a limited slip collar.
Carol Westrum says
I, too hate prong and “training collars”. For many years I had used and recommended gentle leaders , but I agree with you: the longer I used them the less likely I was to recommend them because MOST dogs HATED them forever. I often recommend and use the Easy Walk or Halti harness. However, I recently adopted a rescue. I went to put an Easy Walk harness on her, and she started to tremble violently. I grabbed a Gentle Leader from a previous dog and put it on her. NO PROBLEM. Didn’t mind it at all. So now two of my dogs walk with an Easy Walk, and one with a Gentle Leader. like all good trainers, you learn what is best for your particular dog!!
I “used” to feel that prong collars were inhumane, however, I realize now that it was that I needed a new education on them. In actuality, prong collars are safer than the traditional “choke” collar. There is no “choking” in prong collars. The prong is a training tool and a dog that has been properly trained prior to using the prong is a dog that is responsive with very minimum pressure. In my program dogs are introduced to a variety of training equipment (NOT choke collars though), depending on age, breed, previous training, etc. “Ideally”, prior to use, a dog should not have built up resistance around the neck. Realistically though this doesn’t happen, I see dogs that could give sled dogs a run for their money. For us, the prong is a communication tool between me and the dog, it’s not a “forced compliance” thing because training is actually applied to communicate “hey, this is where I want you” and a very very min amount of leash pressure is needed to communicate if the dog is out of place.. Just my two cents. If it’s used correctly its a very effective training tool.
Many of the dogs I walk (I’m a dog walker) are under-trained, so I try a lot of different methods and equipment. I hate prong collars, and they’re about to become illegal in Toronto, where I live. But to my surprise I’ve discovered many dogs prefer them to the head harnesses — some dogs retreat into their homes if I present them with a halti, but accept the prong collar willingly. They vote with their feet! So if the dog is massive, and can’t be adequately controlled by a body harness, I use two leashes simultaneously: one longer one, attached to a prong collar, to be used only if the dog is lunging/ pulling too much, and a shorter leash attached to the regular collar. I just shorten the longer leash when necessary, and the rest of the time the dog walks without the pressure of the prongs.
Anyway, my point is that experimentation will show you what the dog prefers, and that should have some pull in whatever decision is made.
How do you feel about the collar type that is flat, has no buckle, but can be adjusted to slip on over the head, then tightens up to a point if the dog pulls? I have used one to train my dog not to pull (on the principle that they can find the relief spot by not pulling) and also when near roads to avoid the danger of her ducking out of her regular (flat, buckled) collar. It seems to work well for both those purposes.
Trisha, I’m sorry for the confusion. I was referring to another comment when I quoted “the casual pet owner that just doesn’t want the dog to pull and won’t commit to training . . . ” I hadn’t read that sentiment into any of the things you wrote, and as always, you are giving people the benefit of the doubt.
I probably shouldn’t have piped up but sometimes there is more than meets the eye when we’re talking about tools and training or the apparent lack thereof. My apologies.
I really appreciate your take on this issue Trisha! I have two dogs who have had varying levels of reactivity and/or simple desire to ignore me and pull towards all the amazing smells the world has to offer. One of these dogs is a 90 something pound German Shepherd, who of course could drag me down the street if so inclined but thanks to lots of training we don’t often come upon situations where he’d like to do that. Still, between him and my Border Collie mix who is much better off leash than on leash and is more inclined to pull, I have roughly 125 pounds of dog to walk and two shoulders with tendinitis to contend with. I’ve always preferred front clip harnesses as a management tool, originally I turned to Easy Walk harnesses but after reading that their tightening action may lead to shoulder damage if dogs continue to pull in them over the long term I looked for something else. I’ve come to love a simple, relatively inexpensive Kong harness (called Kong Comfort harness I believe) which is not often recommended to prevent pulling. This is likely because it has a ring in the center of the chest which I use to make it a front clip harness, but it was probably not designed to be used this way so I exercised caution by frequently checking that the adjustable straps are snug and have not been loosened after walks. The real plus of this harness is that there is a handle on the back so that if the dog is really having a tough time containing itself they are much, much easier to keep close and to lead away from the situation. Not to mention you have the option of connecting the leash to the front and back clips of the harness if you have a leash that allows for this and that gives you another option of leading the dog away without putting excessive pressure on any one place if they happen to be lunging in the opposite direction. Again, this is kind of an off label use of this product so I check the fit and integrity regularly, but I’ve been using them for 2+ years and they’ve been a wonderful option for us!
Rich Kosh says
Jolie has a PetPace collar on all of the time. She’s getting on in years and I like being able to monitor her vitals. For walking, I use an Easy Walk harness because she tends to pull for the first 5 minutes of a walk until she settles down. She loves the harness. I can hold it up and she’ll walk right into it.
I have a Martingale collar that I sometimes used in the past and think they’re great, but with her, the harness is the way to go.
I compete my very, very high-drive Labrador in AKC field sports which means I need perfect control when she is hundreds of yards away from me. I won’t get in to how we do this, since it is not germane to the discussion. I’m 68 yrs old, have had two knee replacements and have arthritis in my hands. But I can walk my crazy, manic 3 yr. old Lab, my retired 9 year old Lab and (don’t know-how-old) rescue Lab all at the same time around the neighborhood with prong collars. I do not “pop” any leashes. When they pull, I simply slow down or stop (which is a most undesirable consequence for these dogs!!!) Perhaps any collar might work with my team of very gung-ho dogs whose total weight is over 200 pounds, but with my physical limitations I need to have an advantage that the prong gives me… just in case.
Suzi Scholtz says
I taught 4-H kids. Picture an 8-year-old little girl and a 60 # retriever. These kids had to use whatever dog the family had. Yes, I did require the parents to attend with the dog/child, but the child had to be the one training the dog. Parents were there to learn, support, and supervise when training at home. Yes, I used pinch collars. At the time, that was the only “equalizer” I had access to. Then I attended a seminar by Gary Wilkes on Clicker training and Gentle Leaders. CHANGED almost everything I did, but I had a fast learning curve… I had kids back home that I needed to be able to teach this to, FAST. So all the way home and for a couple of days afterwards, I practiced using a GL with my own dogs (who, btw, did not really need them). My go-to TRAINING collars from that point on were nylon Martingales (which were the goal tool, as this is the acceptable collar for showing, along with flat-buckle and slip collars), Gentle leaders, and still the occasional prong for special cases. For those of you who want to cast stones, walk in any 4-H leaders’ shoes first. And please note that these are training tools. The end goal was the flat buckle or martingale. Almost all of the dog/child teams were eventually successful.
Volunteering for a golden retriever rescue introduced me to easy walk harnesses. Almost 99% of these large breed dogs come into rescue with no leash manners. Always pulling. These harnesses require no special training but need to be fitted properly. These harnesses allowed any volunteer to safely walk and handle the dogs. We have also used gentle leaders but mostly after a professional certified trainer had worked with the dog using these. Another benefit to the harness is that dogs adjust pretty much immediately versus a head halti that takes time for a dog to become comfortable with it. My own 90 lb golden is reactive on a leash when we see other dogs but with the easy walk he does not try to pull or jump and I can easily get his attention on me for focus training …..of course treats in my pocket are motivating and rewarding him as well.
And then there are people like me who are just incompetent when training a dog to walk on leash. In the 35 years of my adult life that I have had dogs, I’ve had about 10 dogs. Although I went to Training Classes with all of them and worked on their leash manners, I have never been able to get my dogs to walk without pulling. And pulling to the point where they hurt my back. One dog that I adopted from the SPCA had wonderful leash manners when I got her and by the time I had her for two years, she pulled just like the rest of them. I’ve totally given up. Fortunately, until recently I had an area where I could walk them off leash. Now, however, with one dog left, walking her is a problem.
I’ve tried every type of collar and harness and nothing makes much difference. I’m not asking for advice, I’ve tried everything even private classes. I’m just saying that sometimes there are people who just suck at training.
Three years ago, we adopted a strong shar-pei shephard mix rescue with serious anxiety issues. She had been caught in a snare trap early in life, which resulted in surgeries and left a big scar circumnavigating her body. She had lived most of her early life outside, and we think she had to hunt for much of her food. (based on what we learned from the rescue, and her current propensity to hunt for anything, anywhere.) She also had mast cell malignant tumors removed from her legs.
It took us forever to find a collar. She was very reactive on walks and would lunge into the path of oncoming cars, so a simple neck collar wasn’t enough. But most of the harness collars irritated her scar to the point of bleeding.
We worked with multiple trainers. They were all positive-behavior, compassionate trainers. We spent hours and hours working on teaching her to look at us for a treat instead of lunging at the car (or dog, or squirrel, or bike, or jogger….) – but at one point, one trainer recommended the prong collar to have as a back-up. The trainer recommended it because she was afraid she’d lunge out in front of a car and drag my daughter with her. (we had some close calls. she was strong enough to drag us, and we are pretty strong!)
We never ended up using it. We were able (finally) to (mostly) train the dangerous lunging out of her. But it took YEARS of walking her at dawn and 10 pm (less cars/dogs) and driving to the woods to walk her where we knew there would be no cars, etc. We also ended up using some anti-anxiety medication for her. (If she heard a loud noise, like a firework, she would completely freak out and drag us back home.)
She is the sweetest, most wonderful dog in the world and we would never do anything to hurt her. But, looking back, I don’t think that using the prong collar would have been the end of the world. The rescue saved her from a horrible shelter the day she was to be euthanized. She survived almost dying in a snare trap. She’s a cancer survivor. A prong collar would probably not have ruined her life. She’s pretty resilient.
And the collar we ended up using, if there are any other snare-trap-surgery-scar dogs out there is the canine concepts/yuppie puppy mesh halter. It has fleece around the straps that don’t irritate. It also doesn’t hit at her scar. (It also claims to be “no pull” but we did not find that to be the case. 🙂
Tressie Dutchyn says
The argument that the only way to control a large dog is by using a prong collar is just plain wrong. I recently lost my Saint Bernard, but a few years ago when she was strong and healthy, freshly adopted from the local shelter, I took her out for her morning walk in the back yard. There was a skunk in the backyard and she noticed it about the same time I did. I pulled back on the leash, while my Saint lunged forward. I stumbled backwards and tripped over a tree root, fell and fractured my spine and even though I was in agony, I did not let go of the leash. She stood by me patiently, as I crawled across the yard back into the house. A week later my sister brought me a prong collar. I was wearing a back brace, but still walking my beloved girl. I put the prong collar on her for about 2 minutes and removed it, never to put it on her again. I used a front attaching harness from then on. It took a lot of work and patience and importantly, time, but eventually she learned not to pull. I do not regret for a moment that I did not opt for the easier way by using a prong collar.
Christy Paxton says
I use front-hook harness (usually Sense-Ation), flat-buckle collar and sometimes Gentle Leader (usually if the dog is already wearing one). When I was a petsitter I used what the owner provided, meaning I was exposed to just about every type of collar and harness there is (including electric). I had a client dog with plastic rings in his throat who could never wear a collar because of a collapsed trachea (yes that can happen from pulling too much). As a trainer, I have worked with some of the worst walkers on the planet. I have spent my entire career (14 yrs.) working to improve and simplify the walking process. My own dog Tawny was in my top 5 of terrible walkers — and was also my greatest partner in developing my two-step and one-step walking methods. My epiphany came when I realized I needed to concentrate on the dog, not the human. If I quickly taught the dog a signal that actually was a self-corrector (note I am all kindness), then handed the leash to the owner, things went much better and faster. (BTW Tawny walks like a dream now.) The main thing I want to say is that it is not about the equipment, it is about technique. SIMPLE technique. Make it too complicated and no one will use it.
Such an interesting topic! My favorite setup with most dogs is an EZ-walk or Freedom Harness, the latter of which compresses the shoulders less. Not all that thrilling a choice, I know! But I’d also like to recommend a locking carabiner that attaches the front O-ring to the collar ring as a safety backup. It needs to be loose enough to not engage the collar when the dog pulls. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s not too difficult for a panicking dog to slip out of a harness.
Re: head harnesses, I appreciate their value and agree that they can be a good choice, but so many dogs *hate* them that they’re not my favorite. If I’m walking a shelter dog and I only have 20-30 minutes to give them a chance to enjoy life, I hate it when they spend half the time rolling around on the ground frantically trying to remove the thing stuck to their face. Certainly dogs can be desensitized to them, but I think that takes longer than people realize sometimes.
So funny that a decade or so ago, Jean Donaldson and Ian Dunbar (both of whom I greatly admire) promoted them so much. It’s interesting how different equipment gets labelled humane or inhumane depending on what dog culture looks like at the time. I try not rule anything out definitively but I sure am glad prongs fell out of fashion.
I use the Freedom Harness. It possesses the best of both the Easy Walk and Sensation harnesses. It has the front loop for controlling pullers like Easy Walk and a martingale loop at the top of the spine area below the shoulders that provides compression of the chest area if needed liek the strap on Sensation. However the strap that goes around the chest area is lined in a plush velvet material and does not cause chafing. It is super easy to put on as well with openings on both sides of the body. You can attach the leash in one or both places with a double attachment training leash. I have two fairly young Great Pyrenees and this equipment was recommended to me by a behaviorist. I can walk them both at the same time when they are wearing these harnesses and feel safe and confident.
Jett Wyatt says
I have a small pet supply shop and won’t carry prong or choke collars at all. Lots of places to get those, but since we focus on animal wellness, I feel that includes avoiding physical punishment, too. Our first line of defense for pullers is the front clip harness. Personally, I love the RuffWear for the fit, but my second favorite is the Freedom harness. It’s highly adjustable, has the front & rear attachment, and I feel is less restrictive on the shoulder than the Easy Walk or Sensation. I do caution owners to remove the Freedom harness if they’re going to take the dog somewhere to run (dog park, off leash hike) because of the shoulder restriction.
Second step is the Halti/Gentle Leader. We don’t sell nearly as many of those as the harnesses, which makes me happy. Probably one Halti for ever 30-40 harnesses. I do also warn people that there is a small percentage of dogs who will figure out how to pull, regardless of the tool you use.
My own dogs (Aussies) have flat buckle collars that are loose enough for them to pull out of (except my biter – his collar is a bit tighter). They generally walk fine on loose leash, except when they’re really excited, and don’t try to slip their collars. I did train them in class, but then just reinforce the no pulling by making sure it’s not rewarding for them to pull. For them, it was relatively easy to teach. My first dog was a lunger and pulled me into hard things a few times before we worked out the rules, so I completely understand the problem. I did use a Gentle Leader with him for about 9 months, but was able to taper off it’s use to high-arousal situations only, and then not at all.
Ok, now that I have an extra minute, I’ll refine what I said above, slightly. While the Halti was the tool that we ended up actually using with Otis (to tremendous success- so much so that I don’t remember where I put it or exactly how many years ago I last needed to use it), he was a fairly easy case and his style of pulling (sudden, moderate intensity impulse lunges at things he casually wished to approach rather than constant pulling or sustained, highly motivated lunging) worked really well and safely with the head collar. I did worry a bit at the time about a hard lunge potentially twisting or hurting his neck, but the one time that Otis decided to HULKSMASH (a loose dog charged him) while wearing the Halti, he pulled my 6’4″, 200+ lb husband to the ground as if he were nothing and suffered no ill effects himself, so bullet dodged, I guess. (The charging dog thought better of a close approach and fled, no harm done).
Fortunately, THAT was a one-off. In the course of training, though, while the Halti was the main training tool, we did try and use a variety of other collars as well. A trainer once talked me into a trial run with a pinch collar, but Otis was so obviously nervous and unhappy while wearing it, five minutes was plenty to decide that it wasn’t for me. Still, I needed some mechanical advantage to walk him at all, if I wanted to continue having arms attached to my body. Training was ultimately the answer, but it would arguably not have even been possible if not for the head halter or some similar device.
I wanted to add to the chorus supporting martingales, though. While Otis was transitioning from Halti to flat collar, we had a martingale for him, and whileI didn’t anticipate it at the time, the one martingale collar that we could find at the pet shop in his size had a hidden extra advantage. I WANTED a collar that was all nylon, but the only one I could find was almost all nylon, with a short section of chain that functioned as the martingale part. I adjusted the collar so the nylon sections would meet and the chain wouldn’t actually be touching his neck if he pulled, but I found that the noise that it made, the clickclickclick of the chain sliding through the loops if he took up the slack in the leash worked as a really good, subtle cue when he was learning to walk with a loose lead.
The noise would tell him the instant he started moving out of position, so he could correct himself before any actual pressure was put on his neck at all. After a while, he mastered the art of keeping close without needing the extra hints, and when the martingale got grubby I retired it in favor of extra wide flat buckle collars, but it was a definite training boon. I wonder now if that is why Otis is so good at loose leash walking- he learned to do it without needing to use leash pressure as a cue, so he didn’t have to feel any pressure from the leash to learn not to put pressure on the leash. Hmm.
winifred tigerlily says
All I can say about prong collars “controlling” dogs is that my neighbor has two labradoodles, about 50 lbs each, who have not been taught to walk nicely on the leash. Both wear prong collars, and both dogs constantly pull the owners down the street like crazy.
Our Daisy wears a martingale collar but is walked with a harness that clips between her shoulderblades. We find that works best as she moves from side to side to explore on her “sniffaris.” It also works great when I go running with her. She does pull sometimes but we just stop dead to get her attention, then restart when she is relaxed.
I haven’t seen any mentions of harnesses like the Sporn No-Pull, which tightens under the front legs when the dog pulls. I am involved in rescue and have had great luck with them on all sorts of dogs. They require no training, and are humane. They are easier to use than a front attach, in my opinion.
I wish prong collars and choke collars were not freely available and that only certain people (vets, trainers) can ‘prescribe’ them to owners where there is no other option and everything has been tried. Many dogs I see that pull and lounge can be trained so easily and nicely but the owners are simply not doing it. Why is the question we need to find the answer to and then analyze why they think so and how to convince that ‘yes, your 5-year old dog can still learn to walk nicely.’
It took me less than 2 days, a bag of treats and a few walks to get my 1 year and 8 month shelter dog to walk nicely. That was two years ago. No rocket science just consistency and some close attention on my end. However, still today, he may (or may not) lounge at other dogs, if and only if, I am not paying 100% attention and direct his attention to me before he has a chance to even consider lounging at the other dog. I am not worried about it because my dog is under control at all times. I know that I get his attention back in seconds. Is it embarrassing at times, yes but I am comfortable and know it is not my dog that needs work, but I need to pay attention. Yes, I do reward him for not lounging when a dog passes us and reward for stopping to lounge (i.e. heel on cue) if he did lounge.
Pain or discomfort should never be a part of a relationship. I wish more dog owners would consult someone who is a true dog professional and not go to the next pet store and buy such a device.
Cynthia Becker says
I used a front clip harness (Sense-i-ble) exclusively for my Rescue chows until I realized I was getting a right leg limp off and on. The harness was pulling over the bicep if the dog pulled a lot. I may not have noticed if we did not do agility but once we went to an ergonomic back clip harness, the limp disappeared within 3 months, still performing agility. I use Brilliant K-9 harnesses now, except during hospital Pet therapy visits. I may need to use the front clip more on my younger dog, though. She is a 45lb powerhouse with a HUGE prey drive. May need to use the front clip for a while…have already fallen face first while Woods walking.:-)
Just a couple of thoughts. I grew up in a small midwest town of about 300. In the late 60’s early 70’s I was a preteen. I learned my dog training from my uncle, from books, and from a public television show that I think was geared to 4H. My uncle instructed me to use the “choke” chain with only one short pull, never to pull on it constantly and to never ever use it to tie a dog because it would kill it. If I would’ve abused a dog or horse I would’ve been given a harsh talk and a hard spanking. As new knowledge became available both my dad and my uncle revised their training techniques to be slower, quieter, respectful but still safety was the main concern, for both the person and the animal. We lived out of town so this was a farm/acreage environment. Most of the animals were never off the farm. We did have a collie though that we found used to go into town at night when we were in bed and thought she was too. All the comments are very interesting and increase my understanding.
Thank you for this post. I shared it with the owners in the puppy class I am currently teaching, because we had a discussion on how an why training methods have changed. I have a couple of people in there that have not had puppies in a long while and the last time they trained a dog the harsher methods were still being consistently used and recommended in classes. So attending our puppy classes took them a little off guard and into new territory 🙂
This is interesting as I just started taking a class called “Feisty Fidos”. (Yes, Pia told me that you had ask to borrow the name for your book…small world.) I have a leash reactive dog. The thing is he is not at all aggressive, he just wants to get to the other dog and he wants to get to them now (he’s a “frustrated greeter”). The instructor requires all the dogs in the class to use an over-the-head martingale and a snoot-loop. I had never used a head halter before and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all, but I have to say my dog took to it better than I thought he would and it does make it easier to control him when he sees another dog. Before I took the class, I was using a front halter and while it was better than a regular collar it didn’t really control him much when he was over threshold.
I happen to have a weakness for really nice leather collars. I have been known to spend ridiculous amounts of money on collars (I rationalize it by telling myself I don’t spend money on clothes, cars, trips or restaurants). So I use a buckle collar and then a leather leash that has a martingale attached at the end. I’ve used them for years and the last one I had for my 16 year old literally fell apart right before she died.
Years ago, my large dog caused me to trip and fall and break my arm in the middle of a NYC street. She was a terrible puller. After that incident I went to a trainer who recommended a prong. She promised me it wasn’t cruel. I used it for the rest of her life and it did help to control her somewhat. But I would choose not to use one now, knowing what I do. I just think there are plenty of other options out there to try first.
The thing that bothers me is when I see older dogs who are barely making it down the street and they have a head halter or a prong collar on. I think sometimes it’s out of habit but I also think a lot of people use the head halter to keep their dogs from picking up trash on the street.
Growing up all my dogs wore choke chains. That’s just what dog’s wore and we didn’t even walk our dogs that much. I still have my childhood dog’s chain in a drawer. What a great dog she was.
First, I would like to tell you I caught the segment of WPR that featured you this morning. I was in tears while I was driving to school. I have a dog just like your Willie and this actually ties into your collar post.
I got Dillon as a three month pup from a local rescue. I took him puppy socials where he would do everything in his power to escape the other puppies. At 18 years old and as an inexperienced dog owner, I thought nothing of it. Jump forward 2 years and here I am trying to walk him down our street when he explodes at the sight of another dog coming towards us. I had no idea what to do and have the scars to prove it.
At that point in time, I didn’t have access to my current dog trainer, Katie (She was a god-send when she came along). I panicked. I didn’t know how control, let alone help this dog. I turned to a prong collar and eventually an e-collar. Only to find out that both of them would make my problems with Dillon much much much worse. Not to mention damage my relationship with a dog I am trying to train for agility.
Eventually, my aunts told me of a dog trainer who was opening in Oconomowoc. I switch over to her and never looked back. With the help of a head collar, some counter conditioning, Katie and, the help of a behaviorist I began to heal my relationship with my dog.
I now not only have an opinion on prong and e-collars but I also have some pretty scary experiences to back up my opinions.
You do the best you can until you know better. Once you know better, you do better.
I’m not a fan of prong collars, and especially not a fan of the tendency of their proponents to proclaim that they don’t hurt the dog… by testing it on their own ARM. Somehow they never test it on their own neck. Like us, a dog’s neck is a very sensitive place.. which is why those who advocate for the use of prong collars “properly” always advise that it be placed up high, just behind the ears. Which I RARELY see in all the dogs I see wearing it.
On the subject of martingales, for those with fat-headed dogs like “pit bulls” and find it difficult to fit on that will tighten correctly but be loose enough to fit over their fat heads: there are martingales that have buckles, and those work well. These folks make a durable and inexpensive version: http://www.schaferkennel.com/Nylon_Collars.html
I am in several SD groups and it is surprising how many rely on a prong. Not because the dog is undertrained, but because their joint and gripping issues mean they can apply very little force on the leash.
I don’t use them, I don’t use them on my own Service Dogs (second one in training.)
For classes, in terms of head collars, I prefer the Perfect Pace by bold lead design. The pressure comes from behind the head, there is zero muzzle turning, neck twisting. Dogs adapt to these rather quickly. I usually bring an extra to the first day of class if there is a dog who cannot be controlled by it’s owner in any way.
For dog reactive dogs, I’ve found that head halters can increase tension for some. Due to the issues with gait from the easy walker, I no longer use those, and feel like there isn’t as much control as I would like for a reactive dog.
I prefer the Freedom harness, using front and back clip at the same time. I use these while we’re working on DS/CCing and there is a visible difference vs a dog who feels like it has no control of it’s head when noticing at a scary thing. Freedom harnesses are not for jogs or runs. I would suggest the ruffwear harness mentioned above for that when you are not planning on running into a dogs during a run.
With my own dogs, I put a lot of time into LLW on a flat collar and use the perfect pace when taking the golden for longer walks, so she doesn’t have reinforcement for pulling.
Mary Kaye says
Shelter volunteer here. All of the dogs that come into our shelter are fitted with a martingale collar. As one can imagine, not only do many of the dogs coming through the doors not have many acquired skills in leash walking, but add to that the high stress environment of a shelter and what you often get are dogs who want out right. this. very. minute thank you very much. Combine the attitude of wanting to get out immediately if not sooner with a big powerful dog and lots of different volunteers with different styles of walking and handling techniques and it could be a recipe for disaster. The martingale collar makes sure the dog remains securely in his/her collar without fear of it somehow backing out of the collar and taking off for parts unknown. If a dog is a particularly strong puller then we use an easy walk harness. I find it much easier to walk a strong dedicated puller with an easy walk harness. Of course we work on leash manners too as we enjoy the sights and smells beyond the shelter walls.
Tired Caregiver says
In my youth I worked at Petsmart. I didn’t know much about dog training back then, but I still felt that choke chains were harsh and overused. The training instructor knew my opinion and for some reason decided to call me out about it during one of her classes. She basically told her class that training collars were necessary because ‘a full grown rottweiler is hard to control without one!” Except…this was a puppy class. The only rotty in the group weighed all of fifteen pounds. I got written up for telling her the whole point of puppy classes should be training both dog and owner how to communicate without pain or conflict. It wasn’t MY fault she started a confrontation in front of her class.
At the same store I got asked to assist a couple shopping for an e-collar. They were at wit’s end because their adult doberman ‘didn’t seem to like them’ and followed commands with a ‘bad attitude.’ They showed me what they meant by telling the dog to sit. They were popping the choke chain simultaneously with the command, so the dog never had a chance to obey before the punishment came. So this poor dog never had a chance to do the ‘right’ thing….yeah, I’d be frustrated too! I started watching owners more closely and realized that many people do the same thing. Somehow they come to associate popping the collar as a sort of ‘listen up’ signal and do it BEFORE the command or with the command. So even if the argument is that discomfort is useful in training when the dog fails to obey, that’s not actually how many owners are using it. I think for many people popping the collar is so ingrained they don’t even realize they’re doing it.
I want to add to the chorus of people that say that, to a dog, every dog I’ve ever seen in a head halter looked miserable. I knew one dog who was ok-ish in it until she met other dogs and then tried to paw it off her own face.
I struggle to call something “humane” when the dogs look so sad. Imagine taking the ONE thing you really loved, the part of the day you looked forward to, and having someone ruin it for you. Surely psychological well-being is as much a consideration as physical well-being? Isn’t that something we have often discussed here?
The head halters both cross the dogs’ line of site and also sit right behind the sensitive whisker area. Dogs also have scent glands along the sides of their face, I think. I do believe the dogs find they interfere with how they interact with the world, and with each other.
Sue Farrell says
My trainer recommended a Martingale collar to stop my dog from slpping her collar as her first response is to run away. I found one that has a break away clip. I am an Amazon shopper and you can order most oequipment from there. All dogs are different and it is good to hear about all the things available. .
Trisha, my first experience with training was similar to yours (minus the horrific Basenji incident). The first class focused on using a slip / choke chain. In the course of getting CGC for my first dog, I discovered that she would do anything for half of a puppy treat. From that point on I used positive methods whenever practicable, but I am not averse to judicious use of correction (usually verbal).
I have used Martingale / greyhound collars for many years. A Martingale collar probably saved Red Dog’s life on one of our first walks. We were walking downtown on a Saturday night, and she freaked out on a narrow sidewalk with singing drunks on one side and busy traffic on the other. Red Dog tried her best to back out of her collar in the direction of traffic. Caught me by surprise, but the collar held until I was able to react appropriately.
For what it is worth, most of my dogs have been in the 35 – 55 pound range. Mrs. B likes smaller dogs, and loves using a front-clip harness. We have had several dogs who were quite adept at backing out of a flat collar.
I no longer use a slip / choke chain, but the one thing I miss about them is the ease of teaching the dog to walk on a slack leash. Typically I could train the dog in about a week, after which dog and human enjoyed a lifetime of pleasant walks. I have not figured out how to accomplish that without a slip / choke chain.
We have gone to using harnesses only. Our dog doesn’t pull so a soft hemp harness is our preferred but there are several types that work with strong pullers. Not too many years ago I went to an agility class where my dog was the only one not wearing an e-collar in class! I was horrified and didn’t go back.
A bit off topic, but one big breakthrough for me was discovering how much easier it is to teach loose leash walking at home without any leash at all. Once I realised that what I wanted was for my tiny pups to walk happily with me and to return to my side at a word, and that the leash is a safety and communication device rather than a way of making them do it, everything fell into place. We played With Me and Follow the Leader for fun and games and chicken, then played them again with a collar and lead and even more good stuff. Much, much easier than trying to teach a puppy squirming on the end of a leash like a hooked salmon!
I think medieval is a great word for this type of collar. It belongs firmly in the past and I just wish we could get more companies to stop putting profit before everything and quit selling them, then people wouldn’t be tempted to use them.
There are an absolute stack of safer, kinder and effective alternative collars and harnesses out there which remedies this medieval torture device firmly redundant IMO. Personally, I love the T Touch harness with front and back clips. I only wish I had discovered it before the choke collar and halti head harness that caused my reactive dog to shut down…..but you live and learn. Plenty of good and well meaning people will be using prong collars who haven’t yet had access to better information or are unable to execute humane education and training techniques effectively.
Grisha Stewart has a couple of great videos on YouTube demonstrating why prong collars hurt and why they tend to work (and she uses it around her neck). Grisha is very conscious to keep challenging herself about her views and biases but I was definitely not sold watching her look distressed during the demo. She also gives a nice explanation of cognitive dissonance and that some people can be extremely ‘seductive’ in convincing people that using pain to train is still OK, which continues the social acceptance.
However, if you are still not convinced, Nando Brown has a nice demonstration on how to use prong collars ‘properly’.
Minnesota Mary says
There is no substitute for training. I foster huskies and when I get a new foster, I take the dog for a walk before even entering the house to introduce them to my expectation of their position at my side during a walk (heel). I always use a prong collar for the initial walk (I have osteoporosis and could end up paralyzed or dead if I fell and broke my back or neck). No leash popping. No yanking, just a ton of patience and lots of stops and turns until the dog “gets” the concept of walking at a heel. Some dogs catch on quickly and others take a half hour or so to understand. The prong collar keeps me safe and gets their attention when they get to the end of the leash. I always choose streets that are less populated and turn around to avoid other dogs (to minimize the distraction factor)
As soon as possible I transition to a martingale collar (no breakable plastic buckle) for all walks.
A few of my younger foster dogs have needed gentle corrections (voice and stops with the martingale) for the duration of their stay with me but most have caught on and learned that walking nicely at my side makes us all happy.
By the way, I always walk multiple dogs (with the exception of that first walk when a new foster gets to my house). I’m known as the Neighborhood Husky Lady (insert crazy as the first word when they think I am out of hearing range). But everybody knows my dogs are well behaved and they always ask before approaching a new foster. Even the kids in the ‘hood!
Chloe De Segonzac says
I walk dogs all day. I find the front clip harness and the gentle leader to be most helpful with pulling dogs. However I see the gentle leader being misused all the time dog owners having the leash so tight the dogs head is turned. I dislike walking with front clip. The small dogs get the leash behind the front paws and when I don’t know the dog well I don’t like having to bend over the dog my face too close to the dog to clip harness on. Also I think it must affect the gate. The large dogs knock their front leg into the leash every step and I feel the vibration in my wrist. But it is the best tool to walk pulling dogs.
My dog is on a flat collar and if injured or sick I put a mess top clip harness on her.
Barb Stanek says
Thanks for mentioning people who may not be ale to handle the dog that they have with a buckle collar. I don’t ever want to hurt a dog to train it. BUT, I don’t want the dog to accidentally hurt its owner because it’s a big, strong adolescent lab and its owner is a 70 year old 5 foot 2 inch grandmother who loves the adolescent lab!
When I was still teaching classes, I ran into this situation more often than I would like to think about. Lucky us that there are alternatives to prongs and choke chains.
Rebecca Rice says
Not a trainer, just a devoted dog enthusiast. My greyhound has a multitude of martingales, mostly workable ribbon-trimmed ones, but she also has her very pretty, leather-with-tiger’s eye (yes, genuine stones) one from when I was training in scent work. The dog that actually give me the most difficulty when walking is my tiny one, the 9.5 pound rat terrier, Pixie. Pixie isn’t much of a “puller”, per se, I think partly because even her trot isn’t much more than a brisk walk for me. But she is a “stopper”. She wants to explore every smell that we meet on a walk, and if she gets really engrossed, getting her to move on can be a challenge. I know that, at 9.5 pounds, I COULD just say “let’s go’ and start walking and drag her, but doing that inevitably results in her digging in her claws to try and stay where she is. And hearing a dog’s nails scrap down a sidewalk is like nails on a chalkboard to me. So, we have trained (there’s that word!) a “1,2,3 Let’s Go” command. If she is sniffing and I want to move, I start counting down 1.. 2… 3… let’s go! About 95% of the time she happily moves off after that, and if not, I don’t mind just starting to walk, since she has been warned that it’s about to happen. The interesting thing is that it’s giving me insight into how she feels about various sniffs. Sometimes, she leaves right after hearing “1”. Sometimes it takes until “let’s go!”, Sometimes it’s 2, or 3.
Pixie, being a small dog with a potential for collapsed traces, gets walked on a harness, a Balance harness in specific because of my concerns about the impact on dog shoulders. While I like harnesses, I do wish that there was some way of making sure that they are fit properly. My dog’s dimensions are odd and hard to fit (deep barrel chest, tuck up, wasp-waisted), and they change as the dog sits, stands and lies down. And “two fingers” just seems so tight. Right now I have an issue with Pixie’s girth strap, where I can barely fit one figure under at the bottom of the brisket, can get two under at the top of the back, and 4 under on either side. And yet, this is a piece of webbing that is going in a loop around my dog, so I keep being confused on how that can be! I’d really love to see a custom harness maker and get a really well-fitting harness for her, since I find that the options are rather limited for small dogs.
I will also say that it is very nice, after putting in the training, to realize that my dog doesn’t really care if she is on or off leash. I let her walk off-leash in very select areas, and she acts in pretty much exactly the same way as when she is on-leash. Ranges a little wider in her sniffing, switches sides a bit more as her nose directs her, but really, doesn’t do anything wild. No darting off, no chasing after people/bikes/dogs/birds, no playing keep away. And when I go to put the leash back on, it’s no big deal and we continue on our way. Training works, and it does make it so much nicer to be able to take a well-trained dog out into the world!
And finally, if you are going to use a prong collar, please use it correctly. I have seen dogs being walked on prong collars and Flexis! And no, not Flexis in a locked position. Pause for a moment to think about what that is teaching the dog. And yes, these are generally pits and rotties. If you are going to use a prong, use it right.
With all being said about prong collars, there’s a local trainer, part of a large chain, who uses a partial-prong collar and claims it’s just fine. They brought rescue dogs out to me with those collars on, who were jumping around, and they would just keep jerking the collar to control the dog. In each case, I’d just replace it with a simple collar, ask the dog to calm down, and we’d walk away just fine. They saw me control the dog with just voice and body language, but it meant nothing to them.
Both front-attachment collars and Gentle Leaders I’ve found useful with certain people. The dogs didn’t really need them, but the people did, to correct for their problem behaviors. However, that is a reasonable justification for them.
For badly lunging dogs who come here, I start them with a Harness Lead for safe control for the 1st week. After that, and for all others, it’s just a regular collar. Other than for safety issues, the leash is only used as a signal. Since it’s not how I stop the dog, the collar type doesn’t matter. I’ve often walked 3-4 dogs at a time, with 1-2 being trained at the time.
Now, let’s take a really big dog, with a leash attachment at the top of the dog’s back. A perfect position for the dog to haul me around, if I was using that leash to restrain him. But, other than for the Road Runner who ran in front of his face, I only use the leash to signal.
For some people who have always used a prong collar, I just suggest they add a 2nd leash and regular collar, and show them how to start transitioning to get the same behavior without the prongs. Most, however, give up trying within a week. Getting people to change their approach can be difficult!
I have a vivid and horrible memory, much like Trisha’s, of my first childhood dog at an AKC training class in the late 70s. My parents took him to class in the required prong collar and when he didn’t obey the commands shouted at him he was lifted off the floor by the leash and hung by the prong collar. Thankfully my parents had the sense to walk right out of there an never go back.
As a greyhound owner I was going to call out the lack of mention of martingales, but you all have taken care of that. Plus you can get them in any imaginable color, pattern, or design.
I have heard the easy walk consricts the relm of motion abd bows the shoulders out. True or falsh. 3 sibes that ysed them, I’m hearing this around more and more.
I love your posts, and your readers replies, as always!
I used a prong collar briefly 2 years ago on Reactive Rottie, while she was crated for a limb injury, and a maniac when taken out to potty on leash. Our vet recommended it after I was pulled over by her lunges on a gentle leader and a front harness attachment. I considered calling a trainer, but honestly figured they had nothing to offer in the urgency of the moment except likely judgment. Of course she was initially frantic when the prongs hurt, and I still feel badly about it. Her leash training was useless in that context.
We have since used a gentle leader in places where we might encounter strangers or dogs, because I’ve nearly been pulled over with her front clip harness when she lunges, but she is clearly ambivalent about the halter, putting her nose into it only after a little dance expressing her reluctance. I learned a lot from the BAT book that helped me use it carefully, with a bit longer leash so that I could slow her gently. Of course we try to avoid situations where she would lunge, but life can be unpredictable.
Now she has been diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis (Wobbler’s) and has a major surgery tomorrow. She has been collar free and in only a harness since her diagnosis. We have avoided any places where we might encounter strangers or dogs. I don’t think I will ever use a halter (or neck collar) again, but will be nervous when we are ready to being in places where we may unexpectedly encounter other dogs. Fortunately, we now have a superb and nonjudgmental trainer, and prozac is helping a lot.
Her Together harness has extra soft, smooth webbing so it can be on her most of the time without bothering her skin.
Taking her harness off and leaving her “naked” when we are inside the house or the fenced part of our yard has been a great reminder that I want her to offer as much behavior as possible without any coercion.
I also find that the 15′ BAT leash gives me the option to run away from her if she is moderately distracted by something I want her to move away from, which works well for us; certainly not a collar, but offers some of the same functions of channeling behavior.
Would a small martingale, designed for an Italian Greyhound, work on other toy dogs or would it be too wide at the front? I like the idea of a wider collar to protect their throats, even though they are not pullers, and a collar that slips over their heads would be useful for those brief walks from the car to the start of our walks and back across the carpark afterwards (they are both fairly full coated so finding the collar ring to clip the lead to can sometimes be a bit challenging!). Has anyone any experience? Or should I make a fabric one and try it out!
I weigh twice what my dog weighs, but she is very strong and can be triggered into lunging with no notice. I tried the Easy walk harness first, but it did not give me good control. A trainer (strongly) recommended the SnootLoop, which she trained me to use without hurting Skye’s neck. It did give em more confidence that I could manage her in stressful situations, but the poor dog hated it, often diving her nose on the ground to try to rub it off.
Now we use the Freedom harness, and are both happy with it. The double attachments (in front and on the shoulders) give me leverage to hold her if she lunges – which through lots of other training and conditioning happens less now – and when we are in more open areas, I can unclip one of the attachments and give her more lead.
I’ve been somewhat entertained reading the comments about concerns that a dog’s flat buckle collar is easy for them to slip out of since I deliberately keep Ranger’s working collar loose enough that he can easily back out of it at anytime. When we were first training him as a Therapy Dog I read some stories about dogs who got trapped by their collar when the person they were visiting grabbed the collar and wouldn’t let go. I knew how much Ranger would hate that and resolved it wouldn’t happen to him so his collar is very loose and he has a cue to back out of it. We haven’t had to use it although we came close once when a very large person pulled him in for a smothering hug (him between their knees and them leaning over him with hands on either side of his collar) I was opening my mouth to tell Ranger “escape” when another dog came in sight and Ranger was released in favor of loving on the new dog. The new dog and handler had seen how Ranger was treated and presented themselves in a position where it was easier to walk away.
There have been a couple of times when Ranger has slipped his collar accidentally in the parking lot because it is so loose but he just stops and waits for me to put it back on. Thousands of hours of training really do pay off. Ranger and Finna both know that it is OK to get the leash to taut (think when two people are folding a sheet together) but not OK to get the leash to the point of pulling and they’re both excellent about knowing just how taut the leash can be with the person on the other end. I consider taut to be when the leash is a straight line between us my son considers it taut when there is some tension on it. Ranger seldom even gets it to that point these days in fact part of our walks together I will take the leash and drape it over my arm (think waiter carrying a towel) and he’ll “listen” for the subtle communications down the leash that I make by shifting my arm slightly. I was very much struck by the description I read once of a Service Dog trainer who would replace the leash with a piece of yarn; a well trained dog should be able to work on a leash that is no more than a piece of yarn because the leash is there to communicate to the dog not to control the dog. That’s the standard to which I aspire and with Ranger I’ve reached it. With Finna there’s still a ways to go. In a perfect environment I could walk her on a piece of yarn tied to her collar but there are still too many things that concern her in the real world environment so a strong nylon leash remains necessary.
Marianne Cyr says
I recommend the Easy Walk Harness all the time. I’ve seen them turn more than one pulling pitty into a willing walker. It was almost miraculous. Doesn’t work with all dogs, but with enough to keep me recommending it.
I know several very nice people who have prong collars on their dogs. I’ve tried to get them to switch, they seem to agree with me, but the next time I see them, there’s that nasty collar on their dogs. I just don’t understand it.
BTW, I just bought your new book at Books A Million. Can’t wait to get into it!!
Robin Ashman-Terrell says
Thank you for the intro to the choke and prong collars. I have never used them and never will. As a force free trainer, there are loads of options out there to help the inexperienced owner garner better control of their dogs without harming them. Training with a professional certainly helps, but as you know, many people do not know what options are out there. Really…..some folks would have no idea about hiring a trainer.
For years I directed clients to the easy walk harness. They’ve been great but with some flaws. If it is not fit correctly to the dog, it will sag in the front. Causing hinderance in the gait of the dog because it’s sitting on their moving joints, instead of the chest, where it is intended to sit. And it can not always fit all shapes and sizes. If worn for extended periods, such as daily hiking, the understrap will rub a dog raw under their arms.
The sensation harness is nice. Works well and the front connector rides high on the chest. I’ve seen folks attach the leash not only to the harness but the collar at the same time. I don’t understand this concept and would have to read up on it further. Using the front connect on just the harness, really does make a difference in the dogs pull.
The Premier (pet safe) Sure fit is also a nice harness for front or rear clipping. It’s 5 way adjustability will fit almost any body type dog.
But my favorite…. the Freedom No Pull harness. It is what I recommend most to my clients now. It has a front clip and back clip. They can be used together with the Freedom leash, or individually. For dogs that can slip a collar, I like the rear clip that is a martingale attachment on the back. Plus the underbody strap is velvet so it does not rub the dog on long walks. I’ve had great success with this harness since I’ve been using and recommending it.
There are hordes of options out there and the average family is going to purchase what the pet store recommends. If we could eliminate the prongs, shock and choke chains from the chain stores, people would end up with a non adversive guide to walking their dog.
And lastly, while all my dogs wear collars 24/7 with their info in the event they are lost, I never walk my dogs with my leash clipped to their collars. All my dogs, big to small, wear harnesses anytime we walk out the front door. My therapy dogs included. I don’t want any of them accidentally slipping their collars or being hung in a stressful situation. With my dogs in a harness, I can move them to safety by using the harness and never having the option of hanging, or damaging a trachea or thyroid.
Kat, Jack mostly has a leash to protect him from running into traffic if he sees food but otherwise he somehow got trained (not on purpose) to auto-stop if the leash drops and I have no concerns about what happens if he gets loose. We have done tons of training off-leash and he has a great “wait” and recall. Jack is also a dog who, on the rare occasion something upsets or frightens him, goes to the nearest human and sits at their feet, which is a nice personality trait in an emergency.
Maddie was a dog who, if alarmed, would run away. Not sure why, as she adored people. But if something frightened her she’d do a neat collar-slip trick (no matter how tight; with her giant fluffy ruff her neck was just bigger than her head) and was prone to running in the opposite direction. This didn’t happen often, but often enough that a martingale was a necessity if we were walking near a busy road or something like that.
Ali Wilde says
I have tried Haltis over the years with a variety of dogs but I don’t like the way they pull the dog’s head round to the side and I worry about damage to the neck. The headcollars I use (when necessary) on my two young Border Collies are the Figure 8 headcollars where the lead fixes to a ring behind the dog’s head. They fit snugly on the nose and my dogs walk beautifully on them. We usually only need them for a short distance from the car to the open space where they can run and once they have exercised I walk them back on their flat collars. All my dogs are taught loose lead walking from pups and they know good Heel positions as we compete but those first few minutes are too exciting.
Shaun Baird says
We have just had a puppy (first dog in our family, and Ive not owned a dog / lived with a dog for a good 30 years when my parents had several.
After chatting to family we decided to use “treats” to encourage the behaviour we wanted.
So, first up we had tiny nibble biscuits and would put her outside if she went to the toilet… if she then did it outside she would get a heap of praise and a biscuit reward.
Now she stands at the back door to go out and weve only had her a few weeks..
She will soon be going out for her first walk and weve already been trying to walk her inside using treats if she walks one length of the kitchen.. then two etc..
Even at this stage now we have shown her how to “sit”.. and rewarded with treats.. low and behold thats what she does now when we tell her to sit.
So we will be continuing with our current method and feel it is the most humane.
Choke collars were required when I first started to learn to train, so I had them as well as buckle collars. I do not particularly like choke collars. My dog is very gentle and responsive to what I ask. When he was younger though, if he got startled by noise, he would initially bolt in any direction and once right out of his buckle collar. That frightened me knowing he may bolt right into danger. Since then, if I knew our walk would take us by busy streets, I put the choke collar on. It was not necessary for 99 percent of the time and hung loose around his neck. But I wanted to make sure I would have him should passing traffic created an unexpected loud noise!
Laura Harrington says
My favorite has been the Freedom Harness (I clip the leash on the back since my dogs don’t generally pull). I haven’t seen anyone mention the Balance Harness which looks great and is recommended by Lori Stephens who knows T Touch so I’m sure knows more than I do about the impact on dogs’ bodies. I’m looking forward to trying it out.
Wendy Wright says
I use (and love) the Sensation Harness, attaching the leash to both it and a martingale collar. The double attachment is necessary for me because my skinny dog can occasionally squirm/leap out of the harness. The leash I uses buckles around my waist, leaving me “hands free” to combine dog walking with bird watching and photography.
LisaW, I think it was my comment about the pet owner with a pulling dog that won’t commit to training, that offended you. I am sorry, it was not meant to be offensive but to reflect the reality that many pet owners absolutely love their dogs, but due to time or resource constraints, or just frustration at how long it can take some dogs to learn to not pull on a leash, they just want a solution.
I have no problem with that attitude. It does NOT mean they don’t love their dog, or can’t train their dog, it’s just that whatever their circumstances are, it’s not going to happen.
I want them to be happy with their dog and not give up and no longer take walks or give the dog away, which I have seen happen. One of the best solutions is the no-pull harness type for them.
Jan, my “what does I’m reading really mean” radar is wearing out from over use. I’m weary, and I reacted and then acted! It was something I should have kept to myself until the thought passed. One of those things that one might write and never send. My apologies, please disregard. Lisa
No need to apologize LisaW, but sorry to hear you are weary. We all need a reset sometimes, right? Hope you get a respite.
Amy Martin says
I like the Freedom No Pull Harness as it has a front clip and a clip on the back. You can also a lead that will hook to either or both clips with a handle that moves between them. Gives you more control but in a kind way. I have tried all the different front clip harnesses and this one is my favorite.
J. Decker says
I see way too many powerful, aggressive dogs in restrictive harnesses (Easy Walk, Freedom, Sense-ation, etc.) because it makes them easier to *walk*, without adequate recognition from the handler that there’s still perhaps two+ feet of neck, head and teeth without range limitations.
Heck, even exuberantly friendly dogs in these harnesses can harass passing dogs because they can reach them even if their body is relatively distant.
I’d much rather see the addition of a martingale, prong or even oversized slip collar used with such a harness, even if only on light line over the handler’s shoulders to be used *if needed* to control the head.
S. Small says
Your description, Trisha, of your first dog classes with the correction-based collars fits mine exactly – first-ever Rottie, walked into a class taught by ex-K9 instructors and here we go, in a circle. If dog doesn’t do ….”whatever” – pop ’em. This was my first dog, first Rottie. She was very forgiving of me. I learned to make very “good” corrections. I went to a few other training facilities that were similar in style, though not quite in degree. I just…didn’t know anything else. I saw -but never used – any of the other, even harsher methods. Then that very first beloved Rottie girl of mine was diagnosed with kidney failure. At age 2. So I decided the relationship and quality of life for her were more important than following commands. I very clearly remember throwing my chokers and prongs in the garbage. Then I got involved in dog training as a trainer myself, and assisted in classes where other equipment was used, eventually with future dogs using things like the headcollar and the front-clip harness .
and my first beloved black and tan girl lived a good quality of life up to age 8 and 1/2, when it was not any longer, and she told us it was time. She taught me so much – one of the first wonderful books of yours I have – the dedication I had you sign, is for her.
Bottom line it shouldn’t be about the equipment, it should be about the training. Happy training everyone.
The fact is that I have never heard an argument against pinch collars that can’t be turned around and used against the head collars and restrictive harnesses promoted by those who are against using aversion, and personally, I prefer the honesty, and effectiveness, of the pinch collar.
“The reasons not to use a prong collars are many:
1) They use “positive punishment” (positive does not mean good here!) to suppress behavior, which is associated with an increase in behavior problems [Herron et al Appl An Beh Sci 2009], an increase in aggression, and can diminish the trust between dog and owner…”
Yes, pinch collars use positive punishment – no quibbles there – and they can be used simply to suppress a behaviour – again no quibbles. Let’s deal with suppression. My experience has been that head collars (if they work, which they often don’t) also merely suppress a behaviour. Once the head collar is off, the pulling starts again, if it ever stopped. Restrictive harnesses also teach nothing – they suppress a problem by limiting the dog’s movement. Again, my experience has been that as soon as the harness comes off, the pulling is back.
As to suppressing behaviour being associated with an increase in behaviour problems, I agree that this can happen if someone who doesn’t understand what they are doing is actually increasing drive through frustration and mismanaging the result. Frustration is part of drive building – dog sport trainers know this and use it to their advantage. If this is the case and the suppression is the cause of the problem, it is difficult to see why the instrument of suppression would make a difference. I would argue that it’s not the tool that’s the problem – it’s the increase in drive through frustration and the mismanagement of the drive increased by the suppression.
Interestingly, of my two dogs, the one with leash reactivity is the older one, who I used a Gentle Leader on for four years because I was a new dog owner and wanted to be “gentle”, to no effect regarding having him not pull on the leash. My younger dog, who I put on a pinch collar because his merciless and tenacious pulling actually put me at risk of severe injury, has no reactivity whatsoever. Coincidence?
“…2) they [pinch collars] don’t teach the dog what you do want…”
We’ll have to agree to differ on this. My experience is that pinch collars, correctly used, do teach both what is and is not wanted because they provide a consequence that is perfectly timed, at the correct level and understood by the dog. My dog got it in seconds. Forge ahead and there is a correction. Move back into position (this is the only way to stop the correction) and there is a reward: release of pressure. Stay in heel position and there is no correction. It’s the dog’s choice and they learn it quickly and with only mild discomfort if done correctly in a neutral environment (and yes, I have put a pinch collar around my own neck and pulled with the same force I use on my dog. I cannot honestly describe it as painful). If one is using NePoPo there is also a positive reward besides the removal of the aversive to strengthen the point: this is what I don’t want (tension on the leash) and this is what I do want (no tension on the leash).
On the other hand, what I see all too often with head collars is not teaching, just an attempt at management, with continuous punishment that is meaningless to the dog: the dog walking with its head at an odd angle (while pulling), placing strain on the neck, or often looking miserable and shut down because many dogs hate this piece of equipment. Is continuous physical and/or psychological discomfort acceptable if it comes from a “humane” management tool? Continuous punishment while walking does not sound like an ideal relationship-building exercise to me, nor does it teach the dog anything about what the desired behaviour is or is not. It is in fact the worst type of “training”. Restrictive harnesses also teach nothing. All they do is limit the dog’s ability to pull by restricting its gait. There is no immediate consequence, positive or negative, to teach the dog what behaviour is desired or not desired. Again, all I see with restrictive harnesses is zero training at best and at worst continuous, ineffective punishment if the dog is not enjoying the walk because of frustration or discomfort with the altered gait.
Of course, dogs can be conditioned to have positive associations with head collars and restrictive harnesses and wear them happily. I can do that with pinch collars too.
“…3) they can cause physical damage to the neck, including to the sensitive thyroid gland, the spine, and the muscles of the neck.”
Vets who specialize in injury rehabilitation have told me that head collars can cause serious neck injury. These vets are also concerned that restrictive harnesses can cause long-term damage to the muscle structure through their alteration of the dog’s gait and weight distribution. Funnily enough, the specialist vets I spoke to recommended, unprompted, a correctly used pinch collar as the most humane, effective training tool. The one I spoke to in person shuddered – literally – at the mention of head collars and restrictive harnesses and said she’d like to see them all put in a pile and burnt.
The way I see it is that behaviourists condemn openly aversive tools because they see the results of them being used incorrectly. Fair enough, and I don’t deny that they can be used abusively, either through accident or design, but I would argue that they do not see the masses of dogs that are perfectly happy in spite of the use of some aversion in training, so their perception is biased. It could also be argued that the veterinarians who specialize in injury rehabilitation condemn head collars and restrictive harnesses because they only deal with the injuries and do not see the masses of perfectly happy, uninjured dogs whose owners use them. Again, fair enough, and their perceptions may be biased too. But to accept the bias of one group because it reinforces what we believe and reject the bias of another group because it doesn’t suit our purpose is a result of emotion, not logic.
I realize that people will always have their preferences and I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I don’t believe that there is any one training tool that suits all dogs and meets the needs of every owner. While I have a preference for pinch collars, there are dogs I’ve recommended head collars for because the owner needs to control the head and I’d never put a pinch collar on a dog whose owner was a chronic leash popper. I also don’t believe in having double standards and using them to promote, or condemn, any proper training or management tool in itself. I don’t think any tool is truly benign and the reality is that the only way around them is to train the dog and try to make the tool redundant as quickly as possible.
Beverly Ann Hebert says
I have a Border collie and after trying out a few, the front attachment harness I like best is “Walk Your Dog With Love.” It is easy to fit, very easy to put on and take off, and does not appear to inhibit the movement of my dog’s shoulders or legs in a way that is unhealthy or uncomfortable for her. I have worked hard to train loose leash walking so I don’t always have to use the harness but I am glad to have it as a back up in certain situations such as when we do our animal assisted therapy visits and other times when I have to carry things in my arms while walking with her.
Hi, my dear Patricia. I have read your book Feisty Fido and it has been very useful to me. in fact his habit of facing dogs in the street has diminished notably.However, the adorable rott of 52 kilos adolescent who, lately, is looking for mischievous attitudes in people and tries to follow them. before castrating I tried to use a halti that put him in a bad mood. He crossed an avenue and went directly to fight a dog on the opposite sidewalk. At that time, I attributed it to the use of halti that seemed to put him in a bad mood.previously and after that episode, I applied the advice of Feisty Fido with his East Wall. But now (he’s 19 months old) he’s looking for suspicious attitudes in people and jumping. I’ve never done this before. With this, (he weighs 55 kilos and I 43 kilos) comes to take me a stretch to the person. This did not happen with the halti, however, in that episode was released and went to bump a dog. So far nothing serious has happened but I fear it may happen
– I’m thinking of going back to the halti. But I have doubts: Will he be in a bad mood? Or was it that he had not been castrated? Will I have to attach the halti to the collar or the easy walk harness? maybe the adaptation does not work enough? With the dogs it goes very well with the Very good and the U-turn
With the halti he walked very gently. Anyway he does not pull except when there is an unforeseen. Once passed a man came running towards us. Apart from that he wanted to run, his harness broke. He has been trained with positive methods and is very docile and sweet, but very large. Help please. Thank you!!!!
Sarah Nelson says
You obviously dont know how to use a prong collar or train a dog from what it sounds. If you are not for prong collars you should be against halters and gentle leaders too, so all I really got from this is you dont know what your doing and a hypocrite
I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!! I see so many Dogs being abused by owners using prong collars…Yes I say abused because not 1 of these owners understand or will admit that the constant “checking” their Dogs and yanking them when they just want to sniff something are causing pain and in some instances, injury! Everyone of them have said “my trainer told me to use it” My thoughts are of course “well your trainer is a lazy idiot who needs to be shutdown” I never verbalize this and try to remain cordial when explaining modern science exists on this topic and there are better, humane ways to teach your Dog what you want it to do. Eye rolls and rude comments are the usual response. How can we get state or Federal laws banning the use of prong and shock collars implemented?
BTW Sarah N. to make such a comment about or towards THE Patricia McConnell only shows YOUR under education in proper Dog training. She is THE go- to on behavior and training information. Her books are essential in learning modern science based training methods and are recommended reading by all the certification boards for Dog trainers.
Prong collars are great. The problem is any reactive idiot that is clueless about the proper way to use them can buy one. And when I see a dummy with a prong collar on their dog as the sole collar, hung like a necklace I have no problem directing them to a site where they can be educated. Most people, including me under certain circumstances, are too reactive to use training collars.
And I have seen trainers that use them correctly use them without a failsafe, so if the collar falls apart off goes the dog.
My malinois does a perfect loose leash walk with the prong collar on….no pop needed. He lasts about 15′ with his regular collar. He’ll heel on request, but has a very short memory. I’m at least his 4th owner. Tough guys don’t want an independent minded dog who needs to get paid for every command and that’s who my dog is.
I have a prong collar, I have an e-collar, and I have a martingale collar. The prong and e-collar are extremely effective and after a short couple of months neither is employed for corrections with any frequency. They work because my GSD knows they’re there. She walks wonderfully on a very loose leash or off leash, she has a wide vocabulary of commands that she responds perfectly to, and she is the most calm and friendly dog you ever met. We just came back from achieving RA in 6 straight Rallys from zero where we watched several people training their dogs with food and positive methods outside the ring only to completely fall apart when such controls were removed in the ring. It wasn’t pretty setting people’s hopes get dashed with a DQ because their dog ran out of the ring when of leash. BTW, one of the stewards came over to us specifically to mention that my dog was the happiest dog she had seen at a show in a long time.
That is now.
One year ago my dog was people aggressive, pulled constantly on leash, wouldn’t let anyone in the house or yard, and couldn’t be trusted in general. She had been trained via some highly respected and recommended “positive” trainers since she was young. Bait (food) training and speaking nicely to her while turning your back just don’t work on all dogs.
A pop on a prong collar can bring an easily distracted dog back to focus quickly and effectively. A “tap” on an e-collar does the same thing at a distance. (it’s no worse than a static discharge like you’d get from a doorknob in the winter when adjusted properly) Surprisingly (to some individuals) there is no one “right” way to train a dog and there is no one “right” set of equipment that will reach a dogs mind and motivate it to respond. As my trainer says, “your dog is not made of glass”. It’s throat is far tougher than a human neck and using physical corrections (which, by the way, is what head halters are and a dogs snout is more fragile than his throat) is not automatically cruel.
Just like in dieting people overcomplicate simple concepts while looking for a quick fix, the only diet that works is ‘eat less, exercise more’. The only training technique that works is ‘praise what you like and correct what you don’t’. If you don’t do both of these simple things you will fail. Period. Denial of affection or withholding a treat is a correction and a punishment, like it or not. Some dogs couldn’t care less about this yet respond well to physical corrections applied judiciously. Praise works very effectively and should be applied immediately upon achieving the desired result, even if the result was achieved via correction. Doing the wrong thing will always be corrected and doing the right thing will always be rewarded. Show the dog what you want and name it, always end on a positive, happy note.
I saw at least one comment about how “dangerous” equipment should be banned. Those are generally the people who line up to universally ban dangerous things like skis, parallel bars, mountain bikes, ill fitting shoes, and fast food. Sorry no nanny state for me.
Any training equipment can be misused, some more easily than others. The right tool for the right job is essential and it’s not the same set of tools all the time.
Anthropomorphizing is fine but dogs don’t think and react like people do, no matter what it might look like. Using physical corrections on a large stubborn dog is not cruel, it is what it takes. Getting fast results that leaves you with a happier dog than you started with is not a shortcut, it is effective training. Making your dog suffer through extended confusion and lack of satisfaction because it cannot understand what you want is far worse than making yourself clear in it’s own language. A dog who knows what you want and can be an effective member of your team is a very happy dog indeed.
I always use a front attaching harness, and recommend it for dogs in our rescue group who pull. Thank you for this information.
If you have a dog that doesnt mind the head color (gentle leader and sim.), and it seems to work with great success, but you haven’t tried the Easy Walk or Sense-ation (and similar cross shoulder harnesses), would you recommend it to be tried? In other words, if both are tolerated well, do you have an unequivocal preference for one vs the other?