Our dogs, particularly in the West are considered pets at the moment – hopefully not for much longer as we learn more about them. At the moment though, when we decide to have a dog, we take responsibility for their place in the world. We tell society that we will manage them, and we make a commitment to make sure they won’t be a nuisance.
Whilst we are doing this we must also consider the dog and their right to as much freedom as possible. We can’t let them out to roam their neighborhood like we once did, and like many European places still do, so we must roam with them in the way they would. Walking, exploring, and sniffing are natural acts. Racing, chasing and grabbing, are natural acts too. Our role as good guardians is not only to ensure they are fed and healthy, it’s also to provide them their freedom in a managed way that fits with the life we have created for them. Our role is to help our dogs practice their natural behavior whilst keeping them and others safe as we do.
Freedom From Pulling
This particular topic will be more relevant to you if you are dealing with a dog who pulls, particularly a strong one.
Often if a dog pulls on walks we go looking for advice to stop that unpleasant experience, and when we go looking for advice on dog behavior we are entering a very scary world. If you are anything like me, the first place you go for advice is the internet, first a search then often a Facebook survey. Now, if you learn anything at all from this booklet it is this:
Not all people who give advice on dogs understand or empathize with them – yet most people believe they do.
Dog training and behavior is a self-regulated profession. There is not even one regulatory body and even scarier is this, the methods are not regulated either. So, when we ask online what to do about a pulling dog, we are inviting much misunderstanding into our lives and making ourselves and our dog vulnerable to all sorts of dodgy opinions and advice. So, do be careful and try to incorporate empathy into everything you do with your dog.
The golden rule is this:
If you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t put a dog through it either!
We are not so different from our dogs, so let’s treat them in the way we would like to be treated, and that in itself is good guardianship.
Pulling on a lead is something that can be changed. It can seem like a dog will never stop pulling but it’s just a habit. In fact, most behaviors a dog carries out are simple habits that have been practiced over and over again. Pulling on the lead is most common because we don’t really teach a dog not to pull and so they practice over and over again, pulling on the lead. The important thing we look at when we consider a dog’s behavior – any behavior in fact – is that our dogs are motivated by something specific. If we change the motivation we can change the behavior. For example, if a loose lead turns into a treat from your hand, and the dog really wants that treat the lead will be looser more often. After you have established a loose lead you can then just reinforce it over and over again, making that position stronger and naturally eradicating the pulling.
There is a lot of choice for walking equipment available and much of it promises a quick fix for the guardian of a pulling dog, but at what cost?
There are headcollars, collars, slip leads, and harnesses. The first three are most often suggested as good equipment to stop pulling. Headcollars close around the dog’s face and tighten if they pull. They usually work, but it’s worth asking ourselves if they are fair. Sometimes a professional and positive dog trainer will suggest a short-term headcollar if a big strong dog can’t be walked because of their pulling. If the trainer is ethical though they will also use it as a stop-gap alongside a behavior modification program, with the aim of moving to a better option when the dog has been taught to walk on a loose lead through positive methods.
Collars come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The flat collar is the least invasive, yet it still causes a lot of pressure on the delicate throat area if the dog is pulling or pulled. The dog’s throat is no less sensitive than ours. Common collars created with the aim of stopping a dog from pulling are corrective in nature. They are designed to make pulling uncomfortable or even painful. Chains and ropes that tighten, prongs, and electric shock collars will all destroy a dog’s trust and faith in their guardian, they may even cause behavior issues and will certainly make the dog anxious. And if we empathize by imagining how vulnerable we would feel when wearing them, we can easily understand why.
Harnesses are my choice. Our dogs are small and older now, so they wear TTouch harnesses on walks which are light and comfortable.
Choosing a harness is important because they can be uncomfortable and even heavy for our dogs to wear – particularly the little dogs. Harnesses with a lot of material are fashionable at the moment, the more material a harness has though, the heavier it will be for the dog to carry, so it’s worth keeping that in mind. Wearing a heavy harness can cause tension, we can find out how a harness affects our dogs by observing them wearing it for a while, then observing them without it on and seeing how their body shape changes and if their movement is different.
It’s also important to watch your dog’s reaction when having the harness on to go out, do they look pleased – does their body language change when you put it on, the differences will be subtle but the more you observe the easier it will be to see those small changes.
Have a think about what your dog is currently wearing for walks, is it the best thing for them to wear? Could their walking equipment do with an upgrade? Remember it needs to be safe, comfortable, not too heavy, not issue any threats or affect the dog’s wellbeing.