When I trained my first dog not to pull while on a leash in the 1950s, the only equipment we used was a choke chain and a six-foot leash. The method used was punishment or what is called avoidance learning. Our dogs learned to avoid a jerk on the leash by responding to a command such as “heel” or “sit.” Thankfully, our equipment and methods for teaching dogs have changed dramatically since then.
We now have so many choices of equipment that is effective and gentler on our dogs and us. Effectiveness isn’t our sole criteria in teaching our canine companions. Our long-term relationship and trust from our dogs is a major part of training.
We combine the use of this more modern and less aversive equipment with positive reinforcement strategies — most often high-value food rewards. Halters and harnesses are recommended for teaching dogs to walk or jog on a loose leash.
Head halters work with dogs using a similar premise as with horses. The saying is “control the head and you control the horse” (or dog). Halters need to be fitted carefully to the size of your dog. And as with all equipment, it is an aid to teaching not a “fix” in its own right. Careful use of the head halter can be quite effective in controlling the dog. Improper use of this halter by combining forceful jerking actually can cause physical pain and injury. Be sure to solicit the help of an experienced trainer for proper instruction.
There are many types of head halters on the market. Two that we like are the Gentle Leader and Halti. The Gentle Leader fits a more snuggly on your dog’s head. The Halti can be fit more loosely. Recently, I worked with a dog that had more skin around his head and jaws, so the Halti seemed to be a better choice for him. They both work well.
The biggest problem with traditional harnesses is that the leash attaches to the back of the harness behind the shoulders. This is designed to facilitate a dog bearing down with its front legs. It’s what harnesses were designed for in the first place: pulling.
However, this type of harness is ideal for small dogs and for senior dogs that do not pull on leash.
We like control harnesses for active pulling dogs. These have a leash attachment ring in the center front of the harness at about chest level. The leash is attached to the front, so when your dog pulls forward, his body is turned toward you. It doesn’t give him the pulling power of a rear-hooked harness.
Two types of control harnesses we use are Easy Walk Harness and SENSE-ation Harness.
Depending on the owner’s diligence and consistency, training can take days, weeks or months. But it’s worth the time and effort.
Take advantage of the advancements in equipment and knowledge of behavior when teaching your pet. It’s nice to know we have so many choices to fit our needs.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 25 years of experience.