Walkin' The Dog

By Diane Schlindwein

February 5, 2010 5 min read

If you are the owner of a dog that constantly pulls on the leash, chances are you never enjoy a leisurely walk in the park -- or anywhere else.

It's essential to get the proper training for your dog so that both you and your pet can enjoy your time together, says professional dog trainer Barbara Shumannfang. "Leash manners are important because they impact the quality of life, health and safety of the dog, the owner and the general public," she says.

"A dog who walks politely on a leash gets more exercise, which helps treat obesity and behavior problems," says Shumannfang, who founded Top Notch Dog in Durham, N.C., and is the author of "Happy Kids, Happy Dogs" (Lulu, $16). "He is less likely to injure his owner by yanking and is likelier to pass other people and dogs without lunging or creating a scene.

"Physical therapists report to me that many of their patients suffer from leash-yanking injuries to their hands or shoulders," she says. "Dogs who pull on leashes -- straining and gagging -- appear threatening and can provoke other dogs."

Before you walk any dog, pick out the right collar. "Many of us dog trainers used to rely on metal collars -- which reduced pulling by causing pain -- for example, choke collars or pinch collars. But modern trainers consider the use of such collars outdated and unnecessary, and most owners want to walk side by side with their pooches and not hurt them in order to train them," she says.

That's why a simple nylon flat buckle collar is a good choice. "Just be sure it is fitted around your dog's neck such that you can get no more than two fingers under it. Otherwise, your dog can slip out of it," Shumannfang says. "If your dog's head is narrow, a martingale collar (also known as a slip collar) prevents your dog from backing out of the collar.

"During the training process, it is important to prevent old pulling habits from resurfacing. I often recommend a front attachment harness for this, such as the Easy Walk by Premier," she says. "If a dog is very large or exuberant -- or the handler has physical limitations -- I recommend a Gentle Leader head collar. If properly introduced, it is comfortable for the dog and may only need to be used temporarily."

Because of their natural rambunctiousness and smaller size, puppies need special consideration. "Regular collars, body harnesses and the newer front-clip harnesses are all appropriate for puppies," says Madeline Gabriel, a certified dog trainer from San Diego.

"In some cases, people may choose to acclimate their puppy to a head halter early, particularly if it's going to be a powerful dog with a not-so-strong owner," Gabriel says. "There is no reason to ever use a choke chain or prong collar or a shock collar or anything that is meant to control the puppy's movement through pain."

If you are training a young dog, Gabriel says the leash should fit the size and weight of the puppy. "A big heavy leash that the puppy is meant to 'grow into' will not be comfortable and may prompt the puppy to bite and pull the leash," she says.

Both Shumannfang and Gabriel agree that a 6-foot cloth or nylon leash is good for training, walks, visits to the vet, group training sessions and house training.

"Many people are surprised to learn that there is no harm in the dog carrying the leash in his mouth, as long as there is no pulling and the leash does not get chewed up," Shumannfang says. "If the dog is inclined to chew, having the dog carry a toy is a wonderful solution, as is teaching the dog to target your hand periodically to replace the leash-holding behavior."

Retractable leashes are popular, however Gabriel warns against using them in training a puppy. "The puppy is not technically walking on a loose leash; the puppy has to pull with at least some pressure in order to extend the leash," she says. "Retractable leashes can be fun for romping when it's not safe to be off a leash."

Shumannfang agrees that owners who are training dogs of any age should steer away from retractable leashes. "I would advise that one not be used until the dog is fully leash-trained, because the constant tension and varying length can be quite confusing to the dog and owner."

"Leash walking should be more like walking hand in hand with a small child or someone you love," Gabriel says. "Yes, you are physically connected by a leash, but it's your personal connection that makes your walks enjoyable."

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