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Unpacking Walking Tools

One of the most enjoyable parts of dog companionship is enjoying the great outdoors. It is necessary for our dog's safety and our own to keep them under our control. There have been many tools developed to assist in this; flat collars, choke collars, harnesses of many kinds, and even head-halters. Some have proven to work better than others, but at the end of the day, good training is at the foundation to long-term behavior change. Let's talk about anti-pull tools: Head Halters and Front-Clip No-pull harnesses. These are the most recommended tools in the force-free training world right now, but there are some drawbacks and important implications to think about.

There are many tools to help deter our dogs from pulling. The force-free world advocates for head-halters and front clip harnesses. Head halters are very effective and easy to fit, but some dogs take a while to acclimate to them. Front clip harnesses are moderately effective, but I see fitting issues often and I fear for long-term skeletal and muscular damage from their use.

Regardless, they are both tools. A great way to think of training a dog to walk with a loose leash is to think: Tension on the leash = recall. This will 1. Reinforce your recall. 2. Redirect your dog from pulling. 3. Encourage your dog to avoid leash tension during walks.

Front Clip Harness

The front clip harness is designed to redirect your dog’s chest to you, but it also causes them to walk with their shoulders offset to the leash. I advise the use of this tool for training and then move on to a more ergonomic tool. (collar, martingale collar, back clip harness)

Please review the photos above for proper front clip harness fitting and an explanation of concerns for long-term front clip use for your dog’s physical well-being. The picture above shows a proper fit. The front band should be across the dogs' chest. If it rides low it will impede forward movement. If it rides high it will put pressure on the dog's trachea. Either way, it typically will result in lateral shifting of the dog's shoulders which may likely have negative consequences over the long term.

Head Halter

I like the head halter and find its effectiveness is VERY good, but you must commit to a longer acclimation period for some dogs. First, offer high-value rewards for putting their nose in the loop. Second, get the head halter clipped on and offer high-value rewards continuously (Peanut butter, soft cheese, or liverwurst smeared on a spoon. Third, offer rapid-fire treats while wearing the head halter and slowly start spacing out the treats. If the dog tries to take it off, tilt their head up until they stop and increase the reward interval.

A head halter is also a great tool for controlling your dog’s front. You can move their head from dangerous items found on walks, redirect their body back to you, and so on. I also find some dogs to shift their shoulders away from the fall of the leash, so I like to use this as a tool and develop good behavior patterns on the leash and then rely on your training!


Hand Touch

Hand Touch: Offering a hand with a treat tucked under your thumb. When the dog goes for the food and touches their nose to your hand, mark with the cue word 'TOUCH' and release the food.

This skill is VERY versatile and will be useful to build other skills.

1st Thumb tuck with the treat. 2nd Without treat. (but reward from the other hand) Then in new locations - high, low, over your leg, etc., and environments.

Where Am I Going? I like to start walks by changing my direction repeatedly. This results in the dog registering that I am part of the walk. Where I am going needs to be factored in. I walk in a direction and when the dog reaches the end of the leash I go another way calling them after me. Say GOOD and reward when they catch up with you. I repeat this over and over until the dog doesn't reach the end of the leash because they are paying attention to where I am. Then as they maintain a loose leash, capture that with a GOOD and reward. Slowly build time of offered focus during this walking session. I complete this exercise throughout the walk as needed.

How does your dog walk on a leash? Are they new to the leash? Or have they been practicing pulling for a long time? Do they have good behavior most of the time and make some bad choices? Or do they think you are a sleigh? The ability to choose the right tools and training methods for your dog will depend on your dog and their behavior. You can always try one tool and wean to another, or change altogether. It's about making sure you and your dog can get outdoors and have fun safely!

Set up for success and reward the behaviors you want.

Jackie Ward; Citali Dog Training

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