WALKING THE DOG
Text by Judy Kody Paulsen (Greyhound Companions of New Mexico) and Freddi Hetler (Dog Rescuer/Shelter Volunteer)
You've seen it - the dog who walks the person down the street. Tugging and pulling at the lead, the dog practically drags its human companion along the sidewalk. This is not fun for either of you.
Training and getting the type of behavior you want from your dog should be rewarding for you both. No slip collar of any type should be left on a dog when the dog is not on a leash and with its handler. Continuous jerking, no matter what kind of collar the dog is wearing, constant "nagging" or reminding (which means the dog is ignoring corrections), are all good hints that another type of collar, training method, or tool should be used instead. The best rule of thumb is use the MILDEST collar that gives the results you need.
It is important to use positive reinforcement with frequent rewards while training a dog to walk loosely on a leash, no matter what type of restraint device you use. Be sensible about how you use the leash and collar you choose for your dog. The likelihood of injury or escape is present with any combination, so don't limit yourself to one choice because of one experience or one need. Your dog is wholly dependent on your common sense and your ability to predict or identify any threats to him. Think safety, think comfort, think humane.
Choke Chain/Slip Collar
Choke chains (also referred to as a slip collar), long the standard of training, are now being reconsidered. A dog can be severely injured and can die as a result of a choke chain being used. Improper use can fracture the hyoid bones in the neck which form a cradle that supports the larynx. This kind of trauma can result in tissue swelling and bleeding into the surrounding area, cutting off a dog's ability to breathe or swallow. If you use slip collars, don't use sharp, jerking corrections. Some dogs are particularly susceptible to this type of injury because of their physiology. For example, greyhounds have long, thin necks with very little hair and very thin skin and are particularly vulnerable, but any dog can be injured when a choke chain is used improperly.
It should go without saying that a dog should never be tied to anything for any amount of time for any reason. And any type of slip collar should never be left on a dog when it is not with its handler on a leash.*
When used properly, pinch collars, the metal-pronged collars, can be more humane than choke collars which are dangerous because they get as tight as they can be pulled. A pinch collar may look cruel because of the inward facing prongs, but it can only tighten a few inches because of a self-regulating chain. People who think the collar is cruel should put it around their wrist and pull to see that it doesn't hurt a bit. The fur around a dog's neck adds even more padding.
Pinch collars are very effective training tools. They work because the prongs remind the dog of its mother's correcting bite on its neck and compliance from the dog is gained that way. The pinch collar is recommended as a leash training tool for dogs who are large and who have a small owner, dogs who pull on their leashes or dogs who are "hard headed" and need to be reminded who is in charge. It is referred to as "power steering" and keeps the dog from pulling. If the handler continues to maintain an alpha relationship with the dog in training, good behaviors learned while on the prong can be transferred successfully to a milder collar. It is necessary to learn to use these collars properly and very important not to be heavy handed. You should just walk the dog and only "pop" the leash once to correct the dog, NOT "pop" the leash every few steps. The collar is not to be left on the dog when he's not being taught to walk on a leash.
When buying a pinch collar, talk with someone experienced. Some of the collars are big and heavy, with long prongs. You can buy extra links to enlarge the collar. They make large, medium and mini pinch collar links and prongs for use with different sized dogs. The age when pinch collars can be used depends upon the dog's size. Again, an experienced person should advise on this.
The pinch collar is not recommended for dogs with aggression problems, as the stimulation it gives can increase aggression in certain dogs who are already aggressive. It also should not be used in shy, fearful dogs as it might make the fear worse. Those dogs need their confidence built and the pinch gives a certain amount of negative feedback. **
A study on prong collars was done in Germany with 100 dogs. Half used choke and half used prong collars. The dogs were studied for their entire lives and when they died, autopsies were performed. Of the 50 who had chokes, 48 had injuries to the neck, trachea or back. Two of those were determined to be genetic. The other 46 were caused by trauma. Of the 50 who had prongs, two had injuries in the neck area; one was determined to be genetic and one was caused by trauma.
Head Halter/Head Collar
Head halters (also called head collars) are recommended by some trainers for dogs who pull while being walked on leash, but again there is danger of cervical or spinal damage with improper use. Head collars lead the dog from the head, where they lack the strength and leverage to be able to pull. A dog who tries to pull while wearing a head collar simply has his head turned gently back toward his handler. Some dogs have difficulty adjusting to the idea of having a muzzle-like apparatus on their head and face but once they adjust, this can be an effective method of control.
Martingale collars were originally designed for sight-hounds (greyhounds, afghans, whippets, wolfhounds among others) whose necks are commonly as large or larger than their heads. They are not designed to be "opened," and are put on the dog by sliding it over the head, therefore are often custom made to fit a particular dog. They employ a "control loop" which tightens the collar when tension is put on the lead, thus preventing the dog from backing out of the collar.
Custom Fit On Lead
Custom Tapered Lead
Martingales can be used for any breed of dog. There are adjustable martingale-style collars made from webbing, as well as the traditional tapered style. The tapered shape of the Martingale collar provides gentle control, unlike the chain or cord choker which may injure a dogs neck, and is normally used only when the dog is on lead.
Harnesses, which attach around a dog's shoulders and chest, are probably the safest and least likely to allow escape. However, a harness is not a training device and can encourage a "hard headed" dog to pull harder. Harnesses should be used for any dog with a known history of cervical or spinal problems.
Choosing the right collar for your dog will ensure that walk time is a pleasure for both you and your dog.
*DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE A CHOKE CHAIN ON YOUR DOG WITHOUT PROPER TRAINING! It's a potentially very dangerous device, and you can injure your dog if you don't know what you're doing (and/or your dog doesn't cooperate). If you want to learn about the physical damage that choke chains can cause, click here: A Pain in the Neck
**Metal-pronged collars are NEVER recommended for use with greyhounds or any short-haired, thin-skinned breed. Author Judy Kody Paulsen does not condone any use of this type of collar; its mention in this article was contributed by another author.
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