What should I put on my puppy?
This is a question we hear frequently in recent years as harnesses have become more and more popular. Our answer is always the same it doesn’t really matter what you put on your puppy. What matters is teaching your puppy loose lead walking. That said if your dog walks beautifully to heel then why would you want to put a harness on. Its more effort and there is evidence to show that harnesses can effect he dogs natural gait.
Puppies can be taught to heel walk super quickly, as 90% of the time when we first bring them home they just want to be near us. As owners we need to cash in on this.
Crash course in loose lead walking
Grab a handful of treats and walk up and down in your house keeping your pup engaged. If your pup manages to trot along with you reward with verbal praise and a treat by your leg every 4-5 steps. Repeat this exercise a couple of times a day for no more than a couple of minutes. KEEP IT FUN.
Get your pup used to wearing a collar during supervised times with your pup. Practice putting the collar on and off your pup and reward calm behaviour. The more times you can do this the better as there is nothing worse than an older dog that goes bananas when you get a collar or lead out.
Once you are happy your pup is acclimatised to the collar add a lead to your little heel work exercises. Your pup will most likely try to bite this new snake that’s attached to them. If they go to bite the lead a quick “ah ah” or “no” followed by praise when the behaviour stops should resolve it pretty quickly. Get the pups attention with your yummy treats and resume your heel practice rewarding frequently every several steps. Remember puppies have super short attention spans so keep your sessions short and always end on a good note.
Once your pup is succeeding at this exercise indoors, move to the garden. Remember your pups attention will not be as on it outside so you may have to be more engaging to keep the pups attention. Repeat the exercise outdoors with the same reward pattern and position, you may initially need to reward more frequently again.
Over time as your pup becomes proficient with this exercise you can move to slightly more distracting places, like a local playing field etc. The heel work needs to be proofed in each area so don’t expect your dog to be perfect in the park just because you can do it in the garden.
Loose lead walking with your pup is achievable with consistency and patience. This means whilst training you cannot have a day when you aren’t bothered and let your pup pull ahead and ignore you. If you don’t have time one day you are better off exercising your pup a different way that doesn’t involve heel work. Mental stimulation for dogs can tire them just as much as physical exercise. This isn’t to say dogs shouldn’t have physical exercise because they should, but do beat yourself up if your dog doesn’t get a “good run” everyday as long as you have done something.
So now you know how to go about teaching your pup to heel lets look at Collars and Harnesses.
Your most two common types of collar used are the flat buckle and clip collars seen above. Above them there is also a martingale collar top left and a choke chain collar top right.
The two collars at the bottom should be fitted properly allowing you to put at least two fingers under them. If fitted properly they should be comfortable for your dog to wear.
The top left is a martingale collar often worn by grey hounds and alike so that the collar cannot be pulled over their heads as they tighten slightly when pressure is applied. That said there is a limit to their tightening and when no pressure is applied they should fit loosely on the dogs neck.
Top right is the choke chain, a very common training tool some years back but in recent years have declined due to some of the issues they cause. Used correctly with a well trained dog the collar remains loose around the dogs neck and is comfortable. However, if pressure is applied the chain tightens like a noose with no limit, meaning if the pressure doesn’t release there is a strong likelihood the dogs airway would be compromised causing harm. The choke chain is very solid with no give and can cause numerous injuries to dogs necks if used irresponsibly.
That said, whilst the choke chain is easier to cause damage with if not used correctly any collar can cause harm to your dog if not used in the correct manner.
An ill-fitting collar can lead to strangulation if the collar gets inadvertently caught on something, even with a well fitted collar there is a small possibility. This is why collars should be removed when you leave your dogs. A loose collar also leaves open the possibility that the dog could get a limb stuck through the collar causing injury.
Collars can cause neck injury if a dog pulls against it violently or if indeed the owner incorrectly uses it with harsh lead correction. Repeated impact of the collar on the neck can cause damage to the dog glands found in it neck as well as muscular and skeletal damage.
Now that I have petrified you about collars you need to understand that if used correctly and responsibly the standard collar and lead pose no risk to your dog.
It is also worth noting that UK law states a dog must wear a collar and ID tag which must detail their owner’s name and address, including postcode. This applies whether your dog is on their lead or not. The fine for non compliance is up to £2000.
Like collars come in different styles as below.
The Y shaped harness – shaped like a Y at the front of the dog with a ring above the dogs shoulders where the lead is attached. These to me are the harness equivalent to the flat collar.
Then you have what I would class as fashion harnesses, which are more like a tank top for dogs with a ring on the back where you can attach the lead.
The cross chest harness which have a horizontal strap across the dogs chest and a strap behind the dogs front legs with a ring on top to attach the lead. These harnesses have the most drastic impact on the dogs natural gait.
Here is an interesting article about research done in this subject
The “no pull” harness, these are the harness equivalent of a choke chain.
These harnesses tighten with pressure and there is no limit to this meaning there is a chance of injury.
The front ring harness, another harness marketed to stop dogs pulling by pulling them off balance from the front. Often the lead is double ended as in the photo and clipped to the back and the front, this is supposed to offer the owner more control by being able to move the front of the dog rather than just pulling backwards.
Like collars there are some harnesses that are better than others. For me the only harness I would use is the Y shaped harness as it interferes least with the dogs natural gait. That is not to say is does not have an effect however.
Although I advocate the use of collars with dogs, that is not to say I don’t use harnesses. My dogs have harnesses on for example if I go to the beach on a rough day as my dogs have no concept of how dangerous the water is. So if the water is choppy I put a long line on in case. My dogs have good recall but if I am too late and a wave gets them before I call the harness and long line means they are safe.
Dogs that do scent tracking also use harnesses to enable the dog to pull the line when tracking as constant pulling on their necks could be detrimental.
Harnesses are also uses in canicross and other dog sports where they pull, but these are specifically designed harnesses for purpose.
This was a whistle stop tour of dog collars and harnesses, there are tonnes more different varieties but we wanted to point out some of the common ones.
I suppose what we are trying to say is collars and harnesses can both cause damage and changes to the dogs if used incorrectly. However, when a dog is taught to walk to heel from a young age with positive reinforcement then it makes everyone’s lives better, especially your dogs as they never have to experience the pressure produced from these tools.
It is also worth briefly to mention that Brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and shih tzus etc may have slightly more compromised airways to start with so for health reason may want to opt for a harness that keeps well away from their necks. This would also apply to any other dogs that may have pre existing medical conditions.
A dog that understands how to walk at heel in theory shouldn’t need a collar or a harness, however, we know a collar and tag is a legal requirement when in a public place and even though I trust my dog 100% with heeling I would always have a lead attached when walking beside a road etc as you never know what the environment will throw at you and dogs are not robots.
Hopefully you will now be able to make an informed decision for your dogs and get a start on training to walk on a loose lead walking.
Whatever camp you sit in, harness or collar we wish you all the best with your training journey. If you would like more information on how we can assist you this this please get in touch today to find out more.
Whistle and Wag Dog Training – “Make everyday and good dog day”