A Little Restraint, Please

Classy Restraint

Audrey was a master with the poodles.


We hear this all the time. From childhood into adulthood and well into our senior years. “Show a little restraint!” Who’s business is it anyway whether I restrain myself or not?  I ask you, do we live in a Free Country or not?  Am I unable to express myself right here in the Great U.S. of A?  This country is going to the dogs!!  What’s that you say?  We are talking about dogs?  Oh, well then…..

We should include our furry friends in this discussion since they are having to be restrained all the time. As you know I am a pet sitter and I have a few clients that I don’t have to restrain at all.  They are quite lovely.  They happily follow me wherever I go and never wander out of eyesight. They don’t chase critters, or cars or small children. They don’t go rooting around in someone’s garbage can or rolling around in God knows what.  They are all-around good walkers.  Now, I do restrain them around small children because they, the said small children, are an unknown.  They may do any number of things to the dog and the dog knows this.  So I just err on the side of caution and keep them close-by.  Works for all of us.  But, let’s talk about the dogs that do need restraint.  These dogs come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments.  There are dogs that will walk just as pretty as you please right by your side, then up pops a bunny and you are “off to the races”  !!  This animal has succumbed to it’s basest instinct and has gone off to kill said bunny and you are simply slowing him down by being dragged along for the hunt.  Or, the same dog is quietly walking with you and you pass a full to over-flowing garbage can and he can’t help himself but to jerk you around and go foraging in the can.   There is another group of dogs that think they are in a tractor pull right from the get-go.  You hook up the leash to their collar or harness and they just put their heads down and pull for all they’re worth.  Even if they are a smaller dog, this can be quite disconcerting.   And they are strong, too.  Another category of dogs needing restraint are what I would kindly refer to as “free spirits”.  These dogs are completely baffled when you put a leash on them,they have no idea what it’s purpose is.   They will jump, twist, catapult themselves into the air, run circles around your legs, just to see what happens to that annoying “thing” that has become attached to them and they never tire at the multitude of opportunities they have to trip you up.  I have honestly had one throw itself bodily at another dog, all along thinking it was proper leash etiquette.  My, oh my, oh my.  The things I’ve seen.  Makes a girl stop and reflect on just why we think the dog should follow us anyway.  Which would bring us to the topic of doggie basic training 101.  Your dog needs to know that you are the one in charge and you will decide if there will be any kind of trash party going on.  Of course, there won’t be because well-mannered people don’t do that and that also speaks to their dogs.

In basic training with your dog, the first thing they learn is how to walk on a leash.  Go to any dog obedience class and I can assure you this will be right at the top of the list.  Most dogs will start out with your standard collar, also known as a buckle collar or tag collar, which would then be attached to the standard leash.  I emphasize standard leash because I don’t consider the flexi-leashes to be the real thing.  So, like Justin Silver on “Dogs in the City” – throw it in the trash. That’s what I said, throw the flexi-leash in the trash!   I cheered when he did that, really I did.  Back in class, we are all hooked up and now we just want our precious pup to follow us.  What actually ensues is fun to watch.  Some dogs will go right along with the game.  Others will balk.  Others will set to throwing a fit and still others may simply lay down and give up.  At this point a decision needs to be made.  What do we need to do to encourage the dog to follow us?  Often a strong command will work, simply calling his name in an authoritative voice can get the dog’s attention and let him know you have an agenda.  The key here is getting the dog’s attention.  There are a number of ways to get a dog’s attention and depending on his response to the standard collar and leash we may learn what choices we have when choosing a training collar.  ( Please note: Training collars should not be used on puppies under sixteen weeks of age.  Their tracheae are still developing and any pulling or jerking may cause permanent damage.)

With a dog that refuses to move, you might consider some behavior modification to get the results you want.  In short, bribe him!!  Why do you think they make training treats anyway?  Take the treat, preferably something small and moist- they have a better smell and that’s what dog’s notice first, and waft it under your dog’s nose.  If that treat is right under his nose and you move it as you walk, the dog will magically follow you. But don’t forget to give him the treat even if he has only gone a short distance.  The key is consistency and frequency to start, later you can treat intermittently and still retain the training.  If this works, then the restraint that is most appropriate for your dog is a standard collar and leash.  Something like, Coastal Pet Metal Buckle Nylon Personalized Dog Collar in Bright Pink, 3/8″ Width (For Necks 10″-12″)   But what if a problem arises?  The most common problem with an exuberant pup is that he wants to pull against the collar.  By pulling against the collar, the pup is causing a choking of his trachea and this will result in a cough.  In the same vein, if the owner is jerking at the pup to get his attention, then he will cause the irritation and the result will be the same, coughing. Constant jerking or pulling on the collar can cause damage to the trachea.  In severe cases, the damage can be permanent.  If the coughing is ignored and the pup is allowed to believe that pulling is okay, then he will pull and pull and pull.  This is when we need a little restraint, please.

The next level of restraint would be a choke collar.  It sounds so terrible, doesn’t it?  But it’s not.  Originally they were referred to as training collars, much less offensive and scary sounding.  The training collar is a simple chain link with a round ring at each end.  The chain is dropped through one ring and this forms the collar.  They look like this, Petco Chain Control Collar for Dogs, 16″ Length (2.5 mm Diameter; For Pets 18-44 lbs.) The idea of the training collar is that the correction is a simple sound that startles the dog.  It is not the choking action of the collar, but the sound that it makes when the chain is quickly snapped and then released that works as the correction.  The “zipping” sound stops the dog in the middle of whatever he is doing and breaks his concentration.  He is then focused back on you.  It is important that you learn how to fit and place the collar on the dog, then learn how to make the proper correction.  I recommend searching for a video online, YouTube is a good resource, and watching that before experimenting on your dog. Your dog will appreciate this as well.   The training collar is often the answer to many dog owners need for restraint that is just kicked up a notch.  It will surely get your dog’s attention and in most cases, stop him from trying to pull you around like a toy!

Let’s say that the training collar was tried and found not to be effective.  There are some dogs who are oblivious to the sound of the zipping chain and would rather see how far they can drag you down the street.  Mind you, they will do this at the most inopportune moments.  Such as when you are strolling down your own street and all of your neighbors are outside barbecuing.  Everyone is relaxing with a cold, “adult beverage” ( as my Daddy would say) and there you go plowing down the sidewalk.  Actually, it would be your dog in the lead and you are flailing about behind him.  People are staring and laughing and generally having a blast watching your drama unfold.  What to do?! What to do?!  Well, some of us might just let that cantankerous dog go and head back to the party.  But that would be foolhardy and dangerous.  Others may think, “Hmm, I need a little more restraint”.  Your next step would be to employ the “self-correcting” collar, also known as the prong or pinch collar seen here: Petco Training Chain Prong Collar for Dogs, Medium (18″ Length).  This collar is termed “self- correcting” because it requires little strength to use.  The Germans developed this collar for many of their bull-necked breeds.  I have found it to work fabulously with dogs who are pain-insensitive or too powerful to be persuaded with a training collar.  My very first dog and “the best dog in the whole wide world” was a chow chow named Kasha whose neck was covered in not one but two layers of thick fur.  Add to that the fact that centuries of breeding had resulted in a dog with very few nerve endings in the neck and you have the perfect candidate for a “self-correcting” collar.  I was made aware of the immediate need for this collar right after the obedience class in which my dog (the best dog in the whole wide world)  dragged me to the ground in one swift movement.  Embarrassing? Yes, but a teachable moment as well.  Correction with this collar is a simple stiffening of your leash arm which translates into a quick, yet uncomfortable pinch around your dog’s neck.  Here again, you have your dog’s undivided attention and can proceed with your walk post haste.  You can refer to my previous post, ” Is Your Dog Jerking You Around?” for a video on how to use the “self-correcting” collar.  I highly recommend viewing this as the collar is nothing to play around with.

Having said all this about collars for your dog, you might think that these are the only alternatives for a dog that pulls and an owner who wants to avoid damage to his dog’s throat.  Not true.  Many dog owners prefer the use of a harness when walking.  I think they work quite well for a dog that does not pull and they have no contact with the throat, therefore keeping it safe.  If your dog does pull with the harness, you have options.  Most will run along the theory that you can make a harness that will produce a correction when the dog pulls. The Premier Pet Gentle Leader Easy Walk Black Dog Harness (Large; 26″-36″ Girth) is a wonderful option.  An easy correction of a gentle tug on the harness, brings the dog back around to you and breaks the pattern of pulling and jerking.  Many of you have heard of Cesar Millan, a.k.a. The Dog Whisperer and know his training methods are very humane and in tune with the dog’s natural instincts.  He has endorsed the use of a no pull harness that gently applies pressure to the dog’s chest when he pulls. The Sporn Training Halter – Medium (Medium (Neck sizes 12 -17) – Red) has the added comfort of sherpa padded restraints, so much nicer for your dog.  First developed by Joseph Sporn in 1992, the halter has fast become popular with dog owners who balk at the use of a training or self-correcting collar.  These harnesses are a great option for the dog that just can’t stop jerking you around!

The final option I would like to introduce is the Halti, or head collar.  This particular collar works by applying  gentle pressure on the dog’s nose which will, in turn, discourage the dog from trying to control the walk.  I have worked with many dogs that are perfectly comfortable with the use of the head collar.  I believe that when introduced properly, the head collar is a viable alternative to the standard buckle collar and is effective in stopping a dog from pulling.  However, it should be said that it is a bit unnatural for a dog to function with a restraint around it’s muzzle. The head collar does not prevent the dog from eating or drinking and can be very useful in training your dog.  The .Coastal HALTI Head Training Collar for Dogs (Size 1) is the product I have used with dogs ranging from Great Danes to boxers.  The dogs were perfectly mannered during our walks and I would recommend this product.  The Halti head collar is designed with a padded nose piece for extra comfort and the collar comes with it’s own training guide.  Very helpful for those dog owners who are new to the world of collars, harnesses and leashes

I trust this information has been helpful to you.  As a pet owner, I am always looking for products that work with my pet’s natural behaviors.  It is important to realize that training is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  You need to be in tune with your pet to ensure that he is getting the best treatment you can provide.  And when it comes to walking your dog, there is nothing more wonderful than a cool breeze and miles of open space to explore.

“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ”  Roger Caras

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