A Little Restraint, Please

Classy Restraint
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

Is Your Dog Jerking You Around?

Sporn Mesh No Pull Harness

In a previous post,”Dog Walking- Why Does My Dog Pull Me?”, I discussed why your dog pulls you on your walks.  I would like to take the opportunity to expound on that topic.  Most of my discussion was centered on the type of collar used during the walk.  I stressed the importance of being in control of the walk in order to make it as enjoyable as it should be for both you and your dog.  No one wants to have their sweet dog pulling them down the street in what looks like a tug-of-war with the leash.  Can you imagine the horror?  Besides that, it can be harmful for your dog.  As your dog pulls on the leash, the collar is pressing up against the esophagus.  The more he pulls, the more pressure on the esophagus and the result could be a trip to the vet.  If nothing less, your dog will be coughing and choking and people will think you are just plain mean.

Many owners will see this problem and think “I know, I’ll get a harness.  That will be so comfortable for my dog.”  This may be the solution.  If your dog will remain calm and walk at your side while wearing his harness, then great.  However, if he is going to simply substitute harness pulling for leash pulling, we are back to square one.  To make matters  worse, when you strap that harness on your dog, you are actually  giving him some serious leverage.  Your dog’s shoulders are one of  the strongest muscle groups in his body. To think that he wouldn’t use this to his advantage is folly.   People who harness their dogs are typically preparing for them to work, to pull something.  Maybe a wagon, or a tree trunk, or a sled but definitely not them.  In fact, there are competitions for this very activity because it is a natural instinct.  It is amazing to see these dogs at work.  They can pull over a thousand pounds, absolutely awesome to watch.  But I digress.  Suffice it to say, that if some dogs can be trained to pull that much weight, why not just pull you??

There has been some  progress made in the world of dog harnesses.  Joseph Sporn came up with an idea that would change the effect of pulling and he put that into a harness/ halter.   This harness transfers pressure from around the neck where the collar is to underneath the legs.  At this location, the dog is just sensitive enough for the pressure to cause him to back off the pulling.  The restraints are attached to the front of the collar then looped under the legs and anchored at the top of the collar.  It comes with sherpa sleeves to make the restraints more comfortable for your dog.  A very interesting concept that has been tested by dogs and their owners for over a decade.

So, back to the collar .  My previous post described the proper use of a choke collar and it’s cousin, the pinch collar.  To some dog owners these measures may seem extreme, even cruel.  But I have used them with great success and taught others how to use them as well. I truly believe that with many dogs, this is the best collar option that the owner can make.  There are alternatives.  Cesar Millan, known to many as “The Dog Whisperer”, has written numerous books on dog training and a lot of his materials cover the topic of dog walking and controlling the walk.  He has developed an innovative collar that he calls the “illusion collar”.  It is basically a choke collar with an added base to keep the choke in it’s most effective position- high on the neck and behind the ears.  This position is the most sensitive for the dog and therefore the most effective.  You have seen this leash position on show dogs in the ring.  The show collars are high to give the handler more control over the dog’s behavior.  Exactly what you want when you have your mutt out in the park!!

Finally, let’s talk about leashes.  I mean a proper leash.  My personal preference is leather.  A good width for your hand, so that will be specific to your palm size. These leashes give you a firm hold on the dog, will weather well and are tough as…leather!!  I have seen some very nice webbed, nylon leashes that are durable and sturdy.  The webbing gives the leash a round shape that is easy to hold and won’t tear your skin.  My first gripe is a flat, nylon leash that can cut through your hand when a dog makes a quick jerk or lunge.  They often seem slippery and the grips are not comfortable.  My second gripe is those flexi-leashes or whatever they’re called.  They remind me of a broken fishing reel, it can be let out, but can’t be pulled back in!!  I think they are a danger to mankind and dogkind for that matter.  Your dog goes free-wheeling down the street as the tiny nylon string unwinds and if some sort of danger arises – say a loose dog approaching- you have no way of getting your dog back to you and to safety.  Add to that the risk of nylon burns if the leash is dragged across your legs, the major hassle of unwinding the spaghetti of  leashes if walking two dogs and the possibility of severing a finger if the nylon string wraps around it and the dog really pulls.  Phew!  That should convince you.   I have used a great leash from Cesar Millan.  It is a diamond-braided rope similar to a mountain climbing rope.  The unique feature is the padded hand grip.  It is ergonomically designed to give you the Cadillac of walks when it comes to comfort and as a dog walker, I am all about comfy walks!!


This Big Guy won't jerk you around!!

Dog Walking- Why Does My Dog Pull Me?

Being in charge of the walk.
Being in charge of the walk.

Who's walking who here?

Oh, if I had a dollar for every time a dog owner asked me that question!  The reason your dog pulls you is… you LET them.  Simple.  You grab your precious pup, hook on the leash and away you go.  Flying down the street like a madman trying to keep up with your dog and hoping it looks like you are somehow in control.  Not likely.

Control is the key here and if you have not taken your pup to obedience training, then you should at least do some reading to find out about the walk.  I have to say, there is no greater joy than walking with your dog.  The key phrase here is “walking with your dog”.  Your pup will go where ever it wants as long as you allow it to.  I know that the cute pup is too adorable for you to even consider restraining it, what with puppy enthusiasm and all,but consider the future consequences.  Teach your pup early what you expect it to do on your walks.  The first step is choosing a collar.  The collar, or restraint, used when walking may be different from what your pup wears all the time.  I have clients that I walk using a harness while the collar stays in place.  I also have dogs that wear choke or pinch collars on their walks in place of their everyday collars.  It all depends on the dog and the level of control you need during your walks.

If a dog has learned that it can pull it’s owner around on it’s walks, I usually want to intervene with a restraint that will let the dog know that I am in control.  I would begin with a choke collar.  This is the chain link collar with rings at each end.  The chain is slipped through one ring and forms a circle that is loosened or tightened by a quick snap of the leash- also known as a “correction”.  Many people think a choke collar is meant to actually choke the dog, not true.  The action of quickly snapping the leash to bring in the excess chain and tighten the hold on the dog causes a sound that the dog learns is the correction.  When walking your dog, be sure that you are always working with some slack in the leash.  This makes a correction very simple.  As you walk; your dog should walk at your side, not out in front of you.  When the dog starts to lead you, you quickly drop the slack, turn around and head off in the opposite direction.  This will cause the choke to zip through the ring making a startling sound and the dog will be forced to turn and follow you.  You may have to repeat this maneuver several times before your dog figures out that you are leading and he/she is to follow you.  There are certain breeds that need a greater restraint when on a walk.  My first dog was a Chow.  She was beautiful and headstrong, both characteristics of the breed.  Chows have thick fur at the neckline and fewer nerve endings in the skin of the neck because they were initially bred as protectors.  If they were to be engaged in a fight, the extra fur and less sensitive skin worked to protect them.  It also means that a correction may need to be a bit firmer in order for the dog to recognize it.  I used a pinch collar in obedience training with my chow.  The pinch collar is cousin to the choke with the addition of prongs to the inside of the collar.  The correction is made in the same manner as a choke, a drop of the leash slack and abrupt change of direction to engage the prongs and get your dog’s attention.

Walking with your dog should be fun and you can make that happen by employing some simple training tips and using the right equipment.  For a tutorial on choke and pinch collar use, click below!