Walking a dog should be fun and good exercise for all parties, but too often it is not. Many dogs pull in every direction while their hapless walker tries to maintain control and not fall down. This is a recipe for anxiety and possibly an accident. How can this be remedied?
I’ll start by saying there is no substitute for time spent with your dog. Although this article discusses equipment, there is no magic wand. The point of choosing appropriate equipment and using it properly is to make walking easier so it can be done more often and more effectively and safely. If you only walk your dog once a week or once in a while, you will make little progress.
Be aware of your dog’s needs as a breed and as an individual. Younger dogs will usually have more energy and require more exercise. Active breeds like Huskies, German Shepherds, and Poodles/Doodles require a lot of exercise to stay sane. Little dogs like Chihuahuas may not need to walk far, but they should still get out regularly. That stereotypical grumpy, snappy personality is more a result of territorial confinement than of breed. Older and less athletic dogs like Pugs and Frenchies, while they may enjoy being princes and princesses around the house, also need outings and exercise for their physical and mental well-being.
A training class will benefit any dog and owner. Methods vary widely, so be sure to look into any potential trainer or school before signing up to see if it aligns with your values. If your dog is very reactive consider a positive-based session with a private trainer at home or another location away from other dogs. If you can’t afford any of this, check out the many articles and videos on dog training available for free. Just be sure to use your critical thinking before doing something that seems out of the ordinary or being convinced to buy something you don’t need.
DO NOT LEAVE ANY WALKING COLLAR ON THE DOG. These collars are designed to be attached to the leash and worn only while walking. Because they can get caught on things and tighten, they can cause serious injury or death.
The choke chain is the old standard of what I like to call the “Jerk and Yank School of Dog Training.” You’ll see this tool in all the old black-and-white pictures in books from the library and used book shops as well as in old dog training videos. Even Barbara Woodhouse taught “walkies” with this tool, although she sometimes rigged it up so it would not tighten on certain dogs. It has its uses, but a pretty significant down side.
As the name suggests, it is a chain that can choke a dog. It tightens indefinitely, squeezing the throat. If a dog pulls hard on this collar, they can literally be “choked out,” rendered unconscious from the pressure, and permanent damage can be done to the trachea and neck. In the old dog training classes, we were taught to quickly yank on the collar to avoid this happening.
Properly fitted, one benefit is that it will not slip off, allowing the dog to run away. Fitting the seemingly simple chain is more complicated than one might think. Too short, too long, leash hooked to the wrong ring, or “backwards” it will not be effective. On the down side, as mentioned, it can be misused and actually choke the dog.
The slip lead fits the same way as a choke chain but it is made of cotton, nylon, or some other kind of fiber rather than metal. You’ll see these used at vet hospitals, boarding kennels, and other businesses where dogs need to be led from one place to the other quickly and easily. They may be a full lead, as pictured, or just a collar to which any other lead may be attached.
These collars/leads are convenient to keep in the car or by the door for a quick and easy way to walk your dog or get them in and out of the house or car. They are good for regular walking if your dog doesn’t pull too much, as the soft cloth isn’t much of a deterrent.
Properly fitted, the dog cannot slip out and run away. You will see in the picture that this particular lead has a leather keeper that can set the collar to a certain size. Without such a keeper, if the walker is not vigilant the collar could loosen up to the point that the dog backs out of it. Like the choke chain, it can actually choke the dog if they are allowed to pull hard.
Bring up the pinch or prong collar in a group of dog folks and you’re sure to start a lively discussion! I’m not a big fan of this controversial tool, but it does have its purpose, and if you’re going to us it you should know how to use it correctly.
The pinch collar does just that, pinching the skin around the dog’s neck with a series of metal prongs. Like the choke chain, the discomfort is supposed to keep the dog from pulling. There are a few different kinds, including an easy-on version with a clip so you don’t have to hook and unhook the links with every walk, one with rubber tips to blunt the sharpness of the prongs, and a plastic version which works on the same principle but is milder.
As with all walking collars, fit is key. Too tight and it will be uncomfortable all the time, too loose and it won’t pinch when the dog pulls. I was walking a client’s dog recently when the links came apart and the collar dropped to the ground! The collar in question was too tight and somewhat worn out, so the links didn’t fit together well. Fortunately the dog kept on walking by my side as if nothing had happened, and the owner replaced the collar with a new plastic one.
There are some significant downsides to the use of this type of collar. One is that it can cause a reactive or aggressive dog to become more aggressive, or to redirect on the walker. For this reason, I do not recommend using this on a dog who shows any kind of aggression. Dogs don’t understand abstract concepts like people, so when they see another dog and start to lunge, bark, growl, whatever, then they feel pain … they may associate the pain with the other dog and their behavior will escalate rather than lessen. A really frustrated dog who wants to go after another dog, animal, or person may turn and bite the walker. If your dog has serious issues like this, I recommend engaging the services of a positive-based professional trainer.
There is one good side to this tool. It can enable an owner to walk their big, strong, unruly dog. Many people don’t walk their dogs because they can’t. They are afraid of being pulled over, falling, being dragged, or letting go of the leash. In such cases this collar can be of help in getting both dog and owner out spending time together and exercising.
The martingale is my personal favorite go-to walking collar. The are easy to use, inexpensive, come in a variety of sizes, and will work for most any dog with the exception of those with no neck, like a chubby Pug, or a weak neck, like a tiny Chihuahua.
The martingale tightens, but not indefinitely like the choke chain and slip lead. Properly fitted, the dog cannot slip out and you do have some control. I recommend using the continuous kind, not the kind with the buckle as this defeats the purpose. Buckles can break, especially with a dog who pulls steadily or lunges suddenly in one direction.
As with all walking collars, the martingale must be properly fitted for the individual dog. This is why I have one for each of my dogs, color coded and pre-adjusted. With most dogs you can simply slip the collar over their head at walk time; however, if they have a big head and a small neck, you may have to slip it on then tighten it to fit, and reverse the process after the walk.
Head collars for dogs came out in the 90’s when there was a move towards new methods of dog training and behavioral understanding. As a horse person, the concept made sense to me. Horses are led with halters, not neck collars. The head is turned in the direction you want to go, and horses learn to follow this feel. Why not with dogs?
The two companies producing these collars at the time and still today are Gentle Leader and Halti. In the 90’s I took a course at a dog behavior conference and became a Certified Gentle Leader Instructor. In this course the creators showed how the collar works differently from your standard neck collar. To stop the dog from pulling, the head is pulled to the side or upwards. It does take some finesse to use, and practice.
It can take some time for a dog to get used to it, so it’s a good idea to put it on and let him wear it around the house at first. Properly fitted, it can be very effective, but one big downside is that many dogs just hate it. They paw at it and try to rub it off at every opportunity. I have seen some really strong and determined dogs get it off with one good swipe of the paw! For this reason, it is a good idea to combine the head collar with a neck collar like a martingale, especially at first.
Buckle or snap collar
The buckle or snap collar is useful for holding a dog’s ID tags. It is not for walking!
These collars can be made of leather, nylon, biothane, or other materials and have a metal buckle or plastic snap. They should be fitted so that they stay on, but could be pulled off in case of emergency, like getting caught on a fence post, tree branch, or other object.
Dogs should wear ID tags at all times. Animal shelter folks hear the same line every day, “My lost dog wasn’t wearing a collar because I just gave him a bath.” I don’t know if people say this because it’s actually true or because they don’t want to admit their dog doesn’t wear a collar. In any case, dogs go missing every day and without ID their chances of being found decrease significantly.
The reason this collar should not be attached to the leash is twofold. One, it can easily come loose, either by slipping over the dog’s head or by a failure of the buckle or snap, and two, when this happens your now-loose dog has no ID. Even if your dog is old and slow, don’t be tempted. If you really want to use a buckle or snap collar for walking, use a separate one without ID tags just for that purpose.
Again, there is no substitute for time spent with your dog and for positive-based training. Whichever tool you use for walking, be sure it is fitted and used correctly, and that it is not left on after the walk. Stay tuned for an article and video comparing harnesses for walking.