Pet parents love nothing better than to take their dogs out for a leisurely walk. It's an activity both people and dogs enjoy, and a great way to enjoy pleasant weather and get in some exercise together. However, the fun can turn to frustration if your pup is determined to pull on the leash, and practically drags you everywhere you go.
Pulling is a common problem. Some experts believe the behavior is dominance-related: The dog wants to assert himself as leader of the pack by determining where you go on your walks, and how fast you get there. Others feel pulling is really just due to the fact dogs are curious, excitable, and live in the moment. They do what makes them happy and, as long as they're getting positive reinforcement (in the case of pulling they get to go faster or go in the direction they want), they will keep on doing it.
Wherever opinion lies on why pulling happens, the fact is it's a problem that needs a solution. A pup with good self-control and good doggie manners will walk calmly beside his owner with constant slack in the leash, even in the face of distractions.
The most effective way to discourage pulling is active, consistent training. A trained dog won't pull, no matter what type of collar or harness is used. That being said, there are a number of collars, harnesses and other apparatuses on the market that are designed to help with the training process and keep dogs from pulling during walks.
Pinch or pronged collars are collars with interlocking links that tighten around a dog's neck when the leash is pulled. These collars are not designed to cause pain, but discomfort that acts as a correction to the dog's behavior. Each time the dog pulls or lunges, he senses the discomfort, until he eventually understands that pulling has negative consequences.
While many people use pinch collars, and many users claim they are effective training tools, they aren't without risks, or critics. It is true that, if misused, they could cause pain or injury to a dog's neck or throat. Some experts believe this type of negative correction is ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.
Many people assume that traditional harnesses - those that are fitted around the dog's chest and back - keep dogs from pulling, as the person walking the dog can exert more control without the risk of injury from the collar. However, these types of harnesses can actually exacerbate pulling, as the positioning allows the dog more leverage. A dog who pulls is more likely to frequently end up with his front paws in the air than he is to stop pulling.
Headcollars feature two straps: one that wraps around the dog's head, and one that wraps around his muzzle. When the dog pulls, the collar exerts pressure on his muzzle, which causes him to relax and stop pulling. While headcollars are very effective, they do take some getting used to. Many dogs have to be trained to tolerate the collar before they can be trained with it.
There are several specialized harnesses on the market designed specifically to address pulling and jumping issues. They typically have extra straps, extra martingales, or other features that specifically discourage pulling and allow for easier control during training and walks.
An Expert Weighs In
To get an expert's view on the best product for pulling, we talked to Elsa Larsen of My Wonderful Dog in Arlington, Mass. Elsa has been training dogs for more than 17 years, and she offered her insight on the specific products that have worked best for her.
"My tool of choice is the Gentle Leader Headcollar," she said. "It really is effective at managing both dogs who pull and dogs who are jumpers. The reason it's so effective has to do with physics. The collar uses the dog's head as a fulcrum, and it's easier to control the head of an animal than its body. That's why harnesses are used for horses - you would never be able to control a horse effectively with a buckle collar.
"The downside to the Gentle Leader, I feel, is that it takes some time and effort to desensitize the dog to it."
Elsa has also found success using the Easy Walk Harness.
"It's a great tool for pulling, although it doesn't do anything for controlling jumpers," she said. "The only drawback I have found is that one size doesn't fit all - it might work really well with one dog but not necessarily another. You might have trouble fitting it to smaller dogs or dogs with narrower chests."
The Freedom Harness is another option that works well, and offers more flexibility.
"The Freedom Harness has the same premise as the Easy Walk, but it has an additional strap that makes it easier to adjust to provide a better fit," Elsa said.
As far as traditional or pinch collars go, Elsa said she has not found any that work well to curb pulling. "In my opinion, if you're looking for a humane, effective way to control your dog on walks, a specialized harness or headcollar is the way to go."
However you decide to address your dog's pulling, compassion, patience and consistency are really the best tools in your arsenal. After all, your dog is learning a new skill, which requires time and effort on both of your parts. If you stick with it, though, you'll be rewarded with a well-mannered dog who is as fun to walk with as you always imagined.
TripsWithPets.com is an online resource for pet travel. Named best pet travel site by Consumer Reports, TripsWithPets.com's mission is to offer resources that ensure pets are welcome, happy and safe while traveling. The website features a directory of pet-friendly hotels and accommodations across the U.S. and Canada, as well as airline and car rental pet policies; pet-friendly restaurants, beaches and events; a user-friendly route search option; pet travel tips; pet travel supplies; and other pet travel resources.
Author Kim Salerno is the president and founder of TripsWithPets.com. She founded the pet travel site in 2003 and is an expert in the field of pet travel.