Trainer Annie Grossman of School for the Dogs, one of NYC’s most respected dog training centers, has plenty of wisdom to share with dog people. She covers common dog behavior questions and training tips in her weekly podcast. We’ll be sharing some of those responses right here in a regular feature!
Have a training question of your own? Check out Annie’s blog and click on “Ask Annie.”
In a recent post, Annie explained her approach to teaching dogs not to pull on leash. Here, she follows up with tips about how to choose and use a leash (and harness) for the best chance of success for you and your dog.
Choosing and Using A Leash
99% of the time, there should be such little tension on the leash that something that flimsy could suffice.
Ideally, a leash and collar or harness should be safety precautions to keep a dog from chasing a squirrel into the street, not tools to control a dog’s movements. For this reason, I sometimes ask my clients to practice “walking” their dog inside using dental floss or a crepe paper streamer.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, there should be such little tension on the leash that something that flimsy could suffice. For this reason, my preference is usually to use a leash that feels invisible—in other words, you want it to be as lightweight as possible.
My current favorite leashes are the lightweight nylon Mendota, which come in a variety of girths, lengths, and colors. I ideally want to forget it’s there at all! I also like using hands-free leashes, like the rope Found My Animal leash, which is long enough to buckle around my waist or even to put over my shoulder, or the Buddy System leash, which adjusts to your waist size with a simple clip.
Selecting A Harness
I’d say that three-quarters of the time, our clients report that switching to a front-clip harness solved their walking issues, full stop.
If there is one piece of dog walking equipment that has any kind of “magic wand” quality about it, it’s probably the front-clip harness. I’d say that three-quarters of the time, our clients report that switching to a front-clip harness solved their walking issues, full stop.
The harness I usually suggest is the Freedom Harness, which has both a back-clip and a front-clip, along with velvet straps that keep a dog from chafing in the sensitive underarm area, and a center chest strap that helps keep the chest clip in place at the dog’s sternum.
My second favorite front-clip is probably the Ruffwear Front Range harness, which also has a clip at the back and in the front, and is soft under the dog’s arms. In my experience, both are much easier to put on correctly than other front-clip harnesses on the market, such as the Easy Walk and the SENSE-ation, although those are pretty good, too.
Four reasons to use a front-clip harness
- They take the strain off your dog’s neck.
If your dog pulls at all, I’d rather he be wearing a harness of any kind than a collar, since I can’t think of a good reason why we should do anything that messes with our dogs’ ability to breathe.
A back clip harness will, however, usually increase pulling. This is because your dog has more weight and control when a leash is clipped to the middle of his body than when it’s clipped to the front. Think about how dogs are affixed to sleds: By their backs. If your goal is to have your dog pull something, then by all means, clip their leash at the back.
- They give you more chances to reward your dog.
Because it wraps around a dog’s upper body at a central point at the chest, when your dog pulls at all, he’ll naturally get turned to one side or the other, which usually means he’s going to look back at you, even for a moment. And looking at you is a great thing to reinforce!
- They cause the leash to pull at your dog, rather than the other way around.
Imagine a leash attached to the front of your dog, and there is tension on the leash (as stated above: If the leash is anything other than slack, it means there is pressure being exerted at both ends). Assuming you’re walking forwards, which is in front of which? The leash clasp is in front of the dog, of course.
So, the pulling causes the leash to pull at him from the front. The result? The dog is going to pull in the other direction… And if he’s out in front of you, that means the pulling will be back towards you! If he’s moving towards you, well, that’s something else you can reinforce with a reward.
- They allow you to hook a leash to a dog in two spots.
If it’s a harness that has a spot for two attachments, like the Freedom or the Ruffwear Front Range, you can attach a leash to both. This can be done with the Found My Animal leashes and other specialty leashes, both of which have clasps at both ends; if it’s one that has only a single attachment, you can have a leash attach to the harness and also to the collar.
Using two leashes at once
Why two leashes? For one, from a safety standpoint, it’s never a bad idea to double up on leashes. However, having two points of connection can also help your dog learn the subtle physical cues you give to indicate where you want to turn.
You are already giving physical cues when you are holding a leash connected to a dog, whether or not you mean to, but you can become more purposeful about it by, say, making sure to reward your dog as soon as he begins to move at all in the direction that you are decreeing.
This is sometimes called “Silky Leash” training. It is, in some ways, not unlike training a horse to go in the direction his reigns are pulled, although we are using positive reinforcement (rewarding the dog for going in the right direction) rather than using coercion, also known as negative reinforcement (taking away pain or pressure once the horse complies).
The bottom line
Click through to the earlier post on leash training for more tips on how to teach your dog to walk without pulling. With the right tools and plenty of practice and positive reinforcement, your dog walks will get easier.