July has come to a close and so has our special feature of Dog Training month. I would like to close the series by addressing questions about equipment. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t wear scuba diving gear for weeding the garden, so let’s pick the best tool to use when training your dog.
I am referring to dog training paraphernalia. I see a lot of equipment used on dogs to instill good behavior, but no matter what collar or leash I see used, the results are the same. Let’s just review the most commonly used tools.
The retractable leash. The retractable leash, like all great inventions, began with a purpose. It was designed for tracking dogs. How practical! When dogs are tracking, they go way out in front of their human. The mechanism in the retractable leash works to eliminates slack, so the leash is less likely to get tangled and twisted on branches like a conventional long, long leash. Fast forward to today. The majority of dogs I see walked are walked on retractable leashes. They aren’t tracking a scent; they are pulling or dragging a person behind them.
Harnesses are great tools used for dogs tracking. You want the dog to have the most freedom while it is doing its job, without the restraints of a collar.
Prong or pinch collars. Like any tool, a prong collar used correctly is invaluable. But I have never seen a prong collar used correctly. I do see a lot of people being dragged by dogs on a retractable leash with a prong collar around their necks.
Remember the old saying: you wouldn’t use a 2x4 to swat a mosquito!
Gentle Leaders/head collars. These devices that go around the muzzle of a dog are not training tools. When the Gentle Leader is removed the pulling returns. I hear, "Why? They seem to work so well when I use one." Gentle Leaders are a misused tool like the prong/pinch collar. People get a false sense of security that their dog is under control, but the leader does not control the dog. The dog can spin and pull and you have no way to correct or teach the dog this is undesirable behavior.
Muzzles. When a dog bites and the owner does not correct the problem, a muzzle is a necessity. The device is designed to assist if the dog is aggressive. It does prevent the dog from biting, but the underlying problem is never addressed. It does not train the dog not to bite but it keeps you and the Vet, the dog groomer and anyone who enters your home from getting bitten.
Choke collar. When not in use this collar lays flat on the dog's neck. When a correction is administered the collar gives a reminder to the dog that a certain behavior is not desired. These collars come in nylon and chain. Whichever you use, make sure the collar fits properly and is removed after exercise. It is not to be worn as a regular collar. Do not attach dog tags to it. This a training tool. Reserve a plain buckle collar to keep tags attached.
You may be asking, “What equipment do you use, Miss Harmony?” I use a plain leather leash. No nylon, though this works just as well. Leather, if the dog pulls, does not burn the hand. I often make a slip collar out of the leash. It works on the same principal as the choke collar, laying dormant until used for correction. I used to make my own nylon leashes with nylon bought at the hardware store for a dollar, but I found that leather holds up longer.
Even though July is over please help yourself and your dog. Enjoy the summer and try to involve your canine companion in as many activities as you can. When you look for a training device please, please have a professional advise you—you can do your dog a big favor by getting the best tool that meets your and their needs. No 2x4s, please!
Miss Harmony has another class coming up. More information will be posted soon.
Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training and Ann Arbor Animal Hospital’s “Miss Harmony” for dogs! She is available to help your dog be a better canine citizen, and answers questions about Canine Behavior here on our blog from time to time. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-645-4707.