Teaching good behavior is easier when you start with the right tools. Previously I identified the most common collars, their uses, and their limitations. In this article we will explore some other training control products and how to use them correctly.
For some dogs a collar is either impractical, impossible to use (for dogs with neck or back injuries), or simply not enough for the owner to feel as if they have control. A harness or head collar may be an option for these situations. Harnesses can be broken down into two types:
Comfort types - harnesses with leash attachments over the shoulder blades in the mid-back. These are available in a variety of materials and colors. Recent improvements to these harnesses make them easy to put on, easy to adjust, and available for specific purposes such as seat belt use in cars.
No Pull types - harnesses with leash attachments at the front (between the front legs) or multiple points of attachment, usually at the front and the sides or back. These are often a better choice for the energetic dog that pulls as they do not use pain or discomfort to teach a dog to walk nicely. Simply put they allow the owner to redirect forward momentum by pulling the dog off of his center of gravity.
Head collars work on the same principle as a halter for controlling a horse. Control of the head means you generally have better control of the dog. A head collar is the tool of choice for many veterinary behaviorists and trainers that work with aggressive or strong, unruly dogs. Head collars apply pressure to the back of the head giving the dog the sensation of having someone else in control. When needed the owner can redirect the dog by applying gradual leash pressure on the bridge of the nose simply by tightening up the lead. Head collars do require some time for many dogs to acclimate to wearing them. Owners must also learn how to use them properly without constantly applying pressure to the dog's nose.
The right leash can make all the difference in the amount of control you have, and how your dog's responds to commands. A leash should not be used to "steer" your dog. It should be used more like a seat belt; something to keep your dog close in the event of an emergency. There are three main types of leashes:
Standard (training) leashes - typically in four and six foot lengths they are available in leather (my personal favorite) and nylon. These leashes are the best choice for walking, training, and communicating with a dog. Chain leashes are available however they are uncomfortable for the owners to hold.
Retractable leashes - these leashes are extremely popular because they offer the dog a chance to roam farther from their owner. I recommend these for owners who need to give their dog the opportunity to eliminate in a larger space, or for distance training when working coming when called. Retractable leashes are a poor choice for training or walking as the owner has little to no control. The handle is also difficult to hold for longer periods of time. When combined with a prong (pinch) collar the dog is being constantly nagged by the prongs. Most owners don't realize the constant tension of the retractable leash on the prongs keeps some dogs in a low state of constant discomfort, while others are quickly desensitized to the effects of the collar.
Long line leashes - these cotton web or nylon leashes are used to teach a dog commands at a distance. The long line comes in varying lengths up to 50 feet and allows the dog to feel as if they are off leash. The owner has a safety net of sorts as they can pick up the line at any time. Care must be taken so that the dog doesn't hit the end of the line while running, which can cause neck injury. Long lines should never be left on a dog while unattended.
Finally the best tool of all should be YOU! Your dog should want to be with you, want to follow YOUR lead, and ask YOU for permission to sniff, eliminate, or play with others. The other tools can be part of your dog's training, but without a positive relationship to start a training project, you are training without the right combination of tools to make your dog succeed.
The right tools make it easy to TRAIN, not COMPLAIN!