One of the problems we hear most from adopters is that their dog pulls on a lead. This is totally understandable since rescued dogs have had little freedom and exercise before they arrive at their new home. Many have barely seen a lead and most of them have incredibly strong prey drives. This combination makes them so keen to get out and explore that you’re often dragged behind wondering what on earth can possibly smell that good!
There is no substitute for training a dog to walk well to heal, but it’s really important to give yourself and your dog the right equipment to make this work.
The anatomy of a dogs neck
Traditional collars are great for attaching a tag to and grabbing hold of your dog in an emergency situation, but really, they shouldn’t be used for much else.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a canine’s neck. Everytime you pull our dog, you are constantly adding pressure to their lymph nodes, mandibular and thyroid gland, choking on the trachea and oesophagus.
When a dog gets excited, they run forward and we often have to apply a sudden tug on their collar. This sudden tug can be as much as 5Nm, which is probably the same force you use to apply a torque to a bolt and nut.
Head collars have increased in popularity in recent years. Similar to a harness, the aim of a head collar is to give the human more control over the dog. However, head collars are rarely well tolerated by a dog. They are prone to rubbing, nipping, riding up, scratching and even falling off. They rarely fit well and can cause permanent damage, especially to eyes. The discomfort distracts and irritates the dog, meaning they are not in the best state of mind for any training. A head collar can also prevent the dog from giving common social cues which can lead to doggy conflict.
Harnesses are a much safer option. A well-fitting harness with both front and back attachments and a double ended lead, will give you the ability to steer the dog, while causing no harm. The front attachment is paramount as it naturally puts the dog in a better position, just like we have lead horses and other working animals from the front for hundreds of years.
It also teaches the dog that pulling is ineffective as it will cause them to pivot and face their owner instead of getting to where they want to go any faster, at the same time as allowing you to ‘steer’ the dog.
Using both attachments with a double ended lead (like this Halti lead*) will distribute the pulling force more evenly. It’s important to pick the right harness. Harnesses with only a back attachment can encourage the dog to pull and should be avoided. Some popular favourites amongst dog behaviourists and trainers include Perfect Fit (ideal for every breed but particularly deep chested dogs like setters and pointers), Ruffwear, and Embark. These harnesses are designed to fit the dog perfectly, with no friction and an even distribution of pressure. They are also classed as non-restrictive, allowing the whole front legs to move freely.
A dog’s legs are attached to the body by pure muscle and these must be free to move with every pace, especially in working dogs or if you plan to run with your canine buddy. In contrast, a restrictive harness typically sits across the shoulders, which can affect movement and the dog’s gait. In addition, pressure on the front of the shoulder could affect the biceps tendon, and there is some debate as to whether this may cause problems such as bicipital tendonitis and altered gait can cause increased pressure on shoulder joints
It’s important to make sure your dog’s harness is a comfortable fit. If necessary, your harness may need to be adjusted or replaced as your dog grows.