Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Choosing the Right Equipment

Perhaps, the one piece of pet equipment that vexes most dog trainers is the retractable leash.  I do not know of any other trainer that actually encourages its use.  A few years ago, a Consumer Report warned dog owners of the dangers of retractable leashes.  The article specifically profiled an incident where a woman’s finger was severed by the retracting cable.  In addition to injuries to fingers, hands and paws, there are several other reasons why retractable leashes are not favored by most dog trainers.  Retractable leashes are not really well-suited for walking on busy, urban streets.  An open park or field is one thing but a narrow city sidewalk is not the ideal situation to allow your dog 10-20 feet of unrestricted distance from you.  Your dog may run into the street before you can stop it from happening or your dog may confront a not so friendly oncoming dog before you have a chance to intervene.  I have also witnessed many dogs on retractable leashes aggressively charge after another dog with the 15 feet of  freedom afforded by this type of leash before the owner can apply the "brake".

I have also witnessed owners accidentally let go of the handle only to have a very frightened dog being “chased” by the retracting cartridge.  In addition, many trainers teach dogs to walk with a slack or loose leash which is the antithesis of a retractable leash that works by remaining taut due to the dog’s pulling.

So what equipment should the average dog owner use?


I prefer a  traditional 5-6 foot canvas or leather leash.  One inch width for  medium and large dogs over 20 pounds and 3/4 inch width for small and toy dogs under 20 pounds. I feel the length gives me a lot of flexibility compared to a 3-4 foot leash.  It is not so short that the dog does not have room to meander, yet the length is not so great to be cumbersome.


Harnesses and collars.

I have previously written a detailed article reviewing the different body harnesses and collars out there but here is a brief summary of the equipment I most often use.  I do not use prong, choke or slip collars as its use and application is contrary to positive-reinforcement-based methods of animal training. I prefer to use no-pull body harnesses as my first go-to piece of eqiupment .  I feel that most dogs do well with a body harness and are more comfortable wearing them which is why I rarely use a head harness like the Gentle Leader or Halti except in special circumstances which are summarized in the article above. Examples of no pull harnesses include the Freedom Harness made by Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers, Premier's Easy Walk Harness or the Sense-ation harness.  These harnesses are removed after the walk and should not be worn all-day.  My personal favorite is the Freedom Harness as I find it fits the majority of dogs very well.


Kiku modeling a Freedom Harness

Martingale Collars - For those dogs that do not tolerate harnesses or are escape artists (like my Shiba Inu), I use Martingale collars.  These collars are limited slip collars that prevent the head from slipping out.  If you are going to use this type of collar, care must be taken not to jerk your dog's leash and collar to avoid neck injuries. 


Buckle Collars – I also use a plain buckle or snap-type collar to hold my dogs’ i.d. and for short excursions. Even though my dogs are microchipped, they always wear a buckle collar with I.D. because if your dog gets lost, the average person will look for a tag and it may not occur to them that your dog is micro-chipped.

Long lines
For training dogs from a distance or working in parks and fields, I like using a long-line.  These extra long leashes allow one to teach a dog to come or stay from a long distance and lessens the risk of having your dog run into the street or other unsafe situation. 

Using equipment that reduces the risk of injury to you and your dog and is comfortable and painless for your dog is the first step to starting an effective training program.

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