Walking the dog

Walking the dog can be pleasure or pain — the leash is in your hands


It’s 7 a.m., time for Deke Roberts to walk the dog before leaving for work. He clips the leash to Rover’s collar, and opens the door. Rover bolts down the driveway, dragging Deke along the sidewalk to Penelope Smith’s rose bushes. After watering the bushes liberally, Rover gallops across the street in hot pursuit of Martha Johnson cat.

Twenty minutes later, Deke pulls a recalcitrant Rover back into the house. His arm is sore from trying to restrain the big dog, and he is angry.

You can avoid or cure this typical dog-walking problem with a few simple exercises and determination that the dog will learn to walk on a leash.

Collar and leash

For young puppies, use a buckle collar. For older puppies and adult dogs, use a training collar or head collar, either a chain slip collar with medium-sized links, a nylon collar that can be fit around the dog’s neck instead of over his head, a prong collar, or a Promise Gentle Leader, depending on personal preference and the dog’s behavior. Training collars can be tightened and loosened to teach the dog to quit pulling. Head collars control the dog’s head so he can’t pull.

The chain slip collar comes in two-inch increments and has a ring at each end. It should fit the dog’s neck with about two inches of excess chain. Measure the dog’s neck and add two inches to determine the size of the collar. For dogs with wide heads – Labrador Retrievers, Akitas, Rottweilers, etc. – add three or four inches to the neck measurement so the collar will fit over the dog’s head.

The clip-on nylon slip collar comes in one-inch increments. It has a clip on one end and a ring on the other. A second ring slides along the collar. This collar should fit snugly behind the dog’s ears; it is effective with dogs that need their confidence raised.

Do not use the nylon slip collar that fits over the dog’s head like the chain slip collar; effective corrections are almost impossible with this collar.

An ugly contraption, the prong collar is actually both humane and effective. It can be used with the prongs facing the dog’s neck for a strong dominant dog or inside out for a strong submissive dog or wild puppy. The prong collar can be custom-fitted to the dog’s neck; it is put on by separating the links, so the width of the head doesn’t even enter the equation. The prong collar works by pinching or pressuring the neck when the dog gets out of position and is more efficient for on dogs that think they’re hauling freight to Nome instead of taking a stroll through the neighborhood.

[More on prong collars]

Do not use an electronic collar to teach basic manners; these collars are for expert trainers to correct mistakes when the dog cannot be controlled otherwise.

At the same time you purchases a collar, invest in a narrow, six-foot leather leash (nylon or other fabric can slide through the hands and cause friction burns on tender skin) with a loop at one end and a sturdy clip at the other. Avoid chain leashes, retractable leashes, fancy plastic leashes, and wide leashes until Rover is under control. Both hands should grasp the leash for maximum control, so it should be comfortable to hold.

Learn to use the equipment properly

. To fit the slip collar properly put the slip collar on the dog so that the live ring can be used to tighten the collar. To do this with the chain collar, first make it into a loop by dropping the chain through one ring. Then sit the dog on your left side and place the collar over his head. The live ring – the one that moves – should be at the top right side of the dog’s neck; pulling and releasing the live ring will tighten and loosen the collar. Attach the leash to the live ring.

If Mango won’t sit still or if you’re unsure of your technique, practice putting the collar on your left wrist before trying it on the dog.

Be sure to remove flea collars and buckle collars; they can interfere with the action of the training collar.

To fit the nylon slip collar, place it around the dog’s neck and fasten the clip to the loose ring. Attach the leash to the ring at the end of the collar. This collar fits more snugly than the chain collar but also works by pulling and releasing the live ring.

To put the prong collar on the dog, separate two links by pinching the prongs together and place the collar around the dog’s neck just behind his ears. Refasten the links with the chain portion of the collar under the dog’s neck. This collar should fit snug but not tight. Use the prong collar with the prongs against a tough dog’s neck or facing outward on a more sensitive dog. Attach the leash to the sturdier ring on the chain portion of this collar.

The head collar fits like a pony halter with a loop across the dog’s muzzle and another behind his ears. The leash attaches to the ring under the chin; the collar works by keeping your hands quiet and letting the dog correct himself; when he reaches the end of the leash, he cannot proceed because his head has been turned back towards you by the action of leash and collar.

Older puppies and adult dogs

The method used to teach leash manners depends on the dog and on you. Tough, exuberant, macho Rusty will likely need different techniques than sensitive, submissive but out-of-hand Dusty.

You can begin by teaching the dog to be aware of your body. Let him wander, then change direction before the leash tightens. Don’t say a word – the idea is for him to figure out he has to watch you, not continue to ignore your voice. The collar will tighten and put him on notice: if he doesn’t keep an eye on you, you might try to trick him.

If he tightens the leash by getting too far ahead, stop walking. He will get confused and probably turn towards you, loosening the grip of the collar. When the collar loosens, start walking again, but this time, change direction before he gets to the end of the leash. Walk around trees or cars, cross the street, go back the way you came, etc., and keep it up so he cannot anticipate your next move.

If this strategy doesn’t bear fruit in a couple of days, try something a bit tougher – the collar tug. Step towards the pulling dog so the collar loosens, then quickly snap the leash and release it in one smooth move so the collar tightens and loosens quickly. As you do so, change direction and walk briskly away without saying a word. The tug is an attention-getter, a reminder that you are in charge; it is not a punishment, so don’t yank hard.

If two or three such tugs on a slip collar do not get his attention, do not increase the strength of your jerks; switch to a prong collar. Harsh jerks on the slip collar can damage the dog’s trachea. Use only the pressure needed to get his attention: the object is to control, not frighten or injure, the dog.

When Major walks without pulling, praise him mightily. While he’s learning, protect your shoulder from being yanked by holding the leash at your waist with both hands. If you do use only one hand on the leash, keep that arm close to your body with muscle tension to resist his attempt to pull.

Puppies and submissive dogs

To teach walking manners to a puppy, clip leash to buckle collar, put toys or treats in your pocket, and coax the pup to remain near your side as you walk. Whistle, clap your hands, pat your leg, and praise as you go. If he loses concentration as a butterfly flits by or the neighbor’s cat entices him to chase, change direction, coax him with a treat, and get his attention back to you. Keep things bright and cheery – you want to teach the little dickens that being by your side is fun.

Teaching submissive, fearful dogs is a lot like teaching puppies – you have to keep things low-key, use plenty of rewards, coax correct behavior, and avoid harsh corrections. Prong collars used smooth- side-in are often more effective on these dogs than chain collars.

The keys to success are persistence and consistency. You have to out-stubborn the dog, even if he is big and strong. If you cannot win the battle by yourself, contact a dog training club or school. Be sure to watch a couple of classes before you enroll so you can choose a class that uses gentle methods and fits your needs.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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