Loose Leashing Walking – Equipment
If you’re here, like many other pet owners out there, you might be struggling to enjoy walks with your four legged family member. In this post we are going to discuss equipment choices for loose leash walking.
I always like to start off by reminding pet owners that, ultimately, no piece of equipment will teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash. Loose leash walking is a behavior, not a tool. However, certain pieces of equipment can compliment your training and keep everyone safe during the learning process.
Collars are for identification, body harnesses are for walking. That’s right, I said it! Recent studies show even casual pulling on a collar can lead to long term damage to the neck and trachea of your dog. For this reason, I advocate using a body harness any time you attach a leash or line to your dog. Harnesses have gotten a poor reputation in recent years due to a myth that harnesses cause dogs to pull. First, and foremost, harnesses do not make dogs pull, just like cars don’t make people speed. If I put a harness on a dog who understands behaviorally how to walk on a loose leash, the harness will not cause him to start pulling. However, if one is inclined to pull, a harness will certainly enable that behavior. Dogs are born with a natural instinct called oppositional reflex, when we pull back on their leash, it is their natural response to pull against/away from that pressure. When you clip your leash to a harness that attaches on the back of the dog, this allows the dog to throw their weight into the front of the harness, and pull (rather effectively I might add). You’ll often see dogs lower themselves (and their center of gravity), and dig in to “sled dog”. If you want your dog to pull weight (sled/bike joring/weight pull etc), this type of harness is the way to go! However, if you’re working on teaching your dog to walk politely with you, this type of harness design has you physically at a disadvantage.
A front clip harness will help you feel safe and in control while you work on training with your dog. If your dog does pull during training, the front attachment point creates a pivot turning your dog back to you. This prevents them from being able to throw their weight into the front of the harness and pull you along, as we discussed above. With that being said, not all harnesses are created equally. Many front clip harness designs are incredibly restrictive and inhibit the natural gait of your dog. This can also cause long term injury and structural/development problems, especially in young dogs. When looking for a front clip harness design, avoid any design that has straps touching the shoulder area of the dog.
A good harness should allow for complete freedom of movement and range of motion. My recommended harness selection is hands down, the Balance Harness by Blue-9 Pet Products. I am in not sponsored or endorsed by Blue-9 in any way, I simply LOVE their harness design. Let’s talk about the reasons why this harness is our top pick….
- The balance harness has both a front and rear attachment point. This is great to have options for walking downtown (front clip) vs recall training in the yard or hiking (rear clip). You can also pair the harness with a multi-function leash which can attach to both clips at once, providing a nice steering action from your leash.
- Every single strap on this harness is adjustable. This allows for a customized fit. Blue-9 has helpful fitment tutorials on their website, and also excellent customer service support for fitting as well.
- The chest area of this harness is designed to allow for complete freedom of movement. It can be safely worn during exercise and does not restrict the dogs natural gait.
- The girth straps on this harness sit further back compared with traditional designs, preventing friction/irritation in the armpit area.
In addition to the Balance Harness, we suggest a fixed length leash (6ft) OR multi-function leash (8ft) for “with me” walks (downtown, at the vet, in stores etc) and a long line (15ft-30ft) for “sniff walks” (in the yard, on trails, in a field). We’ll discuss the types of walks you should be offering your dog in our next post!
A quick note on flexi-leashes: Flexi-leads are not recommended while you are working on your loose leash training. This is due to the lack of control these leashes provide (unable to reel your dog in quickly), the constant leash tension (dog is unable to feel the difference between loose leash and tension), and lastly, safety concerns (they can wrap around limbs and cause injury, they break easily, and if dropped can become quite scary as the handle “chases” your dog). Flexi-leashes should never be used in public spaces such as pet stores, grooming offices, vet offices, outdoor dining, or similar establishments. They can be useful for things like potty breaks and sniffing around the yard. Beyond this note, we will not be discussing them in this blog series.
The right equipment set up will set the stage for the rest of your training, so invest in you and your dog to set everyone up for success!
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About The Author: Seren is the founder and owner of Wonderpup Dog Training. She has been working with a variety of species including dogs, cats, rats, and horses, over the last thirteen years. Seren specializes in early puppy development and behavior modification for dogs. For more articles like this, be sure to subscribe to our blog.