There is little more relaxing in life than taking a leisurely stroll in the great outdoors with your dog. Unless, of course, your dog is trying to pull your arm out of its socket, stopping every few feet to sniff or mark, or trying to attack passing dogs or squirrels. Getting a dog to behave on the leash and walk properly is one of the top priorities when it comes to training, and can be achieved with the help of a dog training collar. Proper leash walking is part of your dog’s foundation. However, it is also one thing that many owners overlook.
What is proper on-leash behavior anyway? It is important for your dog to know that you are their leader. Even the most domesticated breed of dog retains their instinctive pack mindset. So many owners fall into the trap of “trying to be their dog’s friend.” There is only one leader in the pack, and if it’s not you then it is surely your dog. Being the leader is the best thing you can do for your dog. Imagine all of the stress that your dog feels if he is trying to be a leader in this scary world! Many unwanted behaviors will go away once your dog views you as the pack leader, including food aggression and dominant on-leash walking. In the pack, the leader goes first, whether it is on a walk, over a threshold (into rooms, through doors), or even at meal time. If your dog’s normal behavior is to walk in front of you, instead of on the side or slightly behind you, your dog views himself as the leader! After reestablishing a pack order, many people report dramatic behavioral improvements all around and decreased anxiety in their pets.
When learning to walk properly on a leash for the first time, many people need the assistance of dog training collars. There are a few different types to choose from. Generally, people should work their way down the list until they find one that works for them and their dog.
Buckle collars, or flat collars, are the normal, everyday type of dog collar. You probably already own one of these, so work with what you have and try to teach your dog proper leash etiquette with this. If you find your dog resisting your training and pulling you should switch to a prong collar. The pulling force is not distributed evenly around this type of collar which can result in injury. Many times (although not always) this is the best type of small dog training collar. If you move on to another kind of training collar it is a good idea to leave the flat collar as well; if your dog gets lost they will still be wearing their identification tags. No matter what training method we use, our goal is to be able to eventually use a regular everyday collar.
Prong Collar, also incorrectly called pinch collars, are a great aid for training dogs to walk properly on the leash. I regard the prong collar as the best dog training collar. It comes in sizes from teacup to extra large and really helps dogs learn fast. This collar also appears to be some sort of crazy medieval torture device, but it really isn’t. The collar has a limited circumference, which means that even if the dog does pull, they will never choke. Unlike a regular collar, the prongs distribute pressure evenly around the dog’s neck. The prongs are blunt, and should never pinch the dog’s skin. It is important to get a high quality version because the low quality ones can have rough ends which can puncture the skin.
A remote dog training collar (also called shock collars or electric collars) uses an electronic unit on the dogs neck that is controlled with a remote. When the dog pulls, you send the dog a small shock interrupting and eventually eliminating the pulling behavior. This type of training collar is also good if you are having problems with barking at other stimuli while on the walk.
There are two notable exceptions that I left out of this list. The slip collar (also known as a choke collar), and head halters (also known as Gentle Leaders, Halti, and Snoot Loops). Nothing is wrong with these two types of collar per se, but they have the highest probability of being used incorrectly. I prefer to leave these to the professionals. The slip collar does not have any stop mechanism and gets tighter and tighter as the dog pulls. If you let your dog pull too much you can be doing harm to his neck. More importantly, if you leave the collar on and it catches on something, your dog will instinctively pull to get free and can choke to death. The head halter is similar to the halters used on horses. With these types the fit is very important, they are prone to pushing into the eyes, and can dig deeply around the muzzle casing hair loss and skin irritation. If this collar is used improperly, or if accidentally pulled hard to the side there is an increased risk of neck injury.
I have the training collar, now what? There are many different techniques to teach a dog loose leash walking, but I’ll share my preferred method. Go outside your house, or to the park, whereever you want to practice your walking. Have your dog sit next to you, on your left side. Say “heel” once, and take a step forward with your left foot. Once your dog pulls ahead of you (which may very well be in two steps!) quickly turn around and go in the opposite direction. This will give them a good yank and they should start to pay attention to what their crazy owner is doing! With all of this don’t use any verbal correction. Chances are the first few times you will be dizzy! If after a week of trying this everyday you see no improvement, move up a notch and try the next type of collar.
Once your dog starts to get better at following you, you can also use small leash pops to correct them if they start to go ahead or try to pull to the side for some sniffing. I use a quick leash jerk up and towards me and make a sound like “eh”. You are just trying to regain their attention. If that doesn’t work, go ahead and abruptly change directions.
If your dog decides to lag behind to mark or sniff some flowers, take a fast leap forwards. Start to work in turns, turning right, turning left, turning around. Keeping them on their toes will keep their attention at you, their leader. Turning left, or towards the dog, is one of the harder maneuvers. Just keep your pace and keep walking, if you step on their toes once or twice they will know they just have to do a better job paying attention. Once your dog gets the hang of staying next to you, you can start to teach them to sit and wait when you stop.
Teaching your dog to walk on a leash is one of the most important things you can do. I cringe when I go for walks and see dogs leading their family around. This behavior has a tendancy to make other dogs nervous as well. My dog Oliver (who I trained with a prong collar) gets more anxious when he sees a dog walking towards him displaying “alpha” behaviors, tail up, pulling at the leash. In contrast, he happily greet dogs who are also properly trained and calm. Instead of diving straight into obedience (sit, stay, etc.) giving your dog a solid foundation of where they know their place in the pack, through proper leash walking and other respect exercises will only make the obedience training easier. So order your dog training collar and get cracking!