What is wrong with your prong?

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I don’t often endorse one piece of training equipment. If you have ever taken a lesson or class from me I when we discuss training equipment I give the same speech. I tell clients no piece of equipment will train your dog, people train dogs and equipment can be used to help or hinder us in our training. There are some pieces of equipment that do not work at all, some that are harmful and some that are just ridiculous. Pet spending hit an all time high and people will buy almost anything if the marketing speaks to them, it’s cute or clever or someone tells them it will help. According to www.businesweek.com Amercians spent $41 Billion (that is a B) last year on their pets. That’s “…more than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world. That’s double the amount shelled out on pets a decade ago, with annual spending expected to hit $52 billion in the next two years, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer research company…”

So year after year (more like day after day) a new line of miracle product emerges to “stop unwanted behavior” and the number one behavior people purchase devices for is pulling on the leash. First of all people need to understand dogs are not pulling the lead because they “think they are ALPHA” or because they are stubborn, dogs pull because you are slow and it works. That’s it. All creatures in nature have opposition reflex built in, try it. While your talking to your co-worker at some point slowly push their shoulder, I will bet you $5 dollars they lean back into you rather than fall over. (GDT Disclaimer- This bet will be welched on if your co-worker fell over and GDT will disavow any knowledge of said bet- he hee). If you pull against a dog collar they will pull back, if you purchase a harness to “stop pulling” and the leash hooks on the back you have been had. Harnesses were designed for a specific dog sport, pulling sports. They were created to teach dogs to pull. Hooking the lead to the back of a dog or over their rear gives them the maximum opposition reflex and triggers the desire to pull. So then people look to the military and traditional training methods because seeing is believing. We see how well behaved their dogs appear in public.

Most competitive obedience techniques have descended from the military training tactics and old school training. Dog shows originated in the pub in England and there was social pressure to have the most well mannered pet in the group. Choke chains, electric collars and prong collars work, no question. I will say it again they work, that is why there is such a market for them. But what people don’t realize is dogs form connections to stimulus. If the time your dog is most likely to fail or pull the leash is when they see another dog and become aroused that is when they will get the most corrections on a leash, if you correct your dog (punish) them on the lead every time they pull you are most likely connecting the stimulus of encountering a dog on leash to pain or consequence. Therefor, dogs will often make the connection that it is not pleasant to run into dogs on the leash and they should do what they have to, to make that other dog leave as quick as possible and aggression works. I am not saying someone cannot use this equipment effectively but it is not recommended. If you use a training collar it should only be used in a situation where the dog cannot connect the punishment to any stimulus, or for fine tuning when you have done the work to teach your dog what you expect on leash with shaping exercises and positive re-enforcement. Training collars were designed for fine tuning even in traditional training and meant to go away not be used as a crutch on all outings. I personally don’t think they should be sold to the public without instruction from a professional. Sounds drastic  but leash aggression is a huge problem in this country and it is the number one training goal clients seek help for. Worse yet is all the electric collar boot camps where they guarantee off leash heeling, yikes. If you care about your dog do not use electric collars, it is simply inhumane, the dog will never fully understand and your relationship and your pet will suffer for the sake of obedience.

The reason people use these aversion methods is they produce results and people like instant results. Dogs try to avoid the punishment so it offers walking slowly next to a person as an appeasement behavior. Leash walking is a bit of an art form for some owners and breeds. Certain breeds and temperaments are tougher for the average owner to instruct on leash walking. A Husky is certainly more difficult to train to avoid pulling the leash than a Cavalier King Charles. It just takes a little know how and consistency.

I am loving a Seattle company’s hand made harness right now. I have used the Wonder Walker harness for all the people who have been previously on prong collars to give them a sense of control and a humane tool they can get results. It has a front connection D Ring so the leash is hooked in front of the chest and there is no pressure on the back of the dog or against their sensitive little trachea’s. It still takes teaching to show a dog how to walk correctly on any piece of equipment but the basic premise is “red light, green light”. If the dog pulls you stop walking, when the leash is loose encourage them and walk on. There is nothing more rewarding than the walk continuing, that’s why they were pulling in the first place. For more ideas look at our Literature on our home page and check out Loose Leash Walking. I will be bringing in a line of Wonder Walker products to sell at Overland Animal Hospital in Denver. Send me an e-mail if you are interested for sizing and pricing options.

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