ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Alternative Collars

Here are just a few remarks, till I get some time to write this up (meantime, please everybody else contribute!)

  • Prong collars work BECAUSE they cause pain to the dog. This is why the list rules are that we don't recommend them.
  • Choke collars work for the same reason - they cause pain to the dog; this is why the list rules are that we don't recommend THEM!

And we would like to help newcomers to the list learn what the alternatives to using choke and prong collars are.

I don't think our list-owners would ever turn away a person who came in and said s/he uses a prong or choke collar, or even said s/he felt s/he had to - because s/he didn't know what else to do.

That's why we have this list in the first place - to help each other find painless ways to teach dogs. That is, painless for the dog . We hope, too, painless for us .

For dogs small enough and light enough so the handler can hold the dog against a lunge, I always like to recommend plain buckle HARNESSES. Instead of collars. A D-ring takes the leash just in bck of the withers; pull is on the chest strap below the dog's neck (at the front of the dog, below the muzzle).

Teaching a dog not to pull has nothing to do with equipment, you see - the DOG doesn't know the difference. UNTIL we start causing the dog pain! Then suddenly, the dog becomes aware that pain appears.

This awareness, and the actions of dog and handler is a bit complex, and I don't have time to write it up now, but will try to later.

On another list (Joel Walton's Aggressive Behavior list), there's recently been a discussion of no-pull harnesses. Some list members are getting good results with those. I'm sorry that I'm not familiar with the equipment, though I think at least one type of no-pull harness works by causing pain to the dog.

I am not opposed to RESTRICTION to a dog's motion, providing the dog isn't subject to injury by that restriction, but I AM opposed to inflicting pain on a dog, for several reasons. So until I see/work with these harnesses myself, I can't comment on them.

The common recommendation these days for handlers who aren't strong enough to hold the dog reasonably easily if it lunges is to use a Gentle Leader (GL), or a Halti (a bit flimsier than a GL), or some other of the halters (these are in some ways - but by no means all - similar to the halters worn by horses - they fit around the head and neck of the dog).

Some dogs manage to cope well with halters. Some don't do well at all. I hope everybody here read Debbie Otero's story about introducing Kodi and Amber, the Australian Shepherds, to the halters - how at first, the dogs didn't like them, but then when Debbie re-taught, re-introduce the halters (GLs), the dogs' attitude toward them changed. If ever there was a good example of how much dogs read their humans - and take their cues from their humans, that was one GORGEOUS example!

Then there's the matter of fit. The halter should be fitted to the dog by someone who knows what they are doing. Some pet-owners who have good sense and good knowledge of dog anatomy and motion could probably just use common sense to fit these halters, at least if they know the principles by which they're supposed to work.

I am familiar ONLY with the GL. The fit there: you should place the neck loop high on the dog's neck, just behind the ears; that loop should be very snug, so you can get only one finger under the loop. So says the manual. I could ask, WHOSE FINGER? Possibly testing the fit carefully will help. The nose loop of the GL should be loose enough, says the manual, so the dog can open its mouth, eat, drink, pant. The nose loope has a clamp below the chin which you can slide to get the right fit, then lock into position.

To test the fit, according to the manual, you first fit the neck loop, then test the clamp position on the nose loop by pulling the nose loop down toward the "leather" - the bare part of the dog's nose. You pull fairly hard, to test that the dog can't actually rub the nose loop off. Once a dog learns s/he CAN get the nose loop off (by doing it), the dog has learned to keep trying to get the nose loop off - even after the clamp has been re-adjusted so the dog can no longer get it off.

All that Debbie had to say about the GL is really helpful, so I hope our interested list-members saved her post(s).

I personally avoid the GL or any form of halter, simply by personal preference. Personally, I choose my own dogs to be of a size I can hold against lunges when they're wearing a plain buckle harness. This kind of choice may not be practical for all dog-owners. For instance, people with disabilities may need large, powerful service dogs - for instance, dogs who guide the blind. I notice, though, that our own Debi Davis has tiny service dogs. She can't lean on them to help her balance, but oh, my, her service dogs (Papillons) do all kinds of useful chores for her that Debi can't herself do.

Teaching a dog not to pull on-leash is best done in several different ways. We need to understand the very essences of what a dog really is; we need to understand and be aware of a dog's current level of maturity, therefore, what it can accomplish when in the way of learning. We need to understand a dog's motivation - WHY it pulls on the leash. We need to understand what happens to the dog when it pulls onleash.

Teaching a dog not to pull on the leash includes: training at home, with no distractions, in tiny, short bursts of activity, done really close-up, and repeatedly - five to ten times at a shot - taking a moment's break, then repeating once or twice more. This is a conditioning exercise.

It includes making sure the dog is never rewarded (reinforced) for pulling onleash (you hold still when the dog pulls onleash, and, as Turid Rugaas says, "Don't give even an inch!" - yet - I DO purposely give - even several inches - when my dogs pull. Why? to minimize the jolt of my dog coming up against its harness; to make sure the dog doesn't GET a nasty jolt when it hits the end of the leash).

And - my no-pull training with my dogs is very successful. Yet - I took a long time to teach it - a year, for my rescue-dog Kwali. And I adapt my no-pull requirements to the current capabilities of my dogs. I make sure to follow principles of communicating with my dogs just as best I can, and I do several kinds of exercises with the dogs. Above all, I don't rush the training, and I'm very careful to do no harm.

Where I lack experience is in having, myself, a dog larger than I can personally hold against a lunge when that dog is wearing a plain buckle harness. If I were in a situation where I did have such a dog, I'd almost certainly use a Gentle Leader. I'd also look at no-pull harnesses, in order to learn about them. Any that work by causing pain, I would reject. Any that restricted normal motion during plain walking, I would also reject.

The disadvantage of the GL (Gentle Leader) is that you must keep the leash short if it's attached to the ring of the GL (under the dog's chin). Otherwise, you risk injury to the dog if the dog lunges and hits the end of the leash.

So, you have to plan your walks with the dog accordingly, if you use a Gentle Leader. I have also used a Gentle Leader and a plain buckle harness simultaneously, with one leash attached to each. Some people have done something similar, but used a longer, double-snap leash, one end snapped to the GL (ring under the dog's chin), the other to the D-ring on the harness, behind the dog's withers. I prefer two leashes, one held in each hand, for more independent action on the handler's part (again, to minimize risk of injury to the dog).

Because the pressure of the GL on the back of the dog's neck just behind the ears, and the slight pressure on the dog's muzzle below the eyes (top of the muzzle) may have a calming effect on the dog (this may vary with the dog, and I have no data to prove it), I have also tried having the dog wear the GL, but with a leash attached ONLY to the plain buckle harness. This has also, at times, worked well for me.

Those interested in looking more deeply at no-pull training, please stay with us - save this post if you will, because I probably won't go over this material again before posting some detailed suggestions for no-pull training, and I might refer back to this post.

And, of course, we also have lots of trainers on this list who may have all kinds of other helpful comments and ideas - please contribute, other trainers - pet-owners, too!

Carol Whitney
Sooke, BC, Canada
copyright 1999 Carol Whitney


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