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Leashes and Harnesses and Equipment–Oh My!

Leashes and Harnesses and Equipment–Oh My!

We sure can shop for stuff–and dog stuff is pretty hard to resist: new harnesses and collars and leashes and car seats and crates appear on the market all the time. Some products promise magical results, look fancy, and cost a fortune. But of course who is at the other end of the leash matters most in making magic happen.

So which harness? Which leash? Martingale? Seat belt or booster? Let’s start with the harness, because it may be the most important piece of equipment you use with your dog.

Puppies are allowed to wear any good-fitting harness–we don’t worry about their good walking until they are more used to the world itself. As long as the puppy isn’t yanking on his neck and can’t escape out of the harness, buy something inexpensive and cute–she will outgrow it in a hot second anyhow. Once a dog is old enough to be pulling, it’s time to start teaching Cookie not to, and having a helpful harness manages her leash walking somewhat while she learns this difficult, unnatural skill.

If your dog weighs more than fifteen pounds, you need to try the Freedom Harness. Though I have tried them all and recommend the Freedom allllll the time, shoppers get creative and find a fabric or stiff harness that moves around too much and is virtually useless. Just buy the Freedom, try it, and then let me know that I am right. 😉 (I am paid nada for this ad.) If your dog is under fifteen pounds, an EZ Walk or Sensation harness can work well, but just be sure the pup’s elbow can’t escape out the side. A harness needs to be SNUG–and it can stretch with time so check often and adjust buckles.

The most important part about using a harness is that you use the FRONT CLIP on the dog’s chest, not the back hook. The Freedom actually has a special leash that clips to both, which you may or may not want, depending on Cookie’s pulling. You have little control over your dog if you clip the leash on her back, and many dogs actually ignore you and pull more when you use the harness that way.

Once your dog is an excellent walker, you can use any equipment simply because it’s pretty, but training in the proper duds helps immensely. My adults walk just on flat collars because they’re not pulling. My fifteen-month-old hundred-pounder can still get excited once in a while, so we’re not there yet.

And what kind of collar? Flat, with ID (try the Boomerang tags that sit on the collar and don’t jingle-jangle), any fabric or leather you like. But be sure the collar can’t slide over Cookie’s head if she pulls away from something! Test periodically because clasps wear out and fabric stretches. NO CHOKE CHAINS, PRONG, OR SHOCK COLLARS, OF COURSE. Negatives don’t belong in teaching dogs to control themselves, and we should be building Cookie’s trust. I’m even not a big fan of Martingale collars, though positive trainers sometimes use them. They still grab a dog’s neck if she pulls, even if it’s gentle–that’s a negative: “I want to go to see that dog. Oh, my neck is squeezing. I am afraid of that dog!”

What kind of leash? NOT a retractable. Rarely, rarely does a human use it for any good purpose. Instead it’s reinforcing pulling, and a strong dog can cause injury to her human if she pulls with a lot of momentum. Humans in wheelchairs certainly can find retractables useful. Be sure the clip on your leash isn’t too heavy for your tiny dog. If the handle of your leash is thick and trying to give you comfort, your dog is pulling too much. A heavy leash doesn’t belong on a little dog. A long leash isn’t needed on a tall dog. Use a leash long enough to allow some slack–some dogs are pullers simply because the leash is too short to reach. There are nice European-style leashes that hook around your body–so nice to be hands free.

For the car your pup may need just a doggie seat belt (so simple; why didn’t I invent it?). Little dogs often don’t mind crates or booster seats in the car. There are various ideas about what is safest, so do your research. But no question the back seat is safer. It’s where your children sit, after all. If I see one more dog on a driver’s lap . . .

Some dogs don’t fit easily into just any piece of equipment. Some humans need added protection for their own backs. Not one size fits all–but if the equipment isn’t getting you what you need, try again. Once in a while a human with issues walking needs a Gentle Leader for his strong dog with less-than-perfect impulse control. Once in a while a dog needs to wear a muzzle on a walk so the human can relax–and then Cookie can relax, too. Your dog will get used to the equipment you need–and may thank you with really sloppy kisses.


Lee White on April 22, 2021 AT 06 am

How does the harness go on small dogs?Do you have a picture? We have lots of leash issues. 😔

    robin on April 22, 2021 AT 10 am

    Hi Cuz! EZ Walk looks like the Freedom in the photo of Sterling–but no clip on the back. Your pup is so teeny you may not even find the XXS works but worth a try! And here is a little video I did to show more than I can in my office. Walking starts at about 7:45 in the video. Practice, Pace, Praise, Interesting, Treats (PPPIT)

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