Be well equipped… 😎
What equipment do I recommend? 🤷♀️
🐕 AN H HARNESS 🐕
Not just any ol’ harness, but a nice H design (look down to your dog’s back and you should see an H shape). Otherwise known as a Y harness (look at your dog head on and the harness should be shaped like a Y on the front).
This harness design suits most dogs, is generally really secure and frees up the shoulders for ease of movement- something that is often overlooked in many harness designs.
Harnesses that have straps horizontally across the chest impede gait and shorten the stride. This can cause muscle soreness (Imagine intentionally shortening your natural stride by 1/2 every time you walk and how this may feel across your body- your back, neck, shoulders and legs would likely tense up). The popular ‘step in’ (we refer to these as the ‘bra’ harness) are typical for shortening the dog’s gait, albeit more subtley than some. Some designs such as the ‘no-pull’ or ‘happy at heel’ harness actually work in this way- they alter the dog’s gait to slow them down, making pulling more difficult and more uncomfortable. This is why we don’t recommend these harnesses.
Harnesses are generally less easy for dogs to escape from. For escape proof harnesses I really rate Haqihana’s double H harness, because it’s lightweight. Ruffwear do an escape proof design, but I prefer to recommend this for dogs that need lifting or support (such as older dogs, those who need listing over rougher/complex terrain on walks, dogs who do hydro etc). However, the handle can be useful to maintain hold on a very strong dog who is over reacting at something.
I like Ruffwear, but I do personally feel that their designs can be a little too bulky (making contact with too much of the body) on some breeds/types of dogs. They do suit some dogs brilliantly, but not all! The less body the harness covers the more comfortable it will likely be.
😎 How a harness looks should come second to how it fits your dog. The more active/athletic your dog is- the more carefully you should consider the harness design and avoid bulky (plated) harnesses so to free up the ability for your dog’s muscles to move!
One reason (of many!) I love a harness is that if (for what ever reason) we ever need to suddenly grab our dog (to help keep them safe)- it’s likely less aversive to do this via a harness strap on their back than grabbing their collar (grabbing the neck is a seriously threatening behaviour across most species!)
I’d rather dogs were walked on a harness- but I understand not all can be for a variety of reasons. One totally invalid reason is ‘they make dogs pull’. This is a training issue, not an equipment issue. Dogs don’t automatically become huskies in a harness, they are just more able to pull if you haven’t taught them how to walk nicely on lead.
🐕STREET WALKING LEAD🐕
Minimum 1.8 metres which enables the lead to be loose from the start. You cannot loose lead walk with a lead that goes tight the moment a dog takes one step off course. This training criteria (difficulty rating) is simply too high for most dogs to start off with. Personally, I feel a lot of behaviour problems people encounter on walks start with a tight lead. Loose lead walking is a key skill we should teach every single dog and having the right equipment is paramount to their success.
Further benefits of a longer lead is your dog can sniff and communicate easier.
👃 Sniffing is a great behaviour for dogs to do on walks. It helps them learn about the environment and who is around, which can be enriching and tiring! It keeps dogs calmer (I’d prefer a dog to be in ‘channel nose’ than ‘channel eyes’ because in my experience they’re generally less over reactive or slower to react!)
👄 If a lead is longer a dog can communicate they’d like to move towards or move away from a situation more easily. I too often see dogs trying to back out of a social situation on a short lead, then hit the end of the lead and start to flip and jump around trying to escape. Owners may mistake this behaviour for play or exciteability. The duration of more behaviours more easily identified as avoidance behaviour is shortened so dramatically by the equipment (short lead). With an extra metre of lead the owner may be more aware of how their dog feels about the situation and help them move away before panic or defensive behaviour sets in.
A longer lead gives dogs more space to interact with other dogs, reducing the liklihood of defensive behaviour from feeling trapped.
Choose a lead that matches your dog’s weight and structure. Heavy clasps/buckles, too heavy fabric can all pull a dog off centre- which over time may cause muscle soreness. The same goes for dog tags- think about how heavy your dog’s ID tag is for them to have hanging off their neck.
⚠️ It’s crucial when using these leads on street walks that you do not let your dog walk 2 metres ahead of you- this is not safe. The idea is the lead is loose and the dog is next to you but able to take a step to the side to sniff or quicken their gait for 1/2 a metre as they get closer to a sniff- without the lead going tight. It’s paramount we use such equipment safely
Any dog with an unreliable recall should be on a long line. Period.
Frequent predatory behaviours- long line.
Runs up to dogs or people uninvited- long line.
Runs away when scared- long line.
You can aim to train away the longline over time. However, there is no shame in accepting that some dogs, in some environments may always require some level of management- such as my Kanita!.
⚠️Longlines need to be attached to a harness- never, ever to a collar- (unless you want to give your dog whiplash, which I’m quite sure you don’t).
⚠️To avoid injury make sure the lead is never pooling slack on the floor, this allows a dog to pick up speed and when they hit the end of the lead- you may get jolted or pulled off your feet.
If your dog is charging at prey (that they will likely not catch) and you’re worried you’re going to be injured- consider dropping the lead (if the environment is not near a road!) and catch up with them as quickly as you can. This is the story behind the video- a quick decision to make: drop lead or injure my hand! Note, this is because there was a moment of too much slack in the lead!! I opted to drop the lead and the longline meant I could retrieve Kanita quickly!
Loose lead walking applies to long lines! The length of lead is irrelevant, long lines are not an excuse for pulling.
Anyone who has an on lead dog (puppies, prey drive, over reactive) in a green area should upgrade their street lead to a longline to allow the dog to explore and sniff without pulling on the lead. Unless you have a slow gait dog or have proofed loose lead walking to the highest standard (good for you if so!) expecting a dog to not quicken their gait beyond a walk and not pull in a wide open space full of smells and sights is a big ask.
However, If you want your dog to socialise without de-railing their recall training- a long line in the park is a great tool as you can drop it to allow them to mingle with a socially compatible dog.
Longlines should be handle free if you intend on letting your dog drag it along at times (to avoid catching/looping on other dogs or trees).
Consider the length you need carefully. Too long can be dangerous for big, strong dogs (they can pick up speed and pull you off your feet) but too short can result in too much stop/starting for fast dogs, which can lead to high levels of frustration).
Small dogs and puppies need to have a lightweight long line to avoid pulling their body off centre and causing muscle soreness.
The weight of the lead should be carefully considered if your dog is going to drag their longline along the ground.
I have about 4 different longlines. 5 metre lightweight haqihana with handle (I never drop this!), 10 metre biothane (weight does not change when the weather is wet) and a 2.5 metre ribbon lead which are great for the final stages of fading out the longline.
Want to reinforce the right behaviour? Get a treat bag!
If you use plastic bags in pockets then this can be a too-lengthy process, unless you’ve mastered the art of using a bridge (clicker or marker word).
Using a treat bag can make all the difference to training on walks and you don’t end up with sausage lined pockets too!
🐶 MUZZLES 🐶
These have to avoid pressing into the eyes and avoid rubbing the nose. Basket muzzles are best for walks as they enable panting, drinking and treat taking- as well as full tongue movement, which is required for cornering at speed!
Avoid fabric muzzles due the inability to pant (regulate temperature) or signal as much to other dogs or emotional response to situations (tongue flicks, mouth open/closed, agonistic pucker etc). These fabric muzzles are only best used as emergency protocols at vets or while you condition your dog to tolerate a basket muzzle (at vets).
Muzzle training takes time, avoid just whacking it on your dog as much as you can!
⚠️What do I NOT recommend?⚠️
⚠️ Head haltis! Exceptions are super large dogs or dogs owned by owners who are less physically able to handle them- but this is reviewed on a case by case basis.
Just like a muzzle, dogs need to be conditioned (positive emotional response) to putting a head halti on and they should 100% walk on a loose lead on one (to avoid neck injury or having their sensitive muzzle and eyes squished).
In my opinion, head haltis reduce the likelihood of sniffing and can interfere with a dog’s body language- so they should be used with caution.
⚠️Slip leads. Unless you work your gun dog and have a rock-solid loose lead behaviour, these are basically a rope-choke and can seriously damage the neck.
⚠️Choke chains- I’d like to think for obvious reasons. The clue is in the name.
⚠️Half check- the threat of being choked is just as bad as being choked.
⚠️Double ended leads. Oooooh, I’m controversial I know. However, I feel that having the lead pass across the chest (from front clip on harness) changes gait using negative reinforcement (escape/avoidance training). The fact that on the very rare occassion I clip Kanita to the front of her harness when she’s ‘beyond help’ (predatory threshold exceeded x 10000) she near-instantly becomes more managable demonstrates this to me. Does she look relaxed? No! She’s just less physically able to move how she wants to!
I believe the knocking of the clip/lead on the dog’s chest and shoulders may be incredibly tedious on a walk (same goes for dog tags clipped to the back of a harness). I go on long hikes and runs and believe me, if something keeps knocking/tapping on you- you sensitise to it over time!
I also feel double ended leads alter gait and impedes natural movement, I see too many dogs walking off-centre when these are in use. I’ve moved many behaviour cases off a two-end attachment and observed radical behaviour change.
I only recommend the front clip on a harness for a ‘you can pull on the lead’ cue, which is used less and less as walking on a loose lead becomes generalised. Using the back clip on a harness frees up a dog’s natural movement.
That said, I’d rather two point attachments were used instead of a head halti- so in some instances I may recommend them.
⚠️Rounded collars- if you’re going to use a collar then the least we can do is make it comfortable. A well fitted collar should be flat, loose enough to get two fingers under neath it and narrow enough that they do not impede in your dogs neck movement. I often see dogs with too thick/wide collars that cover 1/2 of their neck and I just think these interfere with head turns and cannot be comfortable. Just think- if my dog pulls hard on the lead wearing a collar- how will this impact against his soft thyroid gland? A rounded collar will dig in, a flat collar won’t.
⚠️The extender lead. I feel these teach dogs to pull (the lead is almost always taught) and that there’s little control in the way the handle is held or the reliance on a button for stop/start. I have observed the jolt of the stopping mechanism makes some dogs over react.
I also feel there is no relationship and little communication between dog and handler on these leads- it’s either stop or start. It’s amazing what you can communicate with a long line (“slow down”, “this way”, “I’d like you to leave the situation” etc). Most importantly, with a fixed length lead you can slacken them off and make the lead loose.
As you can see, I have a lot to say about equipment! There’s more to it than one may have initially thought!
If you need help choosing the right collar, harness, street walking lead or long line we are happy to help in store!