Leash manners not only help to make your walk with your dog more enjoyable for you, but they make all the difference in the world in keeping your dog safe as well. The first thing to consider in teaching leash manners is the equipment.
The first equipment to consider is the leash. The safest leash to use for the most control is a standard six-foot lead. This leaves them enough room to smell things and greet friends but gives you enough warning to grab hold and offset any possible issues you may encounter. Retractable leashes seem to be popular around town, but they have serious drawbacks! First, they offer you very little control and they limit your reaction time to correct a situation. Also, the retractable portion of the lead is usually a thin cord. This cord can wrap around a leg in an instant and can inflict a nasty rope burn or slice into flesh causing injury to people or to dogs.
The second piece of equipment to consider is the collar. There are many options available, and they all have their pros and cons. A brief examination of the most common options follows:
• Fashion collars: These collars come in a variety of materials, from nylon to cotton to hemp or bamboo. They come in as many colors and designs as anyone could imagine. They serve to make a fashion statement, to hold rabies and name tags, and to hold onto a dog who already has leash manners. These are not recommended for puppies under 6 months of age, as the trachea of a pup is fragile while it is developing and can snap and kill a puppy just from running or jumping with a regular collar and leash.
• Harnesses: These are also available in a variety of materials and colors, but it goes around the chest of the dog instead of around the neck. These are ideal for young puppies and small dogs, but they will not help at all in teaching leash manners. In fact, they will make a dog who pulls pull more. It is a physiological response to the stimulus of pressure against the breastbone (think about sled dogs).
• Halti or head collars: These are recommended for dogs who are easily distracted, such as scent hounds and labs. They are designed to steer the dog’s attention in a particular direction, and the dog will follow where you steer his gaze. While they are effective at controlling dogs who pull and helping to guide their attention, they will not teach long-term leash manners. When the head collar is not on, the dog will continue to go in the direction of his attention. Other methods of teaching leash manners will need to be employed in conjunction with the head collar, or the head collar will need to be used indefinitely.
• Choke collars: These are sliding chain or rope collars that are intended to be used for corrections during training, but many people use them as regular collars to walk with. These are dangerous to walk through city streets with. A dog who tries to take off can choke himself to death, and you yanking that leash to prevent your dog from being hit by a car could do more damage than good.
• Martingale collars: these combine the convenience of a fashion collar with the corrective capacity of a choke collar but without the danger of choking or strangling the dog. The choke chain is limited in its constriction but serves the same purpose. It also comes in handy in preventing dogs from backing out of a standard fashion collar.
• Pinch collars: These collars have gotten a really bad rap over the years, but they really are not at all as scary as they look. The idea behind the pinch collar is twofold—first, they correct the dog the way his mother would, by grabbing the scruff of the neck. This gets his attention and distracts him from whatever he is trying to do. Second, there are glands on the back of the neck that secrete calming hormones. The weight of the collar and the pinching of the scruff release these hormones and help the dog to calm himself. They look like they hurt, but I can tell you that I put one around my leg before I put it around the neck of my baby Leo, and it was not a pleasant feeling when I yanked on it, but it did not break skin. I was wearing shorts, and I promise my thigh skin is much more sensitive than the scruff around a dog’s neck. It does not hurt them unless you try to hang them with the collar. This is not recommended with any leash.
Once you have the equipment you think best fits your needs, the process is to be patient and consistent, firm but fair, in teaching your dog to walk nicely, to smell and play without getting unruly, and to be a pleasurable walking companion. These will help to make walking through city streets like State Street a safe and enjoyable experience for all of us!
Jill Aronson is an SLDogPAC board member who lives in the South Loop with her dog Leo. ©2010 Jill Aronson. This article originally appeared at Examiner.com.