When I met my new client, I was more than a little concerned when she opened the front door.
Her left arm was in a sling and she limped badly.
"Oh dear, what happened?" "Monty, my dog, saw a squirrel on a walk and took off. He was on leash. I was on the other end. He yanked my shoulder clear out of its socket. It's a third degree separation."
"Eesh. Ooch. Ouch," were the only words I could get out while she described how her foot got caught on a curved root on the trail, holding her in place while Monty stretched her out like a slingshot.
"Six to eight weeks, the doctor said. I can't walk Monty, but I also can't let someone else walk him when he pulls so badly."
"Agreed. I'll do the walking today."
It was no surprise that Monty, a large breed dog, was hitting the ceiling with excitement as soon as he heard the leash being lifted off the coat hook. So we began our training by practising patience, which really didn't take long.
"Hmm, maybe it won't be as bad as I thought," I said to myself.
But once we were out the front door the game changed as we proceeded to walk - no, let me rephrase that - as we waterskied around the block.
"I read your last article and I knew we should have worked on this as a puppy, but he was such a good boy and when he did pull it was only when he darted towards something. We could handle that when he was 30 pounds. When he got big and the darting got bad, we just let him off leash. But then when he darted, he would take off.
He was almost hit by a car a few months ago and then the last time he took off he would not come back."
Clearly the issue was more than just a dog that pulled. This owner needed to learn leadership training ASAP.
But in the meantime, Monty needed to get walked and his regular collar was just not going to offer the control needed to manage his behaviour and instill the training regime I had in mind (read last week's column). So, I recommended a no-pull walking tool. In Monty's case it was going to be a face halter called the Dogmatic because he is a heavy-set dog with a lot of power in his shoulders. For a dog like Monty with poor or little leash walking skills and more energy than common sense, the Dogmatic is a wonderful tool to manage behaviour, especially for quick-darting dogs like Monty. Like all head halters, the leash attaches to the halter on the dog's face which offers the person on the other end greater control over the dog's movement.
There are a number of head halters for dogs and they are all variations on the same design. When I use a head halter, I personally prefer the Dogmatic for the various ways that a dog can be controlled.
Monty, or a dog like him, would not be a candidate for a walking harness because he would still be able to lead with his very powerful shoulders and would begin pulling once again. On a walking harness, the leash attaches to a loop at the breastbone and when a dog pulls, the dog is turned off balance. It is not a comfortable position, so a dog learns that if it wants to walk forward it has to align itself and not pull. Much like head halters, there are a number of walking harnesses out there, all variations on the same design.
Whether it's a head halter or a walking harness, a tool is only as effective as the person using it. A dog, if allowed, will eventually learn to tolerate whatever unpleasantness the harness or halter is creating if the owner is not training and using the tool as it is intended. It is a device that temporarily manages a dog's pulling behaviour so that new training techniques can be implemented to teach a dog to walk politely on leash.
Head halters and walking harnesses seem to work like magic when they are first used, but if not used properly a dog will just find a way to pull again.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at email@example.com.