Harness and Leash
I always recommend dogs walk with leashes attached to body harnesses – generally attached to the clip on the dog’s back, in addition to training calm walking behavior with rewards; or you can attach the leash to the front clip over the dog’s chest. This can help decrease pulling behavior, but the side effect is it can sometimes affect the dog’s normal walking movements.
If you look at the dog’s front chest, the “T-shaped” harnesses are more likely to negatively affect dog’s normal movement, while the “Y-shaped” do not.
Attaching a leash to a regular collar puts too much pressure on a dog’s neck. Their tracheas can easily be damaged if they pull too much, or even with a single hard lunge, or accidental jerk on the leash by the handler.
Dogs can also walk off-leash if it’s legal (there are no leash laws in the area), and it is safe (your dog won’t get hit by a car, you taught a solid recall – coming when called – behavior, and so on). You are ultimately responsible for your dogs at all times, so use good judgment.
The typical dog leash is 6 feet long. I actually prefer to walk my dog with a 10 foot leash the majority of the time (or a 15 foot one). This allows a dog to walk at a more normal pace and have some freedom to move side to side as dogs tend to sniff areas this way when not restrained.
It does take some handling ability in order to make sure your dog does not have too much leash length and cross in front of cars or approach other dogs when he shouldn’t. You will need to practice allowing and pulling in the leash to control how far away your dog is allowed to move to keep your dog safe.
Don’t Use These
I never recommend choke chains, prong/pinch collars, shock collars, or other types of equipment designed similarly. All of these tools work by applying pain to the dog. There are many people who are dishonest or lack this knowledge who will not tell you these tools hurt dogs. For your dog’s sake, health and better behavior, please do not listen to them. If you are already currently using one of these tools, don’t worry, you can switch to a leash and harness immediately and easily.
I also do not recommend retractable leashes for the following reasons:
a. They apply constant pressure to the dog’s harness, so technically the dog is always being rewarded for pulling – unless you lock in a set length, but then it will drag on the ground defeating it’s main purpose of extending-retracting.
b. The lines are too thin, and if you try to grip them to pull a dog back in towards you, the line is very likely to cut your hand. I personally have had this happen twice when I used them prior to becoming a professional dog trainer, and have at least one scar from the resulting injury. This also makes retractable leashes very dangerous for dogs that are reactive towards others.
c. The locking mechanism to get a set length of leash, can be undone or broken relatively easily by dogs pulling. This can be dangerous if the dog pulls out in front of cars, or if your dog pulls up to another dog.
d. If your dog pulls the leash out of your hand, it retracts toward your dog, so can end up scaring or hitting your dog.
However, if you are using a retractable leash with no problems for a smaller breed dog with no discernible behavior problems like rushing up to other dogs, reactivity, aggression, fear, etc., then you might be fine to continue using it as long as you are aware of the risks and take measures to prevent them. Always attach it to a body harness, though, to prevent it from hurting your dog’s neck from the constant pressure.
Specific Harness Brands
There are so many choices with dog harnesses now that I don’t have a complete list I recommend.
I do like the Seattle Balance Harness by Lori Stevens; it has both front and back clips. The harness forms a Y-shape around the dog’s body/neck, so it does not restrict normal canine movement.
I also like a regular body harness most pet stores sell with a back-clip, created with as soft material as possible.
By Dan Raymer