Walking Equipment - The good, the bad & the UGLY!
In light of Scotland’s recent decision to ban e-collars (aka shock collars), I decided to write a little blog post about why this is an AMAZING decision! I look at what walking equipment Wanderdog does and does not recommend, and why some pieces of equipment are downright dangerous!
Here at Wanderdog, we believe in building better relationships with our dogs through positive methods of training, equipment and trust. We never use or recommend anything that could cause pain or fear, or ultimately damage the bond between you and your dog.
Sadly, there are still items for sale on the internet, in many pet shops, vets and even recommended by certain trainers that are very detrimental to this special human-canine bond, and also to the safety of your pet.
What equipment we do recommend:
At Wanderdog we absolutely love harnesses! Collars are great accessories, and a fabulous place to pop your dog’s tag (which by law should have your full address including postcode on it), but that's all!
However, not all harnesses are created equal, and getting a harness for your dog should be based on your dog as an individual (comfort, size and how happy they are having different parts of their bodies touched). We have a couple of favourites that do seem to suit many dogs, such as the Perfect fit harness (measured to fit your dog perfectly in two separate pieces) and the T-touch harness (a super light weight harness, good for those dogs more sensitive to wearing equipment). See the bottom of this blog for links to these recommended items.
One misconception about harnesses are that they prevent dogs from pulling. This can actually be the opposite. The pressure is spread more evenly throughout the body, therefore making it easier for dogs to pull against you. Having a front clip on the chest area is the best way to help with pulling, as when the dog pulls forward the harness gently directs them round instead. In order this to work though, the harness needs to be well fitted.
Be warned, some harnesses are not safe! There are some designed to apply pressure and pain to punish pulling. Their marketing campaign may use the idea of ‘squeeze and lift theory' that tightens on the dog when they pull on the lead. Any kind of discomfort caused can ultimately be very worrying for your dog, and the fallout from using any aversive methods can be worse than your original complaint of pulling.
So you’re going to change to an appropriate harness? It’s a good idea to figure out how comforatble your dog is having different parts of their body touched, so you get the right type of harness. Some dogs have sensitive paws, and some worry about having harnesses put on over their heads. Choosing a harness based on your dog as an individual and their comfort levels will help set you up for a more successful walk or training session.
Introducing a harness in a positive manner is a slow, but worth while process and involves pairing your new harness with lots of positive experiences. See this awesome video by Kiko pup for introducing dogs to their new harness in a positive manner:
Other equipment we recommend are long lines for practicing safe recall, and long leads (six-foot or so) for practicing loose lead walking.
What equipment we don’t recommend:
Martingale collars are collars designed to tighten only a little in one area. They can be good for breeds that have necks that are similar sizes to their heads, such as greyhounds and lurchers, to prevent collars slipping off. However, in general we still don’t recommend them. In order for them to only tighten on the neck a little; they have to be perfectly fitted. A harness for one of these breeds would be much more comfortable and safer. For any other breeds these collars are unnecessary and may cause damage to the sensitive neck area through tension.
Extendable leads should be used with extreme caution! Often people choose these leads because they like the idea of the additional freedom provided by the extending cord. However, there are several reasons why these devices are actually quite hazardous! They have been linked to a multitude of injuries caused by tripping over, nasty rope burns, shocking amputations and even fatalities!
The sole purpose of a lead is to keep dogs within a safe distance of us and under control, often with extendable leads this is quite the opposite! The length of the cable allows a dog far too much distance, meaning dogs can run out into busy roads or approach strange dogs or people without any control. It’s impossible to recoil the thin cable back to you once it’s out.
Problems can occur, if the dog runs at full speed until he hits the end of the length causing a sudden jolt. This can cause permanent injuries, whiplash, neck or spine issues. The large chunky handle can also be easily pulled out of the guardian’s hand, allowing for dogs to either run away, or be hit by the recoiling system that drags the handle back to the collar clip attached to the dog. This process of being chased by the handle could scare a dog enough to put it off wearing leads, or even going out for walks!
Slip or rope leads are also extremely problematic as they tighten around a dog’s fragile neck without any stopping mechanism. There is a severe risk of causing your dog damage immediately or over time. With these you have little control over your dog as they rely on tension to stay on. Even when the dog stops moving, tension must be applied to prevent the loop coming off. This tightness is incredibly uncomfortable for your dog. Positive training should involve no discomfort to your dog at any time. It is perfectly possible to teach dogs to walk politely on lead using positive methods. Lastly, these types of leads can be dangerous. If your dog was to suddenly pull forward or chase something it could tighten very quickly leading to serious neck or spine injuries, or even a collapsed trachea. Frequent use of these leads on dogs can lead to soft tissue damage. This is where scar tissue builds up, ultimately leading to throat issues, or thyroid issues, which can also lead to other health issues in other parts of the body and/or behavioural issues.
Head halters should also be used only in limited circumstances, as they can equally cause damage to a dog’s neck if sudden pressure is applied or a strong jerk occurs. For people who are elderly or disabled this could be an option, but it will take a long time and lots of positive conditioning to help the dog to feel comfortable wearing one. Most dogs do not like these!
Prong/ shock/ choke or spray collars should never be used under any circumstances! They are incredibly cruel, and there is no safe level or type of these collars. They are all based on ideas of punishment by causing pain or discomfort. The fall out from using these will likely cause more problems in the long run than the issue you used one to solve, including aggression.
The problem with e-collars (shock) specifically is that they’re very cleverly marketed to be seen as safe, humane and a quick fix. However, e-collars have been scientifically proven to cause long lasting psychological and emotional damage to our dogs, and can lead to worse behavioural issues in the long term. They do work, and get results in the short term, but they work by just suppressing a behaviour rather than working through the root cause of the problem. Even if it is one that claims to be only gentle shocks, they're still shocks designed to punish a behaviour enough to stop it, and this will ultimately lead to feelings of anxiety and stress for your dog. There are so many problems with this type of punishment, and timing is one of them. A small error in timing can lead to a dramatically more profound and damaging negative effect on the dog. For example, if the puppy was on a walk outside and she is shocked for pulling, if she were to see a dog on the other side of the road she may associate that pain with dogs in general, and become reactive towards them! With the added worry of the puppy not knowing when that shock might come, this leads to a continual fear of anticipating it and thus long-term stress and anxiety, which is also bad for her health. In the end suppressing behaviours also creates more unpredictable dogs, which are harder to train. Currently the RSPCA are desperately trying to get these devices banned in the U.K. like they are already banned in Wales since 2010, where you can receive a £20,000 fine and up to 6 months in prison if caught using them. They are also banned in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Germany, and now Scotland. Even our British police force banned them from training any police dogs in the UK. Please, please, please don’t believe the marketing!
Please sign this petition to support the ban of shock collars in this country - https://www.change.org/p/the-uk-government-and-the-scottish-government-ban-shock-collars-other-electronic-training-aids-that-cause-pain-distress-to-dogs-in-uk
If you need any more advice on any of these topics or help finding an appropriate harness for your dog, please do give us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to help you!
Perfect fit harness link -https://www.dog-games-shop.co.uk/perfect-fit-fleece-dog-harness.html
T-touch harness link - http://www.tilleyfarmshop.com/acatalog/TTouch_Harnesses_and_Leads.html
For more help making sure you get the right fitted harness - see this lovely poster here - https://www.seattlettouch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Harness_fit_FINAL.pdf