Sunday, June 10, 2012
From the day I start walking my puppies on a leash it's attached to a no-pull harness. The only reason my puppies wear a collar is to have something to attach their ID tags to. I prefer a no-pull harness because it protects their delicate throat/airway/neck. An untrained puppy will pull until they're chocking and gagging. We are also tempted to apply too much leash pressure to get them to walk at our side. All of this yanking and pulling is not good for them physically but it also starts teaching them to be immune to the feeling of something tight around their neck. It as if we allow them to develop a callous around their neck so that after a while they don't really notice a tight collar. By using a no-pull harness from day one, we prevent that problem and protect their delicate neck at the same time.
I'm a huge fan of the Freedom Harness and have used it for years. I've tried numerous no-pull harnesses but have found that the Freedom fits best, therefore functions best on the majority of dogs who wear it. If we are leaving the house I will have them wear a flat collar but I never attach a leash to it. For safety reasons they should never wear a harness or collar in their crate or when unsupervised.
My priority when training puppies/dogs to walk on leash is not so much to teach them to 'stop pulling' but to teach them to walk calmly at my side and to redirect back to me when they are excited rather than wanting to pull towards things. Having spent the past 10 plus years teaching students, the common mistake I see most people make is that they think puppies and dogs should automatically know how to walk on a leash. Walking on a leash requires both the understanding of 'where' you want you puppy to walk, meaning, on your left or right side. It also requires that they learn to ignore distractions and not lunge or pull towards them. Both of these combined require HOURS!!!! of practice and training. Lets not forget maturity too, we expect far too much from young puppies, give them time to mature too.
When you start a puppy on a no-pull harness you can be guaranteed that they will pull, yank and lunge. The difference is that on the harness they will not be feeling the pressure on their neck. It typically takes months to teach heeling and impulse control so don't be in a big hurry to get your puppy off the harness. I think too often people feel that having their puppy on a harness is a reflection of poor training or failure on their part. A harness is a great piece of training equipment and should be used without hesitation.
As the months go by and I have established nice leash manners with no pulling and the puppy is easily redirected when excited, it's time to introduce walking on a flat collar. What I typically find is that the puppy/dog is now very sensitive to feeling pressure around their neck so pulling on leash feels weird and uncomfortable so they avoid doing so. From the moment we start walking I HIGHLY reinforce every time the puppy releases to pressure and returns to a loose leash. It does not mean that your puppy will NEVER pull on a flat collar, but what I've seen is that they hit the end of the leash and immediately seek a way to make the pressure cease.
Over the years I have tried this technique on all the dogs that I have raised and trained and each of them responded very positively and were walking on flat collar by their first birthday. During the training process there may be times when you want to use your no-pull harness, when taking groups walks with other dogs, in areas that have alot of distractions, anytime you feel your dog is too aroused and will want to pull due to over excitement. Don't rush them off the harness and return to it as needed throughout their training.
It's also important to note that there is no reason why a dog can not walk on a no-pull harness their entire life.