Successfully training your dog requires the right tools, as well as a fresh approach to avoid any pain that you could be inflicting.
Before I became a dog trainer, over 17 years ago, I was instructed by a Certified Professional Dog Trainer to use certain harnesses on my 16- week-old Lab. Back then, training tools were archaic to say the least. Shock collars, prong collars, nose leads and my “favorite”, the metal choke chain, were guaranteed to choke and hurt the dog if he didn’t do as he was told.
It’s astounding to me now that I went along with the professional without ever questioning the damage I could be doing to my dog’s neck, throat and spine, and the pain I could be inflicting on him. After not-so-successful puppy classes, we used a prong collar (which almost broke my finger when it got stuck in one of the prongs), then tried a nose lead which injured my dog’s neck, requiring the services of a chiropractor who had to put three of his vertebrae back in place.
A new mindset
Then I hired another dog trainer who suggested it would be easier to get my dog’s attention and focus by giving him treats as a motivation to learn. When I used this approach, my dog acted as if he had bionic hearing and somehow began anticipating what I would ask for.
Those training sessions happened years before I ever trained my first dog professionally, but that “out of the box” thinking taught me to look at things very differently from the way most trainers did, and often still do. I took a critical look at traditional dog harnesses and begin to wonder how we could train dogs more humanely and effectively. The theory behind most training is that we teach the dog to listen to our language and then apply tools to change his behavior. But what if it was up to us to learn the dog’s language, and learn how to work with him in a way he understands, without harming him?
In a dog or puppy’s mind, training is about who best controls the energy, but dogs do so in a silent way that we would do well to learn. I now approach training by teaching dogs how to harness and master their own energy, thereby unleashing their greatest potential.
A good training method needs to be easy and leave little room for error. It needs to help you become a consistent leader and your dog a consistent listener. It can be as simple as following these three steps:
1 Walk the dog.
2 Stop, allowing your dog to feel pressure on the harness and make the choice to back off
3 Once he backs off, praise him and walk again.
Consistently repeating these simple steps will align and rebalance your relationship and have your dog backing off from pressure in no time!
Almost all traditional dog harnesses are designed to control a dog from behind and are placed around the neck. This notion of controlling the dog by the throat has the tendency to disconnect him from his body. If you notice, a dog on a choke chain or prong collar will still pull. When he becomes disconnected from his body, it is much more challenging for him to learn, and the potential for injury increases. A harness will always be safer for your dog’s neck, throat and spine. It should clip in front at the dog’s chest, thereby putting the focus of his energy in front of him, not behind him. Placing the clip in front of him actually helps the dog connect to and collect his energy more effectively and efficiently. You then have a dog or puppy that is much more able to tune into your own energy and pay closer attention to you as his leader.
Clipping the leash at the dog’s chest allows you to control him with total respect for his throat and spine, and gives him the ability and awareness to choose to walk into the pressure, or move back from it.
In addition to front clip harnesses, you want a leash that will help you communicate with your dog or pup by providing clear and consistent boundaries that he will understand and respect. Think of it this way: if you tie your dog to a tree, he will know in ten seconds or less how much room he has because the tree will not move. So he backs off from the pressure. Compare this to taking a dog for a walk and it is easy to see how traditional training tools are not assisting you. As long as you move forward, the dog will continue to pull against the pressure because he believes that by doing so, he will eventually break free.
Most leashes provide the dog with no way to know where his boundaries are. A leash that has some type of clear marking on it lets you know how much room to give your dog. That way, the leash and an appropriate harness work together to help you create clear, consistent boundaries for your pooch.
By using the proper training tools, you’ll feel more confidence in your role as a calm and clear leader, and that means the dog is set up for success. After all, what happens on one end of the leash travels down to the other end; a calm human means a calm, aware dog that easily takes direction.