Do you gaze with envy at dogs who walk politely by their owners’ sides, while yours tows you down the sidewalk? Not only is it annoying to have a dog drag you on leash, it can also seriously damage your dog’s trachea and spine. Plus, dogs who strain at their leashes (and who subsequently get jerked by their frustrated handlers) are more likely to have spinal misalignments, and dogs with spinal problems have a much higher incidence of aggressive and/or hyperactive behavior problems.
WDJ has examined a number of products designed to resolve the challenge of dogs pulling on leashes. We tested several of them at an animal shelter, where there is a plethora of canine subjects inclined to pulling. We evaluated the products based on five criteria:
• The dogs’ acceptance of the product
• Humaneness of the concept
• Quality of manufacture
One important caveat: All no-pull products are most effective when used as a temporary behavior management tool while the dog is taught to walk on a leash. Several work on an aversive (positive punishment) principal, whereby the dog’s behavior (pulling) makes something “bad” happen, in this case, discomfort (see “There’s More Than One Way.”). Unless the owner rewards and reinforces the desirable behavior, (walking politely) the dog may become acclimatized to increasing levels of discomfort, and the product loses its effectiveness.
Headcollars simply do a better job of stopping a pushy puller than all the other types of products on the market. It doesn’t seem to matter which of the three major brands you buy – the Gentle Leader, the Snoot Loop, or the Halti headcollar – all of them work well to keep the dog from pulling.
Headcollars work because they lead the dog from the head, where they lack the strength and leverage to be able to pull. A dog who tries to pull while wearing a headcollar simply has his head turned gently back toward his handler.
Although some high-strung dogs never learn to tolerate wearing something on their head and face, and some need a period of adjustment before they accept them, headcollars are the most effective and humane no-pull aid for most dogs.
All three brands are priced similarly, from $16 to $25, and come in enough sizes and permutations among the three brands to be able to fit just about every dog. Of the three brands, we like the Snoot Loop and the Halti, which offer superior fit.
The Gentle Leader is available from Premier Pet Products for $16-25, (804) 379-4702. The Snoot Loop is available from Dr. Peter Borchelt for $16-20, (800) 339-9505. The Halti is available from Coastal Pet Products for $16-20, (800) 321-0248.
WDJ’s consulting trainer tested two no-pull leashes that utilize elastic to act as a check on the dog’s pulling, but with variations in the application.
The Sof-Touch Training Safety Leash
Developed by well-known behaviorist William Campbell, the Sof-Touch is a simple six-foot nylon leash with a short piece of elastic stitched and snapped in, to create a shock-absorber “valley” in the leash. There is a 1/2-inch width available for small dogs, and a 3/4-inch width for larger dogs.
The leash administers its own correction, but because the leash itself is solid nylon, there is not nearly as much (i.e., too much) bounce-back effect as the next elasticized leash we’ll discuss. In the Sof-Touch, the elastic piece tightens gradually, muting the impact of the dog hitting the end of the leash. Even if an owner resorts to a jerk on the leash, the elastic adds the same muted effect to the correction.
Again, this product works best in conjunction with a program to train the dog not to pull by rewarding polite walking with an encouraging, “Yes!” and a treat. The Sof-Touch leash is an affordable $12 (less for quantity orders) from William E. Campbell, at (541) 476-5775.
Extremely sturdy and well-made, the Elasta-Leash is like a thick, four-foot bungee cord attached to your dog’s collar. When he hits the end of the leash, it literally “twangs” him back. There is no question that it checks the dog’s pulling – the harder he hits the end of the leash, the harder he bounces back.
Our test dogs included an Australian Shepherd who only needed three mild twangs to stop pulling, an adolescent Doberman mix who did well only after a reward was added to the process (an enthusiastic “Yes!” and tasty tidbit when the leash bounced him back) and a Jack Russell Terrier, who could have kept bouncing off the end of the leash ad nauseum.
Since the leash administers the twang rather than the handler, the timing of the correction is always perfect. The elastic quality of the leash reduces the force of the correction on the dog’s throat, so it is less likely to do damage to the trachea. The force of a corrective tug or jerk would also be minimized by the elastic, eliminating the possibility of an overly harsh correction from an overzealous handler.
However, the leash still administers a pretty strong correction that cannot in any way be considered a positive reinforcement solution to the leash-pulling problem. In addition, the force of the correction causes a surprisingly strong bounce-back, particularly with small dogs, which could cause whiplash injuries resulting in spinal problems. (Our trainer was so concerned about the Jack Russell Terrier that after two bounces she found herself giving slack to the dog when he hit the end of the leash so he wouldn’t bounce – which defeats the whole purpose of the leash.)
Another drawback was the surprising length to which a large dog could stretch the leash. An unaware owner, thinking she had her dog under control, might pass five feet from an elderly person, small child, or aggressive dog, only to find that the dog could lunge six to seven feet away with the leash-stretch, and knock someone down or get into a fight. Plus, like our Jack Russell Terrier (and our Dobie, until we added the rewards), if they are willing and able to keep their legs churning away, a dog can move to the end of the leash and keep straining, in which case there is no bounce.
Finally, our trainer found the foam-padded leash handle awkward. If a person simply held the end of the leash (by the handle), it was comfortable enough, but because of the smooth, bungee cord material, you can’t get a grip anywhere else on the leach, should you want to “shorten up,” for instance. In the right hands and on the right dog this could be an effective training tool, but it also contains potential for abuse. At $20, WDJ suggests readers try the other recommended products before resorting to the Elasta-Leash.
WDJ’s consulting trainer also evaluated two brands of no-pull harness. Both work on the same principle. When the dog pulls on the leash, the harness tightens around the dog, causing a low level of discomfort. When the dog stops pulling, the discomfort stops, so the dog is rewarded for not pulling.
Holt Control Harness
The Holt Harness is made of soft, braided nylon, with sturdy hardware. An elasticized band cushions the chest to minimize rubbing. Though confusing to put on the dog the first time, once you figure it out it is simple to use. Our consulting trainer tested this device on several dogs and found that tolerance and effectiveness was high.
Unlike the headcollar, most dogs did not need an “acclimatization period.” Four out of six shelter dogs tested (of various sizes and temperaments) responded well and immediately reduced their pulling. But a stressed and hyperactive Rottweiler barely seemed to notice the harness, and the last dog, a wiry terrier mix, almost managed to escape the harness. He was effectively stopped from pulling, but minutes later, changed his tactics to include spinning and trying to grab the leash snapped to the harness. This tack was successful for him; the harness affords precious little ability to control the dog unless he pulls straight away from the handler, and his playful, exuberant spinning and jumping quickly got him tangled up. If your dog is a straight-away, enthusiastic puller, this product would probably work great.
The Holt Control Harness comes in small, medium and large, fits neck sizes 8-26 inches, and is available from most pet supply catalogs and stores for about $10. This product is worth trying, especially for dogs who don’t like headcollars.
This harness works on a similar principle, with a twist. The tightening occurs around the dog’s front legs – from padded legs straps – instead of around the chest. The location of the straps (above the dog’s front elbows, high in his armpits) seems like it would be very uncomfortable for any dog to just walk around in, even if they weren’t pulling.
This product was more effective on our Rottweiler, but a sweet Australian Shepherd and a submissive black Labrador were befuddled by the pressure on their legs. Sensitive dogs might get too distracted to enjoy a walk while wearing this harness.
The Pro-Stop! Harness is well-made, but more complicated to put on the dog than the Holt Harness. It’s also more expensive – $15-20. It doesn’t adjust for tiny dogs, but accommodates larger sizes (up to 42” girth) than the Holt Harness.
-By Pat Miller