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If you are a trainer, when you see a dog on a leash your attention may go to gait, ease of movement, equipment worn, and the handler’s use of the equipment. It is deeply satisfying to see an animal’s comfortable stride, with a handler enabling that stride. But often what you see is less than wonderful: a roached back, constant tension on the leash, leaning-away from the handler, blocking of the animal’s joints, and more. The wrong choice of equipment or a bad fit can be responsible for these problems. Careful equipment choices and equipment fit, especially the fit of a harness, can eliminate these issues.
Read on for suggestions for making informed decisions about equipment and fit. What your dog wears for walks is your personal decision, but the information that follows will help you decide what is best for your dog and for you.
Some concerns about collars
Many excellent trainers leash-walk with the leash attached only to the dog’s collar. They do this for a variety of reasons, including:
Here are some of my concerns with collars:
You don’t have to have pulling in order to create pressure or injure your dog via the collar. It just takes one instance of accidentally stepping on the leash. Try this exercise: Wrap your hands and fingers around your neck with your thumbs at the front and center of your neck. Now push in with your thumbs and try to breathe normally. It’s not comfortable for humans, so why would we think pressure on the neck is comfortable for dogs?
Well-known veterinarian Jean Dodds has also been concerned about collars, and answered a question on her blog about collars damaging the thyroid.
“This is an important question that we’re all trying to pay more attention to, because the thyroid and salivary glands are superficially located just under the skin in the upper part of the neck. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ just in front of the larynx and trachea, and the mandibular salivary glands are found on the side of the face just below the ears. Thus, they can be easily injured by trauma and sudden pressure forces (like could occur from the slip ring and chain of metal collar, and a metal prong or hard braided leather collar).”
I no longer use collars, even for tags; there are identification (ID) tags for harnesses that stay put and don’t get caught on things. I recognize that there are some especially soft collars and collars with lovely designs that might be used for ID tags, fashion, or connecting a leash to. Of course, prong, choke, and electronic (remote) collars can harm your dog and, therefore, are not recommended at all.
Like collars, ill-suited and ill-fitted harnesses can cause harm, both physical and behavioral. Harnesses that rub under the legs or restrict movement, or otherwise make your dog uncomfortable, should be ruled out. Some dogs are uncomfortable with anything touching their ears or slipping over their heads. While some people want padded or fleece harnesses, I think this is because they have experienced some of the many harnesses that rub dogs and aren’t soft enough where the harness is in contact with the dog’s fur or skin. A soft nylon harness is perfectly comfortable as long as there are no rough or cut edges that can rub against the dog.
Look for a harness with both front and back rings to connect to the leash. I often teach a handler to attach a leash to both the front and back rings while handler and dog are learning to partner on leash. This requires a leash with two snaps, not two leashes, and can be done with one hand easily. Once the team communicates well while walking (no pulling matches are occurring), the handler can move the leash to the front or back ring only.
I prefer to use the ring that is between the withers rather than the front chest ring. Given that dogs often walk in front of us, we can too easily pull them off balance if we are behind them and using only the front ring.
Measuring your dog’s girth for harness fit, be sure to measure where you’d like the harness to fit (assuming you are using a fully-adjustable harness like the Balance Harness). Once you get the harness, use your own eyes, hands, and the dog’s reaction to the harness to tell if it is a match. The dog should be completely comfortable in the harness.
If you are using a harness that slips over the head, once the neck strap is adjusted to fit over the dog’s head you will get an idea of how much the girth strap needs to be adjusted. Remove the harness and adjust it. The chest and top straps (Balance Harness only) can be adjusted last. By adjusting these straps, you can decide where the girth strap fits best on your dog’s rib cage. I usually adjust a harness so that this strap is two to three inches behind the front legs and elbows.
Teaching your dog to love his harness.
Teaching your dog to get dressed
Take the time to introduce the harness so that it’s a positive experience for the dog. Invite your dog to put her head through the neck opening on her own and reinforce her for doing so. You can use a nose-to-hand “touch” cue that starts with your hand near the opening of the harness. Gradually move your hand so that to touch it she has to put her head through the harness. This should be easy for your dog and reinforced often (refer to detailed steps below). Take your time before using the harness as a cue. Hold off until it predicts that good things are going to happen. It’ll be worth it in the long run. If your dog is sound-sensitive, gradually get her used to the sound of the neck buckle closing.
Follow these steps to teach your dog to slip her head into a harness. You may need to repeat the steps several times, over several training sessions, before actually putting the harness on the dog. You are teaching the dog that the harness predicts good things will happen.
Before you head out…
Selecting leash-walking equipment means making an important investment in your dog’s health, performance, and behavior. Take the time to make the choice that “fits” you and your dog perfectly.
What is also important, and closely related to leash-walking equipment, is training loose-leash walking. This kind of training pays off big in building your relationship with your dog and cementing an activity that you can do together with ease and in sync. With your equipment set, you’re ready to head out. Before you do, read How to Teach Loose-Leash Walking and watch the DVD Tellington TTouch Techniques: Walking in Balance With Your Dog.
Panda, the guide miniature horse trained by ClickerExpo faculty member Alexandra Kurland and the beloved service animal and companion of Ann Edie, had a tough 2016. Like many of us, Panda and Ann are looking ahead to brighter skies in 2017—and we all can help.
Ann, who is blind, has enjoyed the assistance and friendship of Panda since 2003! Panda not only helps Ann “travel smoothly and efficiently around my community,” but she transmits joy to those around her, demonstrating her intelligence and good humor daily. As Karen Pryor wrote in The Panda Game:
“KPCT was fortunate to have Ann Edie and Panda as honored guests at ClickerExpo Newport in 2006. Everyone enjoyed meeting this distinguished pair. We were awed by Panda's calmness as she guided Ann during the day, through crowds and halls and past all sorts of dogs (some of which were distinctly upset at having a horse among them).”
Since May, 2016, Panda has been ill. While Panda is at home now and is continuing to recover, the multiple hospital admissions, tests, and medications she has needed have resulted in very high vet bills for Panda’s family.
Alexandra Kurland has created a YouCaring fundraising page for Panda and Ann, hoping that kind and caring friends and strangers might contribute to paying down these medical bills. If you are so inclined, please visit the page to make a contribution (of any amount), read updates, and post good wishes for Panda.
To show support for Panda and Ann, throughout the month of January Karen Pryor Clicker Training will donate 20% of the proceeds from the sales of horse training kits, books, and DVDs (authored by Alexandra Kurland), treats, and apparel to the Panda fund! Shop now.
Some dogs are born to tug. Although I wasn’t present for his birth, I did meet Blink, my border collie, when he was very young (about 3 weeks old). I was lucky enough to visit his litter each week until I brought Blink home at age 8 weeks. I can attest to this—from the time he and his siblings were able to grasp something in their tiny mouths and hold on to it, they were tuggers. Fierce, enthusiastic, tuggers. They would tug until they dropped from exhaustion, falling asleep mid-tug with some poor, unsuspecting, braided-rope monkey toy hanging out of their mouths with its stuffed head half torn off. (True story).
Having had two Labs that were all about the food and “meh” about tugging, I thought this was just about the coolest thing ever! These baby puppies were grrring and tugging with all their might and seemed to really enjoy the game.
Given that, tug became a very powerful reinforcer early on Blink’s life. In fact, tugging was used to reinforce desirable behavior long before the pups ever left their breeder. I had such a huge head start using tug as a reinforcer in training that it felt like cheating! By the time I brought Blink home, not only did he have a reinforcement history of tugging, he had a reinforcement history of tugging with ME.
I capitalized on that reinforcement history right away. Unlike food (which Blink would accept politely, if I was lucky), he was rabid about tug. So rabid that he once lost three puppy teeth in the span of an hour-long group class and kept right on tugging through it all. Blink simply could not get enough of the game. I would have been foolish not to use that passion to my advantage in his training. I used tug as his main reinforcer for every single new behavior I taught him. “Wait.” Click/tug. “Sit.” Click/tug. “Lie down.” Click/tug. And on it went, until we built up a basic behavioral repertoire successfully, solely using clicker training, but almost never using food as a reinforcer.
Blink also loves to chase toys like balls, Frisbees and ring toys. Later on, when I wanted to add some distance to Blink’s behaviors, I began using thrown toys as reinforcers. For instance, if Blink was 20-30 feet away, and it wasn’t possible to tug with him, I would click and reinforce with a thrown toy.
To this day, tug remains 7-year-old Blink’s main reinforcer. I do use food sometimes, but almost everything the dog knows was taught with tug or a thrown toy. “Give me a hug.” Click/tug. “Hold still while I trim a nail.” Click/throw a ball. “Do a dog-sport demo with me in front of a crowd of people and dogs.” Click/tug.
Although it works great with Blink, using toys in place of food as reinforcers isn’t for every dog. For example, this would have been a terrible training plan for my Labs, unless I took the time to condition toys as secondary reinforcers for them. But, if you have a dog that loves tug or toys more than food (not to be “breedest,” but herding dogs often fit this description!), try using those things as reinforcers.
If you’re interested in learning more about adding toys, tug, natural, and novel reinforcers to your reinforcement strategy, and improving your own reinforcement skills, Ken Ramirez has authored an entire online course on this very subject! Check out the Smart Reinforcement course.
Karen Pryor Clicker Training’s Terry Ryan Treat Pouch was named “best treat pouch/bait bag” in the August 2016 issue of The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ). Nancy Kerns, Editor in Chief of WDJ, tested and rated a variety of treat pouches as she walked and trained her own dogs. An admitted “treat-bag junkie,” Nancy experiments with all of the reasonably priced bags she finds, and has clear criteria on what makes a bag great.
The WDJ article discusses first the basic features of a working treat pouch, including preferred size, open-and-close method, quality, ease of care, and “extras.” Although she herself does not like bells and whistles, Nancy does mention some design additions that might appeal to other trainers (space for poop bags, extra loops for attaching keys, etc., space for personal items).
What leads Nancy Kerns to declare the Terry Ryan Treat Pouch her “absolute favorite” is its simplicity—and quality. From the pouch’s belt attachment to the French-spring hinge mechanism for easy access, from the space for a basic phone to the squared base of the bag that allows it to stand alone on a flat surface, Nancy praises the Terry Ryan Treat Pouch as an essential tool. While the WDJ test results article describes two pouches that are runners-up, and lists other bags that did not make the cut, only the Karen Pryor Clicker Training product was described as “Everything we need, nothing we don’t!”
The FitPAWS K9FITbone is a very versatile piece of balance equipment. The lateral movement the K9FITbone offers encourages your dog to engage the abdominal muscles, the muscles along the spine (core and trunk muscles), and the supporting muscles around the hips and shoulders that are used for stability and support good posture. Here are 10 great reasons to use the K9FITbone at home or during a class:
Have you ever wanted to reward your dog for a job well done, but didn't have food treats with you? Consider playing with your dog to reinforce good behavior! Using play as a reinforcer is convenient – it doesn’t require anything but you and your dog. It adds variety to your training routine, and also helps strengthen your relationship. Here, Karen Pryor Faculty Member Laurie Luck offers these suggestions for finding your dog’s play preferences.
Finding and fostering play preferences
Some dogs are natural retrievers—fetch is their game of choice. Other dogs like to chase or be chased. Still other dogs like physical play—roughhousing is fun for them. To determine what play your dog enjoys naturally, watch your dog when he’s with other dogs. Does he like to body slam and wrestle with his doggie friends? Chances are he might like to do the same with you. Does he chase other dogs? Does he like it when other dogs chase him? See if you can engage your dog in these same kinds of games.
Maybe your dog loves the water? Find a water-worthy toy and get him involved in play in his element. Does your dog go crazy for squeaky toys? Buy several toys with different squeakers (there are toys that “squeak” grunts!) and see which type of squeak your dog likes the most.
If your dog doesn’t seem to like any particular game or toy, there are toys with little pockets you can put food into. Lure your dog into interacting with a toy to jumpstart play.
When you know your dog’s play preferences, next comes the fun part: shopping for toys! There are so many toys on the market, you are sure to find one that fits your dog’s preferences. If your dog likes to chase things, take a look at toys like the Kong Ball or Planet Dog Fetch Ball.
If your dog loves the water, look for bright, floating toys that you can toss into the surf such as the Gripple and the Bobb. Or, for fun both in and out of the water, try a ring toy such as the LED Floating Ring Mini. If your dog is just learning to fetch, attach those toys to a River Rope, in case your dog decides not to fetch the toy. With a River Rope you can pull the toy back in easily, without having to go into the water yourself. The rope also keeps the toy from going downstream or out with the tide!
If squeaking is what your dog is after, your options are almost limitless. Check out the Kong toys that have squeakers built in (my dogs’ favorites!), like the Kong Air Dog SqueakAir Buoy. If your dog likes to chase things and enjoys squeakers, toys like the Kong Jumbler Ball can be very enticing!
Top Choice = You
Don’t forget that the opportunity to play with you can be the most rewarding activity of all! Run from your dog, and see if he follows you. Give chase after your dog; my dogs seem to enjoy this game most of all. That one is a win-win choice—we’re having fun together and we’re both getting exercise!
Working play into your daily interactions with your dog is valuable for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s impossible to measure the fun! Fun is an effective reinforcer in training, too, whether you are training basic manners or more advanced skills and tricks. Don’t forget that amazing side effect of playing with your dog—your relationship with your dog gets better and better.
Now get out there and play with your dog!
Everyone loves the holidays, but changes in routine and the comings and goings of visitors can create stress for many pets. At times like these, interactive treat toys such as Kongs can be particularly useful. Karen Pryor Academy and ClickerExpo faculty member Laurie Luck explains how to pre-stuff Kongs so that you always have a terrific, but easy, way to keep the holiday peace!
I use Kongs to buy time if I'm working on a project. Busy dogs are good dogs! Offering Kongs is also a preventive measure to avoid separation anxiety. Every dog in my house gets a stuffed, frozen Kong as I'm walking out the door. They don't stress about my departure or my absence. In fact, the dogs love to see me leave!
When you're stuffing Kongs for four dogs, as I do, it's helpful to pre-stuff a bunch at a time and freeze them—the treats will be ready whenever you need them! Start with a basket of empty (and clean) Kongs. I run the Kongs through the dishwasher about once a month (top rack, no heat) just to clean all the goop off. I do this for myself only—the dogs do not mind the goop at all!
I'll use peanut butter as the stuffing example, but you can put almost anything your dog likes in the Kong. Some ideas include cream cheese, canned pumpkin, leftover mashed potatoes, plain yogurt, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese—pretty much anything that's gooey. If you really want to keep your dog busy, toss in a few kibbles and shake the Kong so that the kibbles stick to the sides. Or, add apple or banana pieces to the Kong (do not add grapes or raisins, as they are toxic to dogs).
With the filling and the Kongs ready, slide a knife into your filling and spread the filling all over the inside of the Kong. With the peanut butter on the knife, just run the knife along the inside of the Kong. I try to distribute the peanut butter evenly, but only because I'm a control freak and like to have everything just so. The dogs don't care how the peanut butter is distributed, as long as there is peanut butter in the Kong!
After the Kong is stuffed, I drop it into a big plastic bag. Why? I put stuffed Kongs in the freezer. Frozen peanut butter takes longer for the dogs to extract, so it keeps the dogs occupied for longer periods of time. The plastic bag also keeps all the Kongs together so I can find them easily. Finally, placing Kongs safely in a bag keeps my freezer a little cleaner.
Pop the entire bag of peanut-butter-filled Kongs into the freezer and allow them to freeze. Now you are ready for the week (or the holidays) ahead!
With the hustle and bustle that comes with holidays, it’s easy to forget that all of the excitement can be stressful for our pets. Dogs jumping and begging at the Thanksgiving table can be stressful for us and for our guests, too!
Consider providing for your pet a safe, quiet space away from the commotion. That space should contain a bed, water, and calming music. Keep your dog busy with a bully stick or a treat-filled toy, such as a Kong. If your dog is anxious or barking in the crate or quiet area, try rewarding quiet, calm behavior by saying “good dog” in a soothing voice and/or dropping treats. (Please try to resist giving your dog Thanksgiving leftovers, which can be harmful to his digestive system.) Soon your dog will be as happy and relaxed as your guests after their Thanksgiving turkey!