The Right Fit

Categories: Dog Training Equipment
By Jennifer Lueck

About six months ago I stumbled upon a series of articles published by Suzanne Clothier, a very well-respected dog trainer and author of the acclaimed book Bones Would Rain From the Sky:   Deepening Our Relationship with Dogs. I read her article, “Training with the Prong Collar: A clear-eyed look at this controversial training equipment,” with great interest. Gabe,


 my 9-year-old shepherd mix, has been a champion puller almost since the day we got him. We tried every device available to try to teach him not to pull on walks. Nothing worked well for long and finally, as a last resort, we tried a prong (a.k.a. pinch) collar. Of everything we tried, the prong collar worked the best. Shortly after I got Casey and started bringing her to Loving Paws for puppy classes, Gabe also started taking an Adult Manners class at Loving Paws. At Laura’s suggestion, we made it our goal to stop using the prong collar and to teach him to walk nicely using a harness instead. By graduation, we had achieved our goal and were able to walk him using a harness. As time went on, we stopped practicing and he fell back into his old ways. I was pondering what to do when I found Suzanne Clothier’s article about prong collars. She basically said that prong collars, when used correctly, aren’t as inhumane as they appear, and are actually excellent training devices. She likened prong collars to hearing aids for a hearing-impaired people and even provided the heartwarming anecdote of a golden retriever who was saved from being re-homed by the simple introduction of a prong collar to his training program. With a recommendation like that from a positive reinforcement dog trainer I trust

, I decided to give the prong collar another try. Gabe wore it to the next hike and he walked so well I planned to write an article for the newsletter about prong collars. I went back to Suzanne Clothier’s website to get my facts straight and found an update from July 2009 saying she no longer recommends prong collars. WHAT?!! I read her explanation for the change of heart and it made a lot of sense. Prong collars work by causing pain when the dog pulls and are therefore not positive reinforcement devices; they are aversive devices and have the potential to damage the relationship between dog and owner. She writes, “I passionately urge handlers to find a way to work with their dog’s mind, to build a joyful & cooperative relationship that does not rely on equipment, corrections, restraint and negative reinforcement.”
Walking on a leash does not come naturally for dogs, which probably explains why teaching loose leash walking is one of the most difficult aspects of family dog training. Some dogs learn loose leash walking quickly and some dogs pull like they are training for the Iditarod. If you have a dog that walks nicely on leash, count your blessings! If you have a puller, you are probably already using a device to help you walk your dog without excessive pulling. (If not, please talk to Laura about getting a harness or head halter.) I urge all of you to take a look at how your device is fitted on your dog. A correct fit can make a big difference in how effective it is. Below are recommendations from the manufacturers of two of the most popular harnesses and head halters to help you fit your dog properly.

Using a prong collar makes walking Gabe easier for me, but at what cost to him? Is it really worth it? For me, the answer is no. Once again, I am making it my goal to practice with Gabe so he  can walk nicely on leash without a prong collar. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we can do it! I challenge you to make it your goal to work with your dog to learn to walk on a loose  leash. The Hiking Club is an excellent way to practice walking in real life situations and there’s always at least one trainer there to give you pointers!
* If you use a different product, please check the instructions to make sure it is fitted properly.