The Mechanics of Dog Walking

Dog owners and professionals alike can all agree that walking your dog is a very important and necessary part of being a dog owner. But walking your dog is much more than just “potty breaks.” There are numerous benefits to walking for both you and your dog.

Walking provides both you and your dog with mental stimulation by exploring the environment around you. It can be beneficial for physical health, helping to reduce the likelihood of health issues such as obesity and sore joints, as well as lung and heart disease. Walking with your dog can also provide many training opportunities, and can help strengthen the bond between you and your dog.

Walks should be a relaxing, bonding experience, but often become more stressful and frustrating if issues such as pulling or reactivity arise. If you have to manage such behaviours, are you getting the most out of your walks?

In today’s society, there are many different tools that owners and trainers alike will use to get the most benefit out of their time and their training. These tools are used to give guidance and create focus, as well as to correct or prevent unwanted behaviours.

At Van Isle Veterinary Hospital, our veterinarians often get asked which collar is the best collar for their dog. Here is a brief guide into the different types of dog walking “tools” and their uses, benefits, and downfalls.

Flat collars – generally made of wide (~1inch) fabric or leather material, with either a clip or a buckle. Flat collars are generally not ideal for training purposes as the wide material does not provide the appropriate pressure to encourage moving away from the pressure. Instead, dogs will often lean into this pressure and pull more. These collars are the most ideal for dogs who are already well socialized and well trained to heal and listen to cues from their owner.

Chain collar – made of a long chain that inserts in on itself to create a loop that tightens with pressure, then releases when pressure is released. These collars have gained the name “choke collar” or “choke chain” because they are often misused. The design of these collars makes it crucial that they are put on in the appropriate direction. Otherwise, they will not release. The lack of release is in part due to the chain design as the loops catch easily on the ring that they pull through. Combined with the chain being put on improperly can be dangerous. These collars should be used cautiously and with knowledge of how they work. Due to the tightening design, dogs should never be left alone wearing one of these collars, and should never be tethered with one.

Loop/Slip Leash – designed to be a collar and leash all in one, they are generally made of woven fabric and are designed with the same idea as the chain collar. The loop leash has the same tighten and release design. The difference is that they are gentler and release much easier since they are made of fabric. To work correctly, they should still be placed on the dog in the appropriate direction. These leashes come in different thicknesses, the thinner the material, the less pressure needed for correction and focus. Not coincidentally these leashes, when used correctly, actually physically help to relax the dog as it sits along the nape of the neck where specific pressure points* are located. They are great for training and everyday walking purposes.

*Acupressure point: GB 20 – located under the occipital bone, in the depression “dimples” found in the nape of the neck, at the base of the skull. This pressure point helps to balance nervous energy and irritability

Martingale (Fabric/chain) – often the go-to for many people these days it is gentle and easy to use. The design is that of a fabric flat collar, only with 1/3 of the collar being instead of a loop of chain or fabric. This loop tightens with pressure and releases quickly and easily with the release of pressure. The tightening of the loop causes the collar to squeeze, creating a gentle correction. If used correctly the sound of the chain moving will eventually become the correction, instead of the squeeze of the collar. The fabric version is often not as effective for corrections because it does not make any noise. It is also made with wider fabric than the chain version. These collars are great for every day, as well as training. Due to the tightening design, dogs should never be left alone wearing one of these collars, and should never be tethered by the loop.

Pinch Collar – usually made of metal this collar is designed with the same idea as the martingale. It has the same loop as the martingale that tightens with pressure. The big difference with these collars is that the rest of the collar is a made of individual links of dual metal spokes all linked together. Therefore when pressure is applied, not only does the collar tighten, and the chain makes noise, but the spokes also poke into the skin of the dogs’ neck. If a dog is trained to listen to the collar, little pressure is needed. The collar can be painful when used inappropriately, or by an inexperienced person, and can even create unwanted behaviour due to constant stimulation. These collars should be used cautiously and with knowledge of how they work. Due to the tightening design, dogs should never be left alone wearing one of these collars, and should never be tethered with one.

Halti – is known as head collars. They are made up of two loops of fabric; one that goes around the neck at the base of the ears, and one that goes around the dog’s muzzle. The bottom of the muzzle loop fits through a ring and has another ring at the end where the leash is clipped to. These collar’s work on the bases of tightening somewhat around the dogs’ muzzle, and applying pressure to the bridge of the muzzle. This pressure will either cause the dog to either slow down or turn into the pressure and change direction. These can often be difficult to train a dog to accept as it is strange for them to have something on their face. It can potentially cause strain on the neck from repeated pulling side to side. It can be a useful tool for discouraging pulling, and if a dog is trained correctly to give to the pressure, the strain on the neck is likely minimal.

Harness (back clip) – made of two loops, one under the chest and over the back behind the shoulders, and one around the widest part of the neck, these are a very popular tool. Two pieces of fabric connect the loops with a ring on top where the leash is attached. The idea most people have is to take the pressure off their neck and prevent pulling by controlling the front end of the dog. The only problem with this idea is the fact that harnesses are designed actually to help dogs pull better. They were initially designed for cart and sled pulling dogs on the premise that the dogs’ lower neck and shoulders are the strongest part of their bodies. Thus giving them strength and leverage to pull comfortably and efficiently. Therefore they often have the opposite effect than what people want. Harness’s may work well for older dogs. Dogs that are trained to give to the pressure, or more soft/sensitive dogs, but they are generally not a quick fix for pulling.
*Some of these may also have a clip at the front, allowing you to guide the dog side to side, or pull them off balance*

Harness (front clip/easy walk) – similar to the back-clip harness. It also loops under the chest and over the back behind the shoulders. The difference is that the front strap lays horizontally across the chest and shoulders, instead of around the neck. There is usually a loop of fabric in the center of the chest with a leash loop attached. These harnesses apply pressure to the loop at the front of the harness. When the front tightens the sideways action will pull the dog off balance. These harnesses may discourage pulling in most dogs, but there is the concern that constant pressure on the shoulders. The act of pulling the shoulders inward and out of alignment can be detrimental for joint health in the future. Care should be taken if using this product long term.

Written by: Jessica McKay, RVT