Danville Express

Living - August 24, 2007

The Pet Vet says... Make outings with dog enjoyable by using the right type of collar

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. My dog pulls constantly when we try to walk him. The choke chain we bought doesn't help at all. Do you recommend getting a pinch collar? He weighs almost 90 pounds, but we want to be able to walk him.

A. The problem with choke chains and pinch collars is that they are very difficult to use correctly. The idea behind a choke chain is to have the collar loose, and leave slack in the leash while walking. When the dog starts to pull, the chain collar becomes smaller and smaller, if you have put it on correctly. Eventually, it tightens to the point of hurting and the dog is forced to stop. A dog who is going to respond to a chain collar will quickly learn to stop as soon as he hears the links running through the ring. If the collar has to be pulled constantly, then it's not working for that dog. One possibility is that you have put it on incorrectly. Another possibility is that it is either too small or too large for your dog. And then there are the dogs that just don't get it, who will pull and pull until the point of choking and gagging, causing people to stop and stare at you!

Prong or pinch collars operate on the same principle of negative reinforcement. Pulling by the dog causes the collar to tighten, which is uncomfortable due to the prongs, so the dog stops. These come in many sizes and weights and will not work unless the correct size is used. While many dogs respond to these collars, dogs with thick coats may not. They can cause injury if used improperly. Most people don't like the look of prong collars.

At our shelters, we often use a head collar called the Gentle Leader. It goes around the dog's muzzle just under the eyes and also buckles around the dog's neck. When the dog pulls, pressure on the muzzle brings the head down toward the neck and stops the dog very effectively. (A similar device called a hackamore is used for training horses.) The dog can bark, drink and even pant with a Gentle Leader on. The Halti is a similar head collar. A Sensible Harness, which fits around the dog's shoulders and chest, and contracts when he pulls, is also an option. These products are widely available at pet stores and usually work very well for big, headstrong dogs.

Whatever type of collar or harness you use, try to pair it with positive reinforcement. Remember, at walk time he only has one thing on his mind and that is to see what's going on outside. Positive reinforcement works like this: when the dog pulls, you stop walking. Eventually the dog takes a step back toward you, you praise the dog for not pulling, and start walking again. In time, he will learn that this is the only way he's going to get on with the walk, and outings will be much more enjoyable for both of you.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.


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