Walk this way

We asked behaviourist and dog trainer Carolyn Menteith to share her thoughts on whether you should attach a dog’s lead to their collar – or to a harness.

When you live with a dog a key part of every single day will be your exercise time, when you put your dog’s lead on and get out and spend some quality time together in the great outdoors. 

Traditionally this lead has been attached to a collar around your dog’s neck but there are all kinds of chains, headcollars and harnesses out there – all with their supporters who say this is what you need to use on your dog to prevent them from pulling and to get them to walk beside you on a loose lead. 

And after all, that is what we want. There is no fun in being pulled all over the countryside by your dog – especially if they are large and strong – but if this sounds like your dog walks, you are certainly not the only one! If you ask any trainer what the main problems people have with their dog’s obedience are, they will tell you without hesitation that it is recall and pulling on the lead. 

If you ever doubt it, spend some time watching owners out with their dogs, and I bet you will see way more tight leads than you will slack ones!

Why does my dog pull on the lead?

Now while you can find plenty of people on the internet who will tell you that your dog is pulling because they are dominant, or because they are trying to be the pack leader, or take over the world or something… the reality is that most medium to large dogs naturally walk faster than we do. It really is that simple. Plus a dog’s enthusiasm and general love of life means that they are really excited to get where they are going as quickly as possible, and so of course they pull to try to persuade you to get there faster!

What should I use to stop my dog pulling on the lead?

Any piece of equipment that will stop your dog pulling will only do so because it hurts or is uncomfortable if they pull. It’s obvious if you think about it. There is only one thing that will stop your dog pulling – and that is training. 

While you are doing that training, it isn’t fair to use equipment that is aversive, that hurts, or that makes walks anything less than the fun and enjoyable time it should be for both you and your dog.

Collar or harness?

A well-fitted, comfortable harness that allows your dog to use their shoulder and move their front legs freely is ideal. This will keep your dog safe, controlled and secure without causing any discomfort or pain. 

While a plain collar is traditional and what many people are used to, there is enough research to show that they can cause injury and long-term damage to the delicate structures in your dog’s neck – even from just low levels of pulling. They can cause tissue damage, increase pressure in the eye, potentially affect the thyroid, and compress the blood vessels. Not only that but the pressure on the dog’s windpipe can affect their breathing and their ability to pant to cool down. 

So while a collar is for attaching your dog’s ID tag to*, when it comes to attaching a lead, it’s a well-fitting harness all the way – and some time spent training your dog to walk on a loose lead (either on your own or at a good, reward-based, training class).

Even after you’ve taught your dog to walk on a loose lead, remember that you’ve got a dog not a robot. Sometimes they will get excited or overly enthusiastic – or just have to investigate a fabulous sniff or try and chase that ever-so-enticing squirrel! And so pulling sometimes happens – but you can always be sure that you are not punishing your dog’s joy of life with discomfort or pain.

*It is the law in the United Kingdom for dogs to wear a collar with an identification tag whenever they’re in public

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