Autumn is well under way and much of the country is awash in color, leaves and crisp air. The beautiful fall conditions make things just perfect for taking a stroll with your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training! Enjoying a walk together isn’t much fun, though, if it’s a constant battle. Here are 5 training tools to help you teach loose leash walking so that everyone can enjoy the nice weather!
*DISCLAIMER: We are not endorsing or specifically recommending any of the loose leash walking training tools listed below. Every Service Dog, Service Dog in Training and Service Dog team is different, with varying needs and abilities. Select a tool with the help of your trainer or veterinarian so you can ensure it’ll work for you. If you don’t know how to size or proper use a tool, then ask for assistance from a training or behavioral professional.*
Loose Leash Walking Training Tools: Martingale Collars
Martingale collars are a type of limited slip collar consisting of two loops, one of which has a ring to attach the leash. The collar is slipped over your dog’s head and then tightened down to fit the size of their neck exactly when it’s tightened, so that it can’t come off over their head. The design of the collar prevents backing out or slipping off, which can be a problem with flat or buckle collars. Lots of martingale collars don’t have a buckle, which means the likelihood of equipment failure is significantly reduced, which makes this collar an extremely safe option.
Traditional limited slip collars are also a great option for teaching loose leash walking, as they also can be sized to prevent backing out. However, their design increases the chances of your dog getting accidentally stuck on something, since the collar doesn’t always lie flat against your dog’s neck.
Teaching loose leash walking (LLW) with a martingale collar (or any so-called “flat” collar, meaning they are intended only to fit the exact size of your dog’s neck and not tighten enough to restrict or choke) is best done by someone with lots of experience teaching loose leash walking, as this tool serves only to connect the dog to the handler for safety’s sake. As such, teaching LLW with one requires an extremely high rate of reinforcement, lots of practice focusing and lots of distraction proofing.
For dogs who already have loose leash walking training, a martingale is an excellent every day wear and working collar.
Note: buckle and/or flat collars are a possibility as well. They’re just not as secure as the martingale or limited slip collar. Both martingale pictures (pink with flowers and the rainbow Celtic knot) provided by Fairy Tail Collars.
Loose Leash Walking Training Tools: Head Halters
Head Halters are a tool for teaching proper leash manners. They work similarly to the concept of a horse halter, which is “guide the head, guide the body.” Head halters help redirect a dog’s forward motion back towards the handler, which helps to create and foster focus on the handler, instead of on the environment.
Head halters also allow even very large dogs to be managed with very little strength, which is useful for people who lack hand strength, stamina, or balance. Many major Service Dog organizations rely on head halters to teach focus and loose leash walking, and to help distraction proof their dogs in training by gently redirecting them from engaging with the environment to reconnecting with the handler.
Head halters generally fit over the dog’s muzzle and around the very back of the neck. Some attach under the chin, like Gentle Leaders, and others attach at the back of the head, like the Newtrix. In order to be used with the most success, your dog will need to be properly conditioned to the head halter, or taught to like it, so that they enjoy the learning process.
Head halters can be utilized by people with very little experience teaching loose leash walking, as they gently redirect pulling back towards the handler, which means the pulling itself doesn’t have to be dealt with. The handler’s job is to hold the leash and reinforce attention and focus and movement, and that’s about it. 🙂
Loose Leash Walking Training Tools: Body Harnesses
Body harnesses go around your dog’s chest or shoulders, and then around their girth, while sometimes connecting between the front legs. There are dozens of designs, but essentially, they’re meant to eliminate any pressure on the throat. There are thousands of different harnesses — some with padding, some without. Some that look like figure-8s, and some that take 20 minutes to put on. Some that have two girth straps, and some with only one. Some that cover the entire back, and some that just wrap the shoulders.
It’s up to you to select a harness that works best for your needs. The important thing is that it fit well, with no rubbing or chafing, and that it doesn’t ride up into your Service Dog in Training’s throat. When teaching loose leash walking in a harness, it’s important to remember that harnesses are literally designed to allow pulling and forward momentum. It is up to you, the handler or trainer, to build your dog’s focus on you instead of the environment, and to reinforce and reward proper leash manners. The harness won’t train your dog for you — it’ll just make the teaching process more enjoyable.
Harnesses are best for experienced trainers, as they do not prevent pulling. You must be skilled enough or know enough to teach loose leash walking from the ground up, step by step.
The harness pictured is the Ruffwear Webmaster harness. It cannot be backed out of and can be sized specifically to your dog and your dog’s shape, as every strap is adjustable.
Loose Leash Walking Training Tools: Front Attach Harnesses
Front attach harnesses are a type of body harness that feature a ring on the chest, as opposed to on the back of the harness or the shoulders. Front attach harnesses work by gently guiding your dog around to face you when the dog starts pulling, which allows you to then reinforce handler focus.
These harnesses are great tools for new trainers or handlers, although they can be tricky to fit, and it’s best to ask for help when fitting one for the first time. If not fitted properly, your dog could slide out of them, the harness could chafe or rub fur off, or your dog’s shoulder movement/gait could be restricted. There are several brands of front attach harnesses, but the best known are the Freedom harness, EasyWalk harness (pictured) and the SENSE-ation harness. Ruffwear also offers one called the Front Range.
Front attach harnesses aren’t magic pills — just like with any other loose leash walking training tool, you’ll have to put the work in to polish your Service Dog in Training’s skills. The harness just helps manage their pulling or distractibility in the meantime.
Loose Leash Walking Training Tools: Aversives
Aversives include any tool meant or designed to cause pain or discomfort to your dog in order to reduce pulling or other behaviors you don’t want. Common aversives include slip collars (also known as “choke chains”), prong collars, eCollars or remote trainers, no-pull harnesses designed to cause pain or discomfort, leash jerks to a flat collar, or heavy-handed physical responses to pulling.
All reputable, scientifically-based organizations in the dog training and behavioralist communities discourage the use of aversives in dog training, and many forbid their members to utilize aversives at all. They instead encourage them to employ science-based training techniques that do not cause pain or utilize force. Aversives can create or exacerbate temperament flaws, which is the last thing you want when training a Service Dog. While they may create an “obedient” dog very, very quickly, they also result in a dog who is afraid to try new things, think outside of the box, or make mistakes. Fear, timidity, avoidance, aggression and reactivity are very common in dogs trained with aversives.
If you don’t know how to teach loose leash walking without the use of aversives, you can find a trainer near you by using the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainer’s list of certified trainers.