Monday, May 23, 2022

MAYbe my dog needs different gear!

 MAYbe my dog needs different gear!

As a force free trainer, I'm a big advocate for having the right tool for the job!  Now this topic could easily become a debate for use this tool, don't use that...but that is not my intention.  I simply plan to tell you about the gear I use on my dog and why I have chosen that gear.  While I think aversive gear that causes an animal pain is abuse, I'm not going to push my values on you in this post.  Every owner has to choose what is right for them and their dog.  (However if you've been training with tools that are based on causing fear and pain but would like to get away from using them, I'm more then happy to help you!)

Nearly every time Azul steps outside the door, he is wearing a harness.  He also has a collar on, but I don't like to attach a leash to his collar because I have seen first hand too many dogs with injured necks from pulling on a leash attached to collar.  I prefer a harness that has a back clip and a front clip and change the leash up based on the environment we will be going into.  More on that to come!  Typically a harness that has a front clip is either a Y - shaped strap or like the one pictured above, has a front (belly) cloth piece and a back cloth piece connecting a strap around the neck and a 2nd strap around the rib cage.  There are some with a 3rd strap behind the rib cage that is meant to prevent "escape artists" from backing out of the harness.  What you want to avoid in a harness is a straight front strap that sits low on the front legs because that prevents pulling by preventing natural movement of the front legs.  This type of harness can cause an adolescent dog's bones & joints to form wrong and also can impact the muscle tone of your dog.  You also want to avoid a harness that tightens around the neck or belly if the dog pulls into the harness.  This type of harness causes pain much like many of the collars that are used for correcting behavior with pain.  I do have links to the harnesses Azul wears on my STORE page if you want more info about my preferred harnesses.

The next thing I look at in dog gear is the leash I will need.  This is where it gets tricky!  I use several different leashes based on the environment.  If we are taking a sniff-a-bout on our property, Azul is using a longline clipped to the back of his harness.  If we are walking down our seldom used dirt road to nowhere with Cam, both boys are on a 10 ft leash.  
I may have Azul use a short connector piece that runs from his front to back clip if he is more excited on our walk, then the leash would be clipped to that.  Then I would clip his leash to this extender.  At 2 yrs old, Azul doesn't need this dual clip in most environments.  However I always have this extender handy or a caribiner on my leash handler so that I can form a quick dual clip leash if I need it.  Such as when the chipmunk was dancing on the rocks in front of us today on our walk.  LOL  We live in an area where wildlife is unpredictable and quickly amp Azul up.  Once he gets amped, remembering not pull can be tricky until he relaxes back into his normal excitement mode.  The dual clip saves me from getting injured during these times of high excitement.  When Azul and I hit the trails together, without Cam, Azul is much more relaxed and slower natured so he then tends to get 8-10 feet of leash on well known trails and that gets reduced to 4 ft of leash on trails with more traffic or lots of other dogs that raise Azul's excitement level.  Since I make my own leashes out of paracord I can make 8ft leashes which is not a standard size, but works well for us.  And last but not least, if I'm working Azul as a Service Dog in a public space or even just walking in an urban environment, I use a short traffic lead that is about 2 ft long or a dual clip longer leash that is held at about 2 ft long.  My general rule of thumb is the less people the longer the leash, the more people the shorter the leash.

My next piece of gear is more for me, but for safety of our team!  Azul can easily pull the leash out of my hands so I try to always have a shoulder strap or waist belt that his leash is clipped to.  This may be hazardous to me, because it allow Azul to pull me over from time to time if I get caught off guard.  But this prevents him from getting away from me to chase whatever he wants to chase which endangers us both even more.  A few days ago, I didn't take the time to grab my waistbelt and we came across a baby deer.  Azul was content to lay back and watch until the baby stood up, then he pulled to get a better sniff.  This caused my hand to hit a fence and drop the leash which started a chase that could have ended very badly for both Azul and the deer.  Thankfully the baby was slow enough that I could get to the leash and step on it preventing further running.  

My friends know that I have been injured more then once due to Azul's pulling on leash when something exciting happens that is beyond our control.  If I wasn't seeing light at the end of the adolescent tunnel, I might be prone to putting a Gentle Leader on Azul for more safety for me.  No one ever said that going the force free route was easy!  But I'll stand by my ethics of choosing to use the gear that most allows Azul to be a dog and do dog things like sniff, hunt moles, dig holes in the field, etc.  When it comes to gear, safety for my dog comes first then safety for me.  I feel good about the gear I've chosen to use with my dogs.  I hope you do too!

This video shows the example of my 8 ft leash being used as a dual connect leash to Azul's front clip and back clip of his harness.  This is what I use in new areas and moderate traffic areas.

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