“Harness” the Power: Collars are for ID, not for Control

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Canines By Design, Zoom, Sense-ation Harness

Zoom Wearing His SENSE-ation Harness!

In my recent journeys around Victoria, I have noticed that the canine-caregiver population seems to still be split on the type of gear used to walk with their dog in “on-leash” areas. People are either employing a type of harness or using the more traditional collar method of attaching the leash.

Collars have been present for generations of co-development with our furry friends. With some of the oldest archeological remains of canines, where the skeletal remains of canines have been found, the collars they wore were also preserved. Collars found in Ancient Egypt (dating between 3500 and 3000 B.C.) solidified their use by the human-canine pair (1). Today, collars are one of the most popular pieces of equipment used for training dogs (2). Many you’ll see for sale are designed for compulsion-based corrective training, where punishment is introduced to decrease a behaviour from occurring again. Extreme versions of corrective collars include those that apply electricity to “shock” and stop the behaviour, and prong collars used to pinch the neck when given a quick collar jerk. Choke collars too… Raise your hand if you’ve seen any of these being used, and yet the person is still bracing, arms outstretched, and barely holding onto to a wheezing pup who is “just soo excited to go play with their friends”!

By attaching a leash to the collar the concept is that we can control the direction more or less, and control their head/mouth. However, as we have been discussing in previous weeks, using the principles of redirection, proofing, and setting up for success, surpass the need for “physical correction” by opening up a more dynamic dialogue between caregiver and canine. We have a wide variety of tools to use, such as our voice, treats and distractors to achieve the “appropriate” behaviour. Prioritize these tools and the need for shocks and prongs is essentially eliminated. This is now proven fact, and the pet industry has responded to this change and developed a whole new methodology of “connecting” with our canines.

The purpose of this blog post though is not to discuss the merits or follies of these corrective devices, to belittle or make caregivers or the trainers that still support them feel targeted, but rather to let interested readers know that there are now some great alternatives out there that can, and should, be considered.

I’d like to introduce two harnesses that I have used, recommended and found great success with. Paired with the other CBD principles, harnesses are an easy way to increase responsiveness, decrease stress and improve positive interactions with your canine everyday.

To start off with, Softouch Concepts, Inc. offers the SENSE-ation® Dog Harness. Known as a front-connection harness, the leash attaches to a ring in the middle of a cross-chest strap. Offered in a variety of sizes for all dogs, and even with 2 webbing sizes for different energy levels, this harness is the go-to for Canines By Design and is also used by Bergin University in their service canine program. It has technology built into it to prevent irritation and is a great alternative to attaching the leash to the collar. Having the leash attached to a harness that goes around the chest and body helps distribute the force of pulling, preventing possible injury to the neck, coughing, gagging, etc. In many cases, it can offer more directional control with the canine utilizing smaller movements. This harness works best for canines that walk well, or need just mild redirection to heel.

There is an alternate harness that will specifically help those with a canine who needs a little (or a lot of!!) assistance with heeling on leash. The Easy Walkby Premier looks just like the SENSE-ation harness, but offers an additional unique front attachment system which will help steer the canine gently towards the side, aiding the caregiver in utilizing redirection help attain a heel. This extra step helps interrupt the cycle that can form by something called the “opposition reflex” where the pressure of the harness being tightened due to the pulling can actually stimulate further pulling by the canine (something that competitors in the Iditarod Race rely on).

Both harnesses listed above offer fantastic alternatives to using the traditional methods of attachment to canines. Like all products though, it is important that they are correctly utilized for the given situation. Ensuring that they are properly fit, positioned appropriately on the body, and that they are introduced and integrated in a positive way will help ensure that you and your canine avoid frustration and worry and start achieving success today.

We love testing products at Canines By Design so we can pass on useful products and alternatives for you, the canine caregiver, to aid in integrating and achieving a positive, healthy relationship with your canine. If you have any more questions regarding harnesses or walking aids you have discovered or would learn more about the options out there, Contact Canines By Design to set up a consultation today! Also check out our Links page on Canines By Design for more product and educational resources.

1. Smith, S.E. (2009, July).  History of Dog Collars.  The Magazine Paw Prints, Retrieved from: http://www.pawprintsmagazine.com?p=4599

2. Hodgson, Sarah (2006). Teach Yourself Visually Dog Training. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing.