Are These Common Dog Training Issues Holding You Back?
When it comes down to training your dog, a lot of us can feel overwhelmed by choice. Nutrition, training tools, YouTube dog trainers, pet sweaters and shoes, grooming parlours, the right vet, a walker or day care. Modern dog ownership can be complicated.
A lot of dog products and services on the market can seem like snake oil, a miracle cure for difficult behaviours or training aids. I’m going to share with you the three most common issues I see holding owners back in training their dog and developing a trusting and understanding relationship.
1. The Tools You’re Using Are Working Against You
As my grandfather used to say, “You’re only as good as the tools you work with.” He was referring to carpentry but it’s true of many crafts, dog training included.
There are thousands of tools and training aids out there and believe me, not all of them were created equally. This blog is here to save you time and money because let’s face it, what matters here is that our dogs are happy, safe and healthy.
The quality and legitimacy of the equipment you use will either help or hinder your training experience. The aim for all of us, I think is to strengthen a positive relationship with our dogs. We’re all about happy human – dog relationships here, so let’s analyse the issues at stake.
One problem is a lot of dog products on the market are aimed at pleasing you, the buyer (and not necessarily solving the training issue at hand). Here is a breakdown of tools that can undermine training.
Harnesses & Leads
A durable, comfortable lead and collar are worth their weight in gold, but I see a lot of owners falling into the same trap – using the wrong tools for the breed or size of dog they have. Most commonly a combination of a flexible/extendable lead + a thick, padded harness.
This combination will work against you if you have a big, confident or very strong dog.
Harnesses were originally designed for two schools of dog;
- Smaller dogs with fragile bones such as young puppies, breeds with respiratory issues or very small necks. We’re talking about your Chihuahuas, Frenchies, Pugs, Miniature Dachshunds etc.
- The other was to help large, muscular pulling breeds to do their job as efficiently as possible. Rottweilers, Huskies, Newfoundlands, Malamutes, etc.
You might see this in the park – powerful, muscular breeds such as a Beagle, Bull Terrier, Vizsla, Labrador, etc dragging their owners about the park, pub or veterinary practice.
What’s going on?
Apart from being a very popular option in terms of aesthetics, most owners want to give their dog some comfort and freedom on a walk whilst they’re working on recall. We’ve all been there.
Some owners say “my dog pulls so hard they choke themselves! So we bought a harness…” The trouble is, their dog (although no longer choking) is all over the shop and the promises of their “anti-pull harness” are not the reality they were expecting. There are two concepts at play here.
A gap in training communication (dog doesn’t yet understand heel work), and the dog is physically able to pull as hard as they like without feeling a thing.
Most harnesses allow dogs to pull at their absolute hardest. The wide surface area of the straps fit comfortably around the chest and allow for better traction, which is why Huskies wear harnesses for sled-pulling.
Flexible or extendable leads are both difficult to hold comfortably and can prevent you from maintaining physical control at a distance. It enables your dog to jack-knife and can cause serious wrist and hand injuries if caught unawares.
To add insult to injury another hazard of flexible leads is their long cord is not particularly visible. Flexi-lead accidents are not uncommon in the veterinary world; unwitting dogs garrotted by that invisible, nylon cord while playing at full-speed. No-one likes trips to the vets, especially not our beloved pets.
What’s the alternative?
The first port of call is always training your dog to pay attention and walk with you, so you can use whichever collars or harnesses you like best, however the tools we use are crucial and can undermine our work. Ditch the flexi lead and consider cotton-strapped or leather clip on leads.
When harnesses work:
- Your pet requires one for health/medical reasons, age (very young or very old), ability, breed etc.
- For assistance dogs in training.
- If you don’t have any problems with behaviour, recall or heel work.
My dog is very strong on the lead
When you’re training your dog in a public place, it always helps to have two elements on side – motivation and a slight physical advantage. That is to say, you can hold onto your dog comfortably without being pulled over, as well as ensuring your dog is not in any discomfort during this process.
Some will say the physical advantage is the wrong attitude in dog training. Of course the aim of the game is always to have a dog respond without touching and to never need a physical advantage. Some breeds however are very big and strong, even as puppies. They will need to be exercised whilst learning, and you must feel safe.
If your training is taking a little longer than planned, or you have a rescue on your hands who needs time and patience on their side, these anti-pull devices are both comfortable and aid heel work training. For best results, combine them with your dog’s favourite reinforcer – a tennis ball or a treat can work wonders on a walk.
The trick is to keep your dog’s attention throughout the day as well as on walks. Randomly call their name and give a little treat. If you are interesting they will want to be next to you constantly. If you provide fun and food they will be keen to return to you on a whistle or call.
There will always days when distraction gets the better of our pets. Being able to safely and comfortably hold onto your dog is just as important as training them effectively.
Genuine Anti-Pull Harnesses
These two harnesses are definitely my favourites. Both harnesses are a good design as they clip to the side of your dog, rather than to the centre of their back. This allows a physical advantage as your dog cannot pull you over with all their might or take advantage of their lowered centre of gravity.
Instead they turn sideways should they decide the cat across the street is very interesting. The purple Ancol harness also has a feature of gently tightening around the chest for very strong breeds. This avoids any contact with their windpipe and I find works well with dogs up to 30kg. The red harness is better for large Golden Retrievers, Airedales, Setters and generally “bouncier” breeds on the go.
I see a lot of headcollars on the market, and most of them have a fastening that clips on underneath the chin. From experience this seems to be uncomfortable for the dog and allows for movements that pull the head and neck at unpredictable angles which cannot be comfortable.
I much prefer this headcollar by Gencon. The figure of eight design allows for a safe and comfortable fit to the shape of your dog’s head, and is made of a very nice strapping that is nice to hold. If your dog should pull you, the headcollar gently tightens, putting a small amount of pressure on the nose reminding your dog to stay close.
Although not suitable for flat-faced breeds such as Boxers or Frenchies, I’d recommend this product for your very large or strong breeds with a long nose – Newfoundlands, Labradors, German Shepherds, Danes, Rotties, Beagles etc.
Police dog training leads are gaining popularity once again. I particularly like leather leads for longevity. Police dog leads generally have two clips and D rings – great for changing the lead’s purpose in both in day-to day life and in an emergency. This design has several clasps and loops to lengthen and shorten the lead, it can also be turned into a basic harness or muzzle if required.
Slip leads are the ultimate accessory for gundog training, but they translate well to many breeds with thick muscular necks. Slip leads not only look the part with a working dog, but are also used by many dog professionals – CRUFTS competitors, trainers and animal rescue shelters to name a few. These leads have been given stick in the past and were unfairly labelled “chokers” being misused and grouped with unkind practices such as chain and prong collars. This is an unfair representation – when used with compassion these leads are just the ticket inside and outside of the show ring.
This product is multi-purpose as one can twist the rope into a figure of eight to create a headcollar or emergency muzzle. Slip leads are an excellent tool to disrupt a pulling dog, provided you are gentle.
Short Leads for Tall Dogs
It’s always nice to have an option for lead length. Some dogs are so tall a short lead is most useful for a gentle on-lead walk.
The long line
Recall training can be nightmarish for a lot of owners who feel their animal has developed “selective hearing”.
All too often we give up because of the fear of losing our animal off lead. Retractable leads are often a quick-fix to a trust issue with our pets.
Encouraging your dog back on a long line with their favourite toy or snack can teach your dog that:
- You are fun to be with
- You decide on the direction of the route
- When it’s time to leave other dogs alone (or ignore them completely).
A long line is a masterful tool in this process of reminding your dog to come back and accept a radius of play from where you are.
2. Your Dog Needs More Motivation
Do you find your dog loses interest pretty quickly?
Start slowly at home. Practice keeping your dogs attention in the garden and gradually build it up to an on-lead walk. Treats and toys are great motivators . Here are a few of my favourites snacks and games that will appeal to all of your dog’s senses.
If you find your dog has no interest in these food or toys, you may want to convert your rewards into physical affection and verbal praise (or as I like to call it “happy voice”). Some dogs love happy voice and attention from their owner more than anything in the world.
Try getting excited to see if they respond to your energy! It could be the key to interrupting distractions and bringing your dog back to you.
TOP TIP: when you’re learning recall on a long line, try running away from your dog and making lots of noise! They will run after you to see what the matter is. Give them lots of praise for coming back!
Want to see more? Click on the images.
Organic, Grain-free Venison & Rabbit Sticks
A Furry Rascal (+ hidden squeaker!+)
Want to see more of our favourite toys and treats of 2019? Check out the blog.
3. Check Your Training Mindset
Is your head in the right space for training? We all have days where we feel tired, overwhelmed or like we’re constantly playing catch-up. If you’re feeling frustrated or tired, it’s important to give yourself a break.
Take a deep breath and make yourself a hot drink. Perhaps take a few moments to sit in the peace and quiet if you need it. As your dog’s carer, family member and friend, there might be days when the responsibility feels a bit much.
You’re not alone, committing to a dog for their lifetime is a full-time hobby. Take time to switch off and have an opportunity to breathe. Here are some items that may help you recharge your batteries on those tough days.
A Fluffy Blanket
A Hot Drink
A Good Book
What’s a hot training topic you’d like to see next?
Tell us in the comments!