Who's a Good Dog?


Monday Mythbusters: Will a harness encourage my dog to pull?

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Arlo out for a walk.

Have you heard the one about how wearing a harness will teach your dog to pull? Me too. I mean, it kind of makes sense, right? Harnesses make it more comfortable for your dog to lean in, so your dog continues pulling you down the street, or toward another dog, or maybe into the grass to sniff a discarded pizza crust.

The truth is that humans, and not harnesses, teach dogs to pull. How? By letting dogs pull us. Dogs pull because it works to get them where they want to go. Some equipment is designed to make pulling uncomfortable—choke and prong collars, for example. And you can also buy no-pull harnesses. But I bet that, like me, you’ve seen dogs on all of these devices pulling their humans down the street, sometimes at the expense of choking and coughing and, in some cases, incurring serious physical damage. They are pulling, because it’s still working for them, and the discomfort caused by the collar or no-pull harness does not override their desire to explore their environment.

I prefer a harness precisely because it is more comfortable for the dog, and not because it encourages or discourages pulling. In fact, when I’ve got a strong puller, I want a harness so that the dog isn’t choking himself.

Once I’ve got a properly fitted harness (Balance Harness is my current fav), I start teaching the dog to keep a loose leash. In other words, it’s not the harness that’s teaching the dog to pull or not. It’s me.

For years I have successfully used the method demonstrated in this series of videos by Helix Fairweather.  Try it and see what you think. Again, I prefer to use a harness, but you could use this approach on a flat buckle or martingale collar. There is, in fact, a lot of good information available about how to teach leash manners (there is also a lot of terrible information). If you need help, hire a qualified positive trainer, or join a class. Most basic manners classes include instruction in leash walking.  You might even be able to find a class devoted solely to leash walking.

But don’t be fooled by someone who tells you harnesses teach pulling. It’s simply not true. If that person is your neighbor or your cousin, nod and smile. If that person is a trainer, you may want to take your business elsewhere, especially if his method of choice is anything aversive. You don’t need to hurt your dog to teach him to walk politely on a leash (or to teach anything else).

Last, here’s a screen shot from a video I took last week on a walk with Franz and Maria, both of whom are wearing harnesses.  (Maria has a Balance Harness, and Franz has a Hurtta.)  Maria spotted a dead bird and wanted to investigate. We weren’t close enough for her to make contact, but that didn’t stop her from being curious.  I stopped and waited for her to check back in with me.   I was also reinforcing Franz, the ultimate good boi, doin me a voluntary check-in.  In the bottom right, you can see the loose leash on Maria, even though she is super interested in that dead bird.

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Further Reading

“The Best Harnesses” Whole Dog Journal. 3/9/2017.

Larlham, “Is it Harmful to Attach a Leash to your Dog’s Neck?”

Bekoff, “Should Dogs Be Shocked, Choked or Pronged?”



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OMG puppies!

When people find out I volunteer at the shelter, they will often say something like “I could never do that.  It would be too sad.”  And I admit, some days it’s not easy.  But yesterday was not one of those days because–puppies.


I got to spend part of my afternoon hanging out with a litter of five-week-old puppies.  Technically, I was there to help socialize them.  But that pretty much amounted to being buried in puppies and squeeing over their cuteness.

If you’d like to have some of this puppy cuteness for yourself, the Center is looking for fosters.  Visit their Facebook page for more info.

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Inside Games for Bad Weather Days

The dogs and I are taking a great online class through Fenzi Dog Sports Academy called Stir Crazy.  It’s taught by Donna Hill and focuses on games you can play in small spaces–like in your living room when it’s raining outside.  Here’s a clip of Arlo, Katie and me playing one of the body awareness games.  I thought it would be a good post for Force-Free Friday.  The idea is for the dog to go around and through the cones without touching them.  At nearly 4 years old, Arlo is still wiggly enough that this game is a bit of a challenge.  But Katie is older, calmer, and more experienced, and she had no trouble at all.  I cleared out most of the furniture in the living room and used ring gates to create an “audience” area for the non-working dog.  (I had to revise that plan a bit after Arlo figured out how to get around the gate and ask whether it was his turn again.) One of the really nice features of the course is that the games are suitable for dogs with a range of abilities.  My senior girl Katie who has some mobility issues has been able to do everything so far.  You can see from the dogs’ body language on the video that they’re both having a really good time.  Ditto for me.

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Road Trip

Last weekend Arlo and I traveled to Lancaster, PA to spend some time with one of my best friends (and my former college roomie) and her dog, a lovely black lab.  We didn’t have a lot planned other than catching up, knitting, and hanging out with the dogs.  As it turned out, the dogs had so much fun together that we spent a good part of the weekend just watching them play.

Callie was a perfect play friend for Arlo–tolerant and generous, and very clear about the rules (which she got to set because [a] she is older, [b] she’s a she, and [c] Arlo’s enthusiasm for play can sometimes be overwhelming).  The video is  3 short clips from lots more play that I was able to film, but it’s representative of their interactions:  lots of give and take, pauses to regroup, and two really happy dogs.

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I recently started volunteering at the Center for Animal Health and Welfare.  Once a week I head over to the Center and work with one or two of their dogs on basic manners.  Yesterday was the fourth session with Ruckus, a young bully mix, who is a real charmer.  As his Petfinder page explains, he LOVES his toys (a plus for training because we’re teaching him to work for toys).  He also needs to learn some leash manners.  In the video clip above, he’s learning to wait at an open door until invited to go through.  (Apologies for the shaky camera–my fault.  I was filming while Maria, who works at the shelter, was working with Ruckus.)  You can see him figuring things out.  He makes mistakes, but that’s part of the learning.  He can’t learn that sitting works unless he sees that getting up makes the door close.  You can’t see it in this video, but he’s also learned to check-in after going through the door.

During my visit yesterday I also had the opportunity to meet two wonderful senior dogs, Merida and Big Bear.  You wouldn’t know Merida is 13–she dances around like a puppy and loves her toys.  But she is very polite when she plays.

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And if you’d like a swell guy to cuddle with you on your couch, Bear is your man.

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Dog Trick Geeks

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Grades are in, graduation has come and gone, and even though I still have a couple reports to write and meetings to attend (and although my CWP responsibilities continue all summer), I am looking forward to the somewhat slower pace of the next few months. As any academic will tell you, we don’t get the summer “off,” but for some of us it does mean a break from teaching and so more time for other kinds of intellectual work. For me it also means more time for activities that, while they don’t qualify as academic work, keep me balanced–e.g. gardening, yoga, dog training.

I’ve been putting in a lot of hours in the garden lately–trying to get everything in and, at the Community Garden, set things up so that I’m ahead of the weeds. I’m keeping a photo log of garden work here.

I have a long list of dog training stuff planned, but the first two projects (in addition to weekly Rally class) are (1) taking this online class and (2) making a video for the Dog Trick Geeks challenge on Facebook. I’ll write more about the online class after it begins (on June 1). But if you like trick training with your dog then you should definitely check out the DTG group page and website. There are 6 levels of certification from “Dog Trick Geek” to “Supreme Geek.” The training is all force-free and in good fun (i.e., my kind of training).  Arlo and I have been working on our tricks for the first level.  For a preview, watch the video at the top of this post.



And finally, on the topic of dogs, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know that Katie was ranked #16 for 2013 in level 1 World Cynosport Rally. It was totally unexpected, and a very nice surprise. (It was so unexpected, I didn’t even look at the rankings when they first came out.) Kate has slowed down a bit in the past few months (she just turned 12), and we may need to retire from competition. But she has been the best partner I could ask for.