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Lead with empathy, not aversion.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people using head harnesses and slip lead figure of eights to manage walking their dogs on lately. I wanted to discuss why these ‘work’ to reduce pulling and why I don’t think they should be the solution for many.

If you are a user of one of these tools, I am not aiming to pass judgement. so please, do not take the following blog as a personal attack. I would just like to educate on why these tools work and how there are better and more empathetic methods that will produce better results.

First of all, Any tool used in training thats sole purpose is to immediately reduce an unwanted behaviour works because it is aversive. That is, it causes discomfort or pain. If it caused no feeling to the dog whatsoever it would have absolutely no effect on their behaviour either.

I believe there is a certain level of naivety around these products, not at the fault of the general population. Maybe a person was given the advice by someone considered a ‘professional’ in their field, or the marketing of the products themselves has led many to believe they are ok. But there are others who justify its use with sayings such as ‘it’s only uncomfortable if they pull and that if they just walked normally it wouldn’t hurt’. But if you walked around with a bit of nylon wrapped around your face (especially on a hot day) I’m sure you wouldn’t much like it, no matter how slow and steady you walked.

I first hand had a chat with someone the other day who used a slip lead figure of 8 who told me he took it off his dog because it was hurting his hands… I stared at him in disbelief wondering if he would click that if his poor hands were hurting, how his precious pets nose might feel in that situation.

The problem lies in the misinformation thats out there. Some ‘trainers’ will recommend these to an owner who is looking for help. It's appealing because it promises a quick fix, without any work. And because these ‘trainers’ are seen as the professional their advice is taken on board as being ok. But there is literally no training done here by them.

If we are to look at the definition of training, it states: “the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour”

Teaching a particular skill or behaviour would be showing a dog how walking loosely on a lead is more appropriate than pulling.

Now if we look at the definition of suppress we can see that this is a more accurate description of a tool that is designed to tighten on an area to prevent a certain behaviour from happening:

Suppress: “forcibly put an end to.”

“prevent the development, action, or expression of (a feeling, impulse, idea, etc.); restrain.”

From spending time at dogs shows recently I have seen the common issue. and it relates to our attention on the dog. Many people will be out with their dog but not pay any attention to them. They rub their nose on the ground for relief but this goes unnoticed. Ultimately, in the majority of these cases, I saw a dog walking calmly next to their human counterpart - this is exactly the behaviour we want from our dogs! yet they go unrewarded. If the time was spent capturing these moments and rewarding them the head tools could be removed for good.

We need to stop masking the problem with aversive tools.

Removal of the tool will likely see your dog revert back to the original behaviour, which is a clear sign there was no training, only suppression of an unwanted behaviour. But if the time was taken to train a preferred behaviour then our dog would no longer have to walk in discomfort each time they were out.

And surely that is the ultimate outcome?

In positive based training, we can show our dogs a fun way to learn which creates optimism and confidence. The added engagement with your dog also builds up a strong relationship. this in turn creates value for your dog in being close to you. This is the real tool in dog training, nurturing a strong relationship around respect and empathy. My style of training is to help you better understand your dog and leave problem behaviours in the past, for good.

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