To The Dogs—Canine Advice Column

Smooth Sailing

Deck: Proper fit and introduction of collars and leashes can make your puppy’s first walk go smoothly.

By Hilton Butler

One of the most important lessons for every puppy and owner is leash control. Leash manners are essential from an obedience standpoint but also, more importantly, for safety reasons. Proper knowledge of leash and collar use can make a world of difference in your daily relationship with your canine companion.

The Collar

Introduce the leash and collar early on in your puppy’s training. First, you’ll need to pick the right collar and leash. You can choose from thousands of styles, but I recommend a collar with a metal buckle, not a plastic clasp. If your dog is a smaller breed, it might not be an issue; larger and heavier breeds, however, have been known snap or break the clasps. Also, if your dog spends time with other canine friends, subsequent chewing on a collar while playing can break or weaken a plastic clasp. Metal buckles are more reliable and give owners one less thing to worry about.

Allow your puppy to wear his new collar for several days so he becomes accustomed to it. I believe in introducing training equipment one piece at a time—this allows us to work through any negative behaviors that might come from its use. When applying a collar and attaching the leash at the same time, if you get an unwanted behavior you cannot be sure which piece of equipment generated the negative reaction.

A flat (noncorrective) collar has one purpose: control. It is designed to give you a control point from which you can handle your dog. To fulfill this role, it must be fit properly, and this is one of the biggest mistakes I see owners make. A collarwhether for correction or controlshould fit snugly, sitting closer to the dogs head than his shoulders. Once on, take hold of the collar on both sides of the dogs head and gently lift, attempting to pull the collar off over the dogs head. If the collar comes off, it is too loose. Most collars are adjustable, so drop down to the next smaller size and repeat until the collar no longer slips off when pulled.

“Are you sure? That feels really tight.” I hear this comment often, but yes, I am positive this is the right way to fit a collar. I have never had a dog injured by wearing a properly fitted collar,and I can’t count the number that have been injured because they slipped out of an ill-fitting one.This will also greatly reduce the chance of the collar getting snagged or caught on something, which can cause injury or death.

Your dog might scratch the collar at first, but he will become accustomed to wearing it quickly. Get in the habit of inspecting the dogs neck and the collar itself each time it is removed. This is more important when using a correction collar, but it’s a good habit to start. If there is a defect in the collar, replace it. You should also inspect your pup, looking for lumps, bumps, rashes or other injuries. If you find an issue in the collar area, stop using that collar and look for a better option.

The Leash

Once the pup is accustomed to the collar, then introduce the lead/leash. I have one rule when it comes to selecting a leash: no retractable leads ever! It doesn’t matter how convenient it mightseemthe consequences far out weigh any benefit. Problems are generally two-fold. First, if you drop the leash and are able to grab it before it zips up and hits your dog in the rump, you willburn your hand as the dog pulls the leash. Second, if you aren’t able to grab the leash, your dog will be even more motivated to run from the strange piece of plastic that never seems to stop chasing him.

Leash length is a matter of personal preference. Six-foot leashes are standard, but I personally like a four-foot leash because its less likely to get tangled as you walk your dog. When I introduce the leash, I normally attach it to the dogs collar and allow him to drag it around the housesupervised at all times, of course, so the lead doesn’t get hung up on something and cause a negative reaction. I also do not allow the pup to mouth or chew the lead. This can become a very bad habit and will weaken the integrity of the equipment.


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.


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