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September 15, 2010

This week’s topic in our Never Shock a Puppy campaign is how to teach loose leash walking. Because it’s completely aggravating to have a dog who is terrible on leash, it is no surprise that so many people turn to shock collars, choke collars, or pinch collars to feel like they have some control. I disagree with those tools and methods, of course.

But, in the interest of full disclosure, there was a time when I used a choke collar on my Dalmatian. It’s not something I’m proud of, but there you go.

  • It was 1990.
  • I was 22.
  • She was my first dog as an adult.
  • She was a wild monkey of a girl.
  • I didn’t know boo about dog training.
  • When the dog obedience instructor at the big box store told me to use a choke chain. I used a choke chain.

Penelope Grace

This is one of my favorite photos of Penelope Grace. She is probably a year old in that shot, and you can see very clearly that she is wearing both a cute red sweatshirt and a choke collar.

Things She Never Had

Make no mistake about it. I NEVER had good “control” over Penelope Grace. She dragged my pathetic self hither and yon for 14 1/2 years. Oh, she graduated from that obedience class. I put the certificate saying she was an “obedient dog” into her memorial scrapbook, but like so many people do … I thought that an 8-week course when she was young was all the dog training she needed.

I honestly do NOT remember giving “corrections” or really learning anything about that. I do know I praised her a lot. I don’t think I ever used any food or toys because she had ZERO self-control, and it likely would have made things worse.

Here is a short list of things Penelope Grace never had, and it’s all my fault:

  • I never taught her self control.
  • I never taught her patience.
  • I never taught her to watch me or follow.
  • I never taught her any tricks.

Make no mistake, I adored this dog. She was funny. She was brave. She provided all kinds of love and comfort. I still mourn her loss, but the relationship I have with Lilly is 100% better and different and functional.

And, it’s all because I learned more about:

  • Proper, modern dog training collars/harnesses
  • Clicker training
  • Positive reinforcement training
  • Timing
  • Teaching
  • Dog behavior and intelligence

In fact, our behaviorist from Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital literally “prescribed” the use of a specific head collar (Gentle Leader) as an important tool in her behavior modification work. (Now that Premier, which sells Gentle Leader, is owned by a company that makes shock collars, some people are boycotting this brand of head collar, FYI.)

We already had one, long before it got recommended, because Lilly’s extreme fears make her a tremendous flee risk, and I did not want to chance that she would shirk a regular collar and dash off.

But it did make a big difference in her training. We don’t use it much now because we no longer need it for most situations.

Even Lilly Isn’t Perfect

Most of the time Lilly is a doll on leash, especially compared to Penelope Grace, but even we had some trouble a couple weeks ago, when a HUGE mule deer buck popped over the hill while we were walking by.

Lilly … was … obsessed. And, she turned into a leash pulling, straining little beast.

Now, I could have turned it into a wrestling match because I was indeed stressed and frustrated about other life things, and her antics were not improving my mood.

Instead, I took a deep breath. I smiled, and I waited her out. If you pull, we go nowhere.

I’d stop. She’d eventually realize that pulling was getting her nothing, and Lilly would return to my side. ONLY THEN would I walk.

When she immediately shot to the end of the leash to try and pursue the buck, I stopped again.

We repeated this, I bet, 10 times before the buck got far enough away so that Lilly could regain her thinking self.

Lessons in Longevity

So, even with Lilly who has had essentially daily training for six years, there is always work to be done … new situations to train.


Enter to Win Great Prizes (tell your friends!)

Starting this week, we’re doing random prize drawings for some awesome gift packages on the Never Shock a Puppy site. We’ll take entries (via comments posted on Never Shock a Puppy). I hope all of you will hop over there and comment for a chance to win. Seriously. Nice. Prizes.

Please Donate?!

I also hope you’ll check your budget and consider a donation to our service project to raise $2,500 for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley’s upcoming No-Choke Challenge (set to begin in November 2011). Every little bit helps, even $1 or $5.

The donation widget will be to your right in the sidebar during the campaign. Just click the donation button on this handy-dandy donation widget to get started! If for some reason you cannot see or use the donation widget, please visit the Never Shock a Puppy Donation Site instead.

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. We all learn the most of our first dog, it is like they pass it on to the next.

    Kenzo, our first dog, still does the pulling. We do the stand-still-when-you-pull daily on every walk. After about 5 times, it is like he gives up and walks nicely. The next day we start all over again 🙂

  2. This is a fabulous post about your personal story with Penelope Grace and how life is different for Lilly Elizabeth. What great insight on the pulling situations! I certainly used those aversives because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do!

    I also love the Gentle Leader and am heartbroken Premiere sold out. I still have and use mine, but am now switching my clients to the Halti.

  3. We had a dalmatian too. He was gentle, smart and loved to please. Our yellow lab was the handful, strong willed and active. whew. Now, the more I read blogs like yours, the more I learn about different dogs and training techniques.

  4. Roxanne, thanks for sharing your previous experiences as well as your current ones. There are a lot of people out there who used choke collars and the like in the past. There was a time when they were considered acceptable and even necessary. Fortunately for all of us and our dogs, that time has passed and we have other alternatives now 🙂

    Thanks for a great post.

  5. Hi Roxanne — thanks for putting your experiences and thoughts out there for everyone to see and benefit from. Leash walking is one of the hardest things for a dog to learn in that in a canine world, there is no need to walk nicely next to a human unless we make it worth their while — meaning, finding what is really rewarding for your dog and making yourself more exciting than anything around them is essential. I have to say that mule is not something that most people have to contend with (at least I hope I don’t see one walking down my street), but every day distractions are. So, even if your dog is excellent at walking on leash, there will be times when you have to go back to basics.

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