August 18, 2019 8:24 AM   Subscribe

I just adopted a puppy. I haven't owned a dog in about 15 years and I have some questions about current best leash practices.

This is Floyd. He is about 18 weeks old and is a Jack Russell/Pit Bull mix. He is mellow and chill (which is astounding - I grew up with a Jack and he was a loveable psycho hyper monster). We adopted him yesterday. He has Jack markings and ears and a big pit bull smile and he has stolen our hearts. He and his siblings were pulled from a kill shelter in Tennessee and transported up to New York, where we met him at our local shelter.

He is trying to befriend our 9 year old cat, who is perplexed but not unwelcoming. He is a bit skittish in general; the sound of the TV scared him even at a low volume and he is extremely reluctant to walk on anything other than grass outside. I've had to carry him over our asphalt parking lot. I have a nylon leash and collar that he came with and he's not half bad on the leash already.

That said, I grew up in the era of prong collars for dogs that don't so well on leashes (which was the case with my Jack). I know these are considered inhumane now, understandably so, and so I will NOT be putting a prong collar on Floyd. He balks so hard at walking on asphalt, concrete, and linoleum, though, and I either have to pull him and gently coax, or pick him up as I mentioned before. I want to get him more accustomed to the leash and hopefully more comfortable on hard surfaces, but tugging him along on a collar around his neck makes me feel awful and sad; I don't want to choke him.

What are best practices for leash walking these days? My best friend has a husky/pit bull mix and she walks him with a harness; he is easily twice as big and twice as heavy as Floyd though, and very unruly on walks. We aren't sure how much bigger Floyd will get (we don't know how large his put bull mother was) but he will certainly be stronger than the Jack I grew up with and I'm wondering if a harness is a better, gentler idea anyway, given his skittishness.

If a harness is the way to go, does anyone have any recommendations for a harness suitable for a Jack/Pit mix?

Please assume that between my boyfriend and I we have the obedience training covered; he is a very experienced dog owner and I was a stickler with my Jack when he was a puppy (he never got good on the leash because my parents never kept the training I was doing with the dog consistent - he walked over them, quite literally).

Thanks in advance.
posted by thereemix to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any harness that will fit will do. It's always preferable to dragging a dog by the neck! We just buy the least expensive ones that do the job, and all three of ours are in harnesses.

You'll probably want to read up on positive reinforcement. Put a tiny bit of a high value treat on the lino, sit in front of it, and try to get him to put even two paws on the lino. Then tell him he's a good boy and let him have the treat. Repeat with just the two paws. the next day, try to get him a tiny bit further. Etc. Also feed him his food on a surface he isn't sure about, to create a positive association.

It's been 24 hours, everything is new and overwhelming. Take is slow and be reasonable in your expectations. Congratulations!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:29 AM on August 18, 2019 [7 favorites]

A pronged (choker) collar is not inhumane if properly used......you indicate experience with training dogs so go with what you know. I find it hard to believe that dogs have changed in this regard, only peoples "ideas" may have changed.
posted by patnok at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use a harness (the Easy Walk) with my girl because she pulled and strained on her leash, and the harness fixed that immediately. But she’s much bigger than your puppy and was also older, with some ingrained bad habits :-)
posted by sallybrown at 8:48 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Super cute!

I don't know what's right but I'm a long time dog owner and harnesses seem much more humane than leash on collar. It seems like harnesses are much more common in the last decade. My current dog uses a harness though my previous ones were all leash on collar.
posted by jclarkin at 8:52 AM on August 18, 2019

Whatever harness you get, watch out for rubbing. We started one of our pups on a harness that was just straps, like this, and we started noticing he had scabs on his chest. I think the harness might have been rubbing him raw, even under his relatively thick coat. It didn't seem to bother him, but still. We switched to another kind, and he was fine.

Also, we really like this harness (also available on Chewy, Amazon, etc.) for having a bit more control. Tension on the leash causes the straps under the dog's armpits to tighten, giving the dog some extra, slightly unpleasant feedback. It's a similar concept to the prong collar, but I think it's much better for being a harness (necks and esophagi aren't made for tugging on!).
posted by whatnotever at 8:53 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you go for a harness, use a front attaching leash for any dog over 15 lbs. Any dog bigger than that cannot be safely restrained with a back-attach harness. For example a 30 lb dog can easily put out a hundred pound impulse in a fraction of a second.

Also use a regular fixed-length leash, those spool leashes work against basic slack leash training, and make it even easier for a dog to break free or injure itself.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:05 AM on August 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

The big thing about harnesses is that they're harder to get out of. The lab mix I adopted in my 20s had a small head compared to the rest of her, and she was super nervous being adopted into city life after growing up in a relatively rural area, so if she didn't want to go somewhere she could back quickly in the opposite direction I was putting tension on the leash and be right out of her collar. With a harness that was much harder, though she did get out of her harness once (that was probably my bad on the tightening though).

Our dog now has a bigger head compared to his neck and is much more of a puller than an escaper, so I'm not nervous about him escaping, but I do worry about the pressure on his throat as he pulls hard on the leash. I'm still working on his leash manners during our walks so now that he's *better* about it I use a collar because I do want a bit of negative reinforcement (in terms of discomfort) when he's pulling hard, but the harness was easier early on since he pulled SO hard then that he was almost strangling himself.

Anyway, given your circumstances, I'd be worried about the first case where your dog tries to slip out of restraint to avoid walking on something it doesn't want to walk on, so I'd go with a harness just because of that, independent of overthinking how humane a collar is versus a harness.

But I don't use metal (let alone metal-pronged) choke collars, just fabric ones. I used a martingale with my first rescue once she stopped trying to escape regularly; it provided just enough tightening under tension to make her less likely to slip out without the hassle of the harness.
posted by olinerd at 1:00 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

A harness is fine, but puppies have ways of escaping them. In particular the "easy walk" kind comes off when your pup plays with other dogs (they slip their feet out the front). After trying to do a harness for a few years we have given up and got a martingale collar. All fabric, not the kind with the chain. We love it and our dog loves it. With all the new noises to spook this guy you need to make damn sure he can't escape.

As for the rest of your question... Congrats on your new pup! I do a lot of fostering in NYC for dogs coming from TN so I might be able to help! A lot of these pups are in total shock of the city. Give him a few weeks and he will become quite the city dog. Just give him lots of treats on your walks when their are loud noises. As for teaching to walk on a leash, try getting a wooden spoon with peanut butter on it. Walk the dog around your apartment with the leash and use the peanut butter spoon to lure him forward. He will start picking up the leash concept quick!
posted by KMoney at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use a gentle leader style harness with my very exciteable Great Dane and it works great. It's essentially an infinity loop that goes around their nose and neck. Really gentle and easy to use.

Thanks for not using pronged collars.
posted by Marinara at 1:45 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mine is just like this!
posted by Marinara at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2019

I'm here to agree with the leash that attaches to the front of the harness. My ex uses that with her fox terrier and it works wonders. Many (most?) dogs like to pull on leashes and it's annoying as hell. But the front attaching harness throws them off balance (with no discomfort) when they try and they quickly learn to walk with a slack leash.

The only downside is having to harness them up for walks (or leaving the harness on).
posted by sjswitzer at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thirding the EasyWalk front attach harness. It really helped with my RottieX. She was very strong, but I could manage her without hurting her, even when she panicked.
posted by frumiousb at 2:11 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's not a good idea to pull him forward on the leash when he's hesitating, whether he has a harness or collar on. He has a reason for not wanting to go - likely fear, or he may be tired, hot, overstimulated, etc. Learning to walk on new surfaces without fear is part of puppy socialization. Allow him to explore the new surface at his own speed and give him treats and praise every time he's brave, even just looking at it at first.

I strongly encourage you to read up on puppy socialization - it's very very important, perhaps more than anything else you do with him at this age. He needs to be exposed to many new things, and not forced into them when he balks, but instead encouraged to get comfortable at his own pace, with heavy use of treats. Training him to focus on you on walks and building your bond will also help him be more confident.
posted by randomnity at 2:12 PM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

What a sweet guy! My dog went through a phase of this as a puppy. Pulling is completely counterproductive as everyone has said. Coaxing to a treat being held, or on the floor, didn't get us much forward progress, and they get the reward when they are stopped which doesn't help.

What worked best for us was throwing a treat gently in front of her, in the direction we should be going. So that rewards the forward movement, it's fun for them, and creates a bit of momentum - you can keep doing it, and the dog will start to move forward looking for the next one. Just a short distance at first, working up to longer ones. NB if near a road, use something a bit squidgy. Hard round treats can roll into the road.

Do make sure the surface isn't hot if it's outside! He came from a hot place, it's summer, maybe his fear of hard surfaces is rooted in getting burned on his pads.

A harness is also safer in case he gets scared by something - a collar can be slipped, a harness less easily. Plus he would retain his collar if he did slip the harness, so he would still have identification and a bit of a "handle" if he got panicked and ran.

This PDF book - After You Get Your Puppy - is free with registration and really worth a read. Great overview of positive reinforcement and practical suggestions. Good luck :)
posted by tardigrade at 4:01 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another upvote for the Easywalk harness. No pulling, truly, and no choking.
posted by notyou at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2019

Since you just got your puppy (who is super adorable!!!), I would recommend going super slow with him. Look into the 2 week shut down so you don't overwhelm him. For most dogs, if you cant walk them, you can try exercising them through other methods, there's tons of resources on reddit in r/dogs and r/dogtraining. Look at posts about intense heat or cold seasons. (Training, fun games, etc). You should be training loose leash walking indoors in a low distraction area first anyways so you can make sure he's ready before going outside for long (of course you should still take him out to go potty).

There's tons of great resources on loose leash walking on YouTube, such as kikopup.

I know you and your boyfriend have a lot of experience with dogs, but I would still recommend doing some thorough research on positive reinforcement training. I personally really like Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, which provides a systematic plan of training foundation behaviours, but there are also great books by Patricia McConnell and Sophia Yin. I also recently finished and highly highly recommend Kathy Sdao's "Plenty in Life is Free", which revolutionized how I viewed dog training and my attitude toward my dogs.
posted by vespertinism at 6:44 PM on August 18, 2019

Thanks for not using a prong collar. Anyone who says they're not harmful hasn't worn one.

The easywalk is definitely better than a harness that hooks on the back.

I would immediately stop carrying the dog and would recommend doing some play on the areas your dog is afraid of, rather than strictly walking on those surfaces. Start with a squeak toy and treats on linoleum and work your way to asphalt.
posted by dobbs at 9:37 PM on August 18, 2019

He's such a cutie!!!

We use this harness on our hound mix and it works out really well because she can be a bit of a puller when there are squirrels.

Also, I would strongly suggest getting him into a puppy kindergarten class as soon as possible. We did that with our girl and she's a much better behaved dog than any other dog I've had. Also, to help him get used to noises, if it's available in your market, get him DogTV. Our pup was seriously concerned about sirens when we got her, but the DogTV method of gradually desensitizing the dog to noises worked like a charm. Plus, it calmed her down during the day when we weren't home.
posted by teleri025 at 6:59 AM on August 19, 2019

I use this harness on both my dogs, and I really like how it has both front and back attachments, which can make it easier for walking as well as when securing them in the car. The harness can be a little bit of a pain to get on, depending on how much your dog wants to be a wigglebutt, but I prefer it to harnesses that the dog has to step into. The only thing I'd be concerned about is the size - with a growing pup, the first one you buy probably won't be sized right forever.

Hi Floyd! You are the cutest!
posted by minsies at 8:17 AM on August 19, 2019

we use an Easy walk harness for our 30 pound mutt and it does help with the pulling. We have the weird sideeffect with our pup though that if he tends to truck along for a little bit and then walk backwards for 3 or 4 steps. I don't really know why, maybe its when he pulls a little too hard - it is a trip hazard for sure though.

We use a regular harness on the 70 pound mutt and it is so much more secure than just a collar. even if he gets excited (and he is strong) he is easier to control with a harness as opposed to the collar and he doesn't choke himself if something really exciting happens.
posted by domino at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2019

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