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  • Sue

It’s not the tool, it’s how it’s used

Updated: May 26

A sign on a wooden post. The sign is blue with white writing that says 'all dogs must be on leads'

Dog training equipment and tools have become a rather controversial subject. Even the humble lead is causing many a heated discussion on some online forums and I have recently heard of some dog owners being asked to leave a dog training class because of the type of lead they chose to use.

I had hoped this was a one-off situation however, recent conversations with trainers have highlighted that this is not so. They have seen an increase in new clients who, when they first come to them, are completely confused by what piece of equipment is the ‘right’ one to be using when training their dog because of conflicting information and online discussions regarding what’s considered right or wrong. Some were even worried that they may cause lasting emotional damage to their dog if they used the wrong piece of kit. Rather than enjoying training and spending time with their new companion, owners are becoming worried and stressed before they have even left the front door.

I don’t feel it’s right to jump on a soapbox and say what specific type of equipment someone should be using because I happen to think it’s horses for courses. In fact, as a teenager, my dog lead of choice was actually a horse lead rope which was attached to a leather collar. It was soft, long and bright blue so I never lost it if I dropped it in the grass. My advice is always to use what you are comfortable with – there isn’t a right or wrong piece of kit in my opinion, but you do need to know how to use it correctly, what’s right for your dog and for what job or activity you want your dog to do.

What is sadly becoming more common however is the condemning of types of equipment as being ‘wrong’ or ‘harmful’, rather than the acceptance that they all have a place when used in the correct way. As long as your dog is taught how to walk correctly on a loose lead, it doesn’t matter whether it’s wearing a slip lead, a harness or a flat collar and clip lead. The lead is simply there to keep your dog safe. There seems to be a lot of emphasis put on trying to prove the value or faults of equipment rather than teaching and coaching you on the best way to use any or all of the tools that are available to you. I don’t believe that anyone should be asked to leave a training session or be made to feel they are cruel or silly simply because of the equipment that they are choosing to use. Of course, there will be the odd case where an injury or birth defect will dictate whether a product is not suitable for a dog, but these cases are rare.

As a client, I would absolutely expect a trainer to point out to me if I had a slip lead on the wrong way, if a harness was not fitted correctly, or if a collar was the wrong size. Similarly, if I wanted to try a particular activity such as dog sledding or CaniCross, I could expect to be advised that a harness should be the go-to piece of kit for that activity. Whereas, if my dog needed to work all day in thick undergrowth, the advice would probably be to use something that will be easily removed and popped back on quickly when needed so the dog can work safely without getting snagged, such as a slip lead or a slip collar. And while I wouldn’t recommend extendable leads for a fully grown Labrador or as an ideal bit of kit for teaching a dog to walk to heel, I can see that they have a place for elderly or infirm dogs or for miniature breeds that won’t cause any damage if they wrap themselves around your legs.

Everyone will have their own opinion on what works best but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s opinion is wrong if it differs from our own. Any piece of equipment can be abusive if a person chooses to use it in such a way as to cause a dog harm. So it follows, that any piece of equipment can also be used in the right way – just because it could cause harm, doesn’t mean it will do so. The important thing is that it is used correctly.

Ultimately, what type of kit you use should come down to personal preference and function and you may want to use different products for different scenarios. Do what is right for you and for your dog.

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