Not just a no-pull…

Shayne has worked through some reactivity and space issues around other dogs for some time.  I’ve posted a few times about how far she has progressed… I swear every week she’s becoming more and more appropriate.  It’s been amazing and a real tear-jerker.  I’m searching out CGC testing for her and that will be such a HUGE achievement for us (and if TDI ever changes their view of raw feeding, she will get a TDI).  One of the things that, I think, helped her turn a corner came from a completely unexpected source.

When I adopted Rio, Shayne’s leash manners went out the window–I wasn’t concerned but I had hired a dog walker to give Rio a mid-day potty break and she was not the strongest person in the world.  It was a little concerning for me to have her walking Shayne unassisted.  So, to help her,  I bought a Sense-ation front-clip harness for Shayne to reduce her pulling power.  What I didnt’ realize, at the time, was how beneficial this tool would be to helping with her reactivity issues.

Tools like prong collars are pretty widely known to actually increase reactivity in dogs.  I think it has a lot to do with the added extra-pointy pressure right behind the head (where prongs are supposed to be worn).  That part of the neck is particularly sensitive, which is why the collar is supposed to be worn there.  It’s my thought that adding pressure there to a dog that is already edgy can actually be the jump start to a reactive moment–it’s the force that changes potential energy into kinetic energy.

With Shayne on a flat collar, if I had put pressure on the leash here, it likely would have caused her to react, even though these are her friends.

Flat collars, worn at the base of the neck (as they normally are), may act on the same principle because the neck in general is so sensitive.  I don’t think they are as reaction inducing, but my anecdotal evidence with Shayne, implies that there may be some truth to this thought.  When Shayne was wearing a 1″ martingale collar, she was not reactive in the typical sense but she would get caught staring and could not look away.  If I added any pressure to the collar (to change directions or otherwise maneuver around) there was a good chance that she’d start reacting.  The same would go if we were rushed by a dog–if I tried to move her to get her out of the way or get her out of the situation, it would cause a reaction.  Any pressure on the leash would initiate a reactive display before she naturally would have reacted.  This was somewhat problematic, while she had nice leash manners, there were times when I needed to put a little pressure on the leash just to maneuver her through crowded streets or to position her so I was between her and an oncoming dog.  It really just made her more hyper-vigilant than she already was and that wasn’t good for her.

With the Sense-ation harness, this type of stressful interaction was pretty safe because Shayne was naturally less edgy with the harness.

Cue the front clip harness.  It wasn’t a miracle anti-reactivity tool, but it seemed to give me the ability to put pressure on the leash with out setting her off into a reaction.  She still had the occasional reaction but it was never triggered by pressure on the leash.  This allowed me to move her around with out causing unneeded anxiety or edginess.  I could push the envelope with her interacting with other dogs because I could physically move her if I needed to with out risk of initiating a reaction.  When she was in a situation where she may have reacted (too long nose sniffing or getting barreled into by an unknown dog) and I couldn’t get her to look away or offer a hand-target, I had the option to move her to prevent a reaction.  Another very noticeable change in her was this slightly less edgy attitude while on walks.  Before introducing the front-clip harness, Shayne would immediately tense up and look for a dog if I shortened up the leash.  After the front-clip harness was introduced, shortening the leash didn’t cause her to be extra anxious or edgy.  It really made a huge difference for her and the least of it was loose leash walking.

The difference I’ve seen with Shayne has certainly prompted me to consider front-clip harnesses a worthwhile tool to try when working with reactivity.  It may just be anecdotal and it’s certainly not a panacea, but if using a front-clip harness can help another dog with even a fraction of the success I’ve had with Shayne, it’s certainly worth the try.


About Success Just Clicks

I'm a dog trainer and enthusiast who moonlights as a blogger and custom tug-toy maker.
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10 Responses to Not just a no-pull…

  1. gsdcatmom says:

    Thanks! I’ve noticed this with my reactive dogs, too. I haven’t tried the Sensation harness, but am very happy with the Freedom harness. I can tell the difference in my dogs’ connection to me as well; they seem much more relaxed and attentive without having anything on their necks, and as you pointed out, they are much easier to redirect in potentially sticky situations.

    • I’d like to try the Freedom harness one day… i’ve heard great things about it! I love my Senseation harness and don’t have a need for a new harness…but i can’t say i wont suggest it to people in my classes just so i can see one in use LOL!

  2. Risa and I had excellent success with the front clip harnesses too with working with her reactivity. I think some of it was that *I* felt more confident and comfortable walking her on the harness. If I had to maneuver her out of the way or if she lunged, I was not concerned about her hurting herself. I think the front clip harnesses also work using some TTouch points or at least I think I remember hearing that.

  3. Kat & Belle says:

    Hmm… that’s food for thought. I worked with Holly on a front clip and didn’t notice anything. It must have been because I hadn’t started positive training at the time. I’ll have to give it a go again! Thanks so much for the excellent post!

    • It’s definitely something to consider. I mean–I obviously haven’t done any long-term, large-scale, scientifically sound studies…. but my anecdotal evidence shows some promise. I’ve seen this most clearly with Shayne since I know her so well, but I’ve heard similar stories from others as well. I do think the positive training helps the situation 🙂

  4. Kristine says:

    I’ve never used anything other than a flat collar with Shiva and once we knew what we were doing it was enough. However, this front-clip harness you mentioned sounds interesting. I wonder if it may have saved us a lot of frustration. It is something to look into for sure.

    By the way, Shayne looks so lovely in that top photo!

    • LOL, Shayne was stressing out in that picture–well, that’s her moderately stressed out face. We were at an outdoor concert with several hundred people, kids screaming and running about, and quite a few dogs. A pair of black labs were approaching with lots of vigor as I snapped the picture. She was uncomfortable, but recovered quickly!

      The harnesses are just one more tool to consider (and once Rio gained some leash manners, Shayne’s came back and I had no need for the harness for its intended purpose, but its reactivity benefits were so great, she continues to wear it when there are potential for doggie encounters).

  5. jo says:

    Great post! A very high percentage of my client’s dogs are leash-reactive, and I find that the simple act of putting them in either a front-clip (EasyWalk or Sense-ation) will knock off about 30% of the reactivity immediately, thereby giving us plenty of room to instill things like looking away, u-turns, implementing choose-to-heel procedures, etc in order to teach the dog alternate ways of dealing with their stress.

    And, to tell the truth, I’ve started instructing all of my clients to walk their dogs on harnesses ONLY (front clip or roman-style 5-point) in order to diminish the chance of leash reactivity forming inadvertently. We did this with our last pup and it worked like a charm…

    • Jo, it really can be such a great tool… it is by no means a panacea but it does often provide that extra reduction in stress to efficiently work with a dog… these are absolutely my preference training tools. For me, the loose leash walking aspect is secondary to the help with reactivity/stress. My younger pup doesn’t wear Senseation because he learned LLW easily enough with just a collar and isn’t reactive… but if there were any signs of reactivity step one would be a front clip harness even though he’s a pro at LLW.

      They are such great tools!

      • jo says:

        I always remember Morgan Spector’s Rule of Threes and how much they can either help you or totally screw up your training. Loki’s been using a basic 5 point Roman Style harness (he has a few, either Premier Sure-fit or Lupine) with every walk because we didn’t want to anger the Rule of Three gods… just in case they decided to bite us on the butt with a quick hit of leash reactivity. Prevention is our friend…

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