Friday, March 9, 2012

Stop Pulling!

Here's a cool little training accessory for your dog.  This is the Top Paw Training Harness, and it comes for dogs of all sizes.  Last Wednesday, when we were at dog training school, Lindsay and I noticed a younger woman using this harness with her pit mix.  She said that the trainer had recommended it because she saw how the dog pulled her.  She seemed very satisfied with the product, and I always notice that her dog seems to heel without a problem.

The biggest problem that we are having with Kobun these days is the fact that he is becoming so big and strong that he has the potential to knock me off balance, and possibly yank my wife right over.  Kobun is at the age where he is becoming a stubborn Akita.  He's getting a lot bigger.  He's already 45 lbs, and he's at that defiant age that all puppies go through... Akita style.  With his size, strength, and curiosity for every smell on the planet, it can be difficult to have him heel just right, and if he gets spooked, he pulls out way ahead.  All this pulling rubs my hands raw on hikes and my arm feels like it is going to have a flare up of bursitis after just as short walk.  Additionally, since he's a dog, he doesn't understand why he coughs after a few blocks of pulling his leash.  I already bought him a wider collar and that seemed to help a bit, but I'm still concerned about damage to his passageways.

The problem I see with a lot of training harnesses is they appear to be constructed cheaply and they don't look comfortable for the dog.  As a backpacker, I know how important it is to have some padding to spread the load out over a wide area.  It makes carrying the weight more comfortable.  A poorly designed strap system makes your gear uncomfortable and sometimes painful.  I don't want to cause my dog pain.

We test drove this harness on Wednesday evening.  Our trainer, who is also a Petsmart employee, and a very smart and nice woman, helped us fit one to Kobun.  After getting it snugged down around his body, I gave it a good once over and liked how it fit him.  I switched his leash from the collar to the harness and took him for a short stroll around the store.  We walked up and down the aisles, around little kiosks, clockwise, counter-clockwise, slow and fast.  At first, Kobun tried to bite the leash because he disliked losing the control he thought he had.  After a few minutes of walking though, he fell inline and heeled perfectly!  Each time he gave just the slightest pull, the harness immediately corrected him.  Pretty soon, I could tell he was enjoying it as much as I was.

The harness works by using the dog's own strength against them.  When he walks out and pulls, the harness rotates his entire body in the direction of the leash, which is toward the owner (an important consideration if you walk on roads with traffic).  The dog immediately slows down and releases the tension on the leash because he doesn't want to lose his balance.  The harder he pulls, the more pronounced the correction.  Within a minute or two, the dog settles into a perfect loose leash walk because he gets tired of having the leash yanking him sideways.  He then does what a dog is supposed to do when walking with its owner: he looks at me to make sure he's not getting too far ahead or too far behind.

The harness goes over and under the dog's torso, behind his legs, and is secured up front of his prosternum. The front is also where the d-ring leash attachment point is.  So whenever he pulls, it turns his body left or right, depending on which side the owner walks.  The large pad on either side is secured to each nylon strap with a big metal o-ring and it spreads the load out over a large area of his body.  And yes, there is padding underneath that triangular shaped piece of nylon.  When the harness does its job, it transmits all the rotational force to the metal o-ring and pads.  This helps keep the dog from being rubbed raw and causing discomfort. It is a very humane way to train the dog and will also prevent damage to his throat.

We incorporate a lot of techniques to stop him from pulling, but a stubborn Akita needs more intensive reinforcement than just stopping every time the leash gets pulled.  We'd also get nowhere, and we need to walk the energy off this dog; not stop every 10 feet.  Kobun is a strong dog, and he is only going to get stronger.  At 45 lbs and standing a good 2 1/2 feet at the top of his head, this 5 month old puppy still has a lot of growing to do.  He'll still be a puppy for another 2 1/2 years, so unless we can stop it, the pulling will continue.  He'll just pull harder.  Eventually, he won't need the harness because he won't challenge it anymore.  Until then, it will be nice to see my 5 ft tall, 100 lb walk the dog without the dog walking her.


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