Wednesday 23 January 2019

Dog harnesses are a far better choice than collars

Harnesses are a kinder, better way of restraining dogs
Harnesses are a kinder, better way of restraining dogs

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Dog collars have become the standard way for humans to control dogs in our society, but there's something brutal and illogical about them. As one behaviourist said "We call dogs 'man's best friends', then we put a noose around their necks and drag them around after us".

In my opinion, there are only two good uses for collars on dogs.

First, they are a useful way of attaching an identification tag to an animal. Under Irish law, we are all obliged to ensure that our pet dogs carry our phone number on a tag of this type.

Second, collars can work well when used gently as a way to remind dogs that they are with you. There should be minimal pressure on the collar: the dog should be happy staying beside you in any case; the presence of the collar should just act as a physical reminder of that fact.

Apart from these two situations, dog collars have too many faults to be a useful way of working with dogs. You just need to imagine a collar around your own neck to realise what the issues are: collars press hard on the breathing tubes and blood vessels of the neck, causing choking. And if they are pulled strongly, they cause twisting of the neck, potentially damaging the sensitive muscles and tendons.

There are several far more effective alternatives to collars for dogs.

Dog body harnesses are my current favourite method of controlling dogs. There are two main types.

The first type is a simple nylon strap concoction, similar to the type of harness that a parent might put around a young child's chest to stop them running off. These harnesses are light, and once you have worked out how to fit them on, they are easy and quick to apply.

The second type of harness has a heavier construction, with thicker nylon webbing, and snap-into-place buckles to attach them securely. A handle is often built in to the top of the harness, so that you can use it to lift the dog comfortably. Reflective strips are attached, so that the dog can easily be seen at night in headlights.

The simpler, lighter type of harness can work well for smaller dogs, but if you need to control a large, strong dog, the more substantial style of harness is ideal. They have been designed along similar lines to the types of chest harnesses that have been used for horses as far back as the Bronze Age. The pressure points on the animal have padding, so that if the dog does pull strongly against you, they don't develop injuries or ulcers at the point of contact. And the straps have been designed to fit against the contours of the dog's body so that they don't place pressure in uncomfortable or harmful places. The best dog harnesses work with dogs' bodies, rather than against them. They specifically avoid pressing against the respiratory system and blood vessels of the neck.

These larger-style harnesses are the most effective way of controlling dogs when out on walks, but they are also used for some specific canine activities.

Dog sledding teams use harnesses to ensure that dogs are pulling as strongly and efficiently as possible when competing. And people who run with dogs - the new sport called CaniCross - use special padded harnesses that are designed along similar lines. Some of these harnesses can also be used to hold bags and panniers, allowing dogs to be used to help owners carry items such as shopping.

They often have loops and slots that allow the harnesses to double-up as a way of helping dogs to be transported safely. In some cases, the standard seat belt in a car can be passed through the harness, securing the dog in the same way as a human wearing a seat belt. In other cases, the harness can attach directly to the car seat anchor, which is the metal attachment point for child car seats which is often hidden behind removable plastic covers or carpet.

If dogs are not transported safely and securely in cars, they can be dangerous to humans (travelling at speed around the inside of a car after a collision) as well as suffering injury themselves. The best answer is to buy a good quality dog harness designed for securing dogs in cars, and to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. It is also possible to travel with a pet inside a carrier which is restrained by seat belt attachments, but for a big animal, this is sometimes not feasible: a good quality harness is far easier.

There is another type of dog harness that has a useful role: so-called head collars: "Halti" is the best known brand. This is similar to a head collar on a horse. The leash attaches to a metal ring on the harness under the dog's chin. It can take a while to train a dog to get used to a head collar, but it can then be an excellent way of gently controlling a dog on walks. If the dog sees something that it wants to run after, you simply pull on the leash, and the head collar redirects the dog's gaze to yourself. This immediately stops the visual distraction of the exciting object: instead of their potential quarry, your dog looks at you, and they're more likely to settle down quickly.

If you want to be kind to your dog, don't exercise them using a collar: get a good harness. If they could talk, your best friend would thank you for this.

Drogheda Independent