Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Kinder Gentler Way to Take a Walk

Ahh, the cool, crisp days of autumn that I have been longing for have finally arrived. There is nothing I enjoy about autumn more than a steaming mug of coffee in the morning as the sun rises and then leashing up my dogs for a nice long walk.

But it hasn't always been that way. There was a time I dreaded walking my dog. The thought of it made me tremble and my hands began to sweat, and it wasn't because the weather was less than perfect. I hated walking my dog, because I just physically couldn't.

At the time, my 12 year old boy Cayman, was a strapping 2 year old and weighed around 90lbs. Those of you who have met him, know how tall he is (too tall for a "show quality" Lab) and how big he is. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him, not my boy, he was solid muscle. And then there was me. I am 5'1 1/2" on my best day. Being a lady, I won't mention my actual weight, but let's just say that the pounds that separate Cayman and me don't amount to much. Here I had this beautiful, gorgeous dog that I wanted to show off to the world, and yet, I found myself petrified to leave my house with him.

So we went to dog training classes. Those were fun. The first day I showed up with my metal pronged pinch collar and the dog trainer looked at me in disgust and told me not to come back with it. (Now, remember, this was 10 years ago and I didn't know then, what I know now. So please forgive me.) After the end of the first class, she asked me to stay late. She worked with Cayman and me for a few extra minutes, one on one. At the end of our extra session, she had changed her mind and told me to bring the pinch collar back with me to the next class.

Actually, the pinch collar never worked. If anything, it only made him fight me harder on the leash. And the issue, of course, was his pulling. It didn't matter where I wanted to go, we were going where he wanted to go. I always hated the thing anyway. It looked like a medieval torture device, it was hard to get on and off, and let's face it, it's prime objective was to cause him pain.

I was thrilled when Gentle Leader came out with the Halti product. Another dog trainer several years later turned me on to this little gem. I was skeptical at first. How could this little piece of nylon that fit over the nose and head of my dog allow me to walk him easily when a steel pronged pinch collar did not? The Halti is used in much the same way that a horse halter is used. The concept is that when you steer a dog's head, you steer the dog's body and the Gentle Leader Halti headcollar allows you to "steer" your dog. After the first try, I was sold, this product was brilliant and it worked great for me.

There was a bit of a downside however. First, Cayman hated it. Whenever I put it on him, he ran around the house rubbing his face on anything he could. Me, the furniture, the floor, other people, nothing was off limits. He clearly hated wearing the thing. Also, many people we saw on the street would hurry to cross to the other side when they saw us coming. It was only later after I heard someone whisper the word "muzzle" that I figured out that people thought that Cayman was a dangerous dog that required a muzzled to be walked. And last, whenever he went swimming, it seemed that the Halti would rub his nose in places and often leave marks or rub his hair off in spots as if the collar fit too tightly.

Finally, the good people at Premier Pet Products came up with an alternative to the Halti head collar that I believe works even better. The skies opened and the sun shone down on none other then the Gentle Leader Easy Walk Harness. Once again, a third dog trainer turned me on to this next generation product. It is by far, the easiest and best alternative I have ever found to walking a difficult dog and ALL four of my dogs have one even though two of them probably don't really need one. The concept behind the Easy Walk Harness is this: most harnesses attach to the leash on the back of the animal, but the Easy Walk is different as it attaches to the front. This puts gentle pressure on the chest and shoulder blades of your dog directing his/her attention back towards you should they begin to pull. I also like the stability of the product. There is always that chance, however, slight that your dog could slip out of it's collar and leash. Not so easy with the Easy Walk Harness. For me, it just adds an extra layer of stability between me and my dog should we come up on a difficult situation. It is a wonderful, magical, life saving device and I cannot tell you how much I love, love, love this product!!!

The Easy Walk Harness is a familiar site at Heart of Texas Lab Rescue Meet 'n Greets, or social events such as the Barnes and Noble gift wrapping sessions where HOLTLR dogs are invited. If you have trouble walking your Lab (or any dog) or know someone who does, get yourself or your friend an Easy Walk Harness. Either the Halti head collar or the Easy Walk Harness can be bought at your favorite pet supply store. You'll look forward to walks with your dog almost as much as he does, and your dog will thank you for it!!

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