Several days ago, I posted a picture of my buddy Dakota on a Facebook dog group. There are some crazies in the dog groups, and the crazies can come from all walks of life and dog experience. The particular person I encountered this time saw a picture of Dakota in a martingale slip lead that we use for sports. She told me I had no right to call myself an R+ trainer and I was going to break my dog’s trachea with that instrument of torture. Hmm, I was just sharing the picture because the look on his face is hilarious. See below. If you know me, you know that I am pretty conscientious of what I use on Dakota, and I research a lot! While a martingale can be abused, it is not as black and white as this person makes it sound.
Dog training tools are so often put in little boxes. There are “good” tools and “bad” tools. However, the so-called good tools can be abused or aversive and the so-called bad ones can have their place as well. For the most part, many pieces of equipment are not black or white. They can be used appropriately, with good results or abused with lots of fallout. A lot of the effectiveness of a piece of training equipment comes back to the handler and how they know how to or choose to use it.
Take a regular flat buckle collar and six foot leash. These are tools that are pretty innocuous to most of us. They generally are tools that just are there and used, no big deal. However, if someone were to tug and pop the leash and collar, it could be an aversive tool. The leash can be used as a whip, or the collar could be too tight, or the collar could only come on when the dog is stressed out. The dog could be drug around by the collar and learn to hate it. None of this has anything to do with the equipment though. It just has to do with the handler and how they use it. But, if the dog has learned to dislike the equipment, a responsible trainer won’t just scrap it, especially something as essential as a leash and collar. They will help the dog to create a better mindset about the equipment, and figure out why the dog hates it. It’s a counter-conditioning venture.
The same could be said about pretty much any type of containment, whether it be crates, gates, fenced yards or even tie outs. These all can have fallout from being used incorrectly, but the alternative to not containing a dog is to potentially have a dog who winds up lost or injured or dead. None of those are any good at all. Nor is it good for a dog to be crated, tied out, or isolated for the majority of the day, but when used properly, these tools will keep your dog safe, contained and there to greet you when you get home. Plus, containment may also save your possessions!
I don’t like slip collars, slip leads or choke chains.. They are harder on a dog’s neck than a regular collar. Yet, I own a few slip leads. They live in my truck. These leashes are not my main leash ever, but they also serve a purpose. If I were to happen to find a stray dog on my way home, when I take the dog to be checked for a microchip, that dog is already leashed and not likely to escape from me. This has happened to me once or twice. Or, I have accidentally forgotten Dakota’s leash when I planned to take him somewhere, so I am grateful to have slip leads with me in my truck. I am just more strict than usual when he is in one. I ask for a heel to keep his throat safe. I have a client who uses a slip leash as a backup leash on her dog who is a flight risk. It is the only thing that this dog hasn’t learned to wriggle out of.
Looking at that martingale leash, the only reason I use something like that and not Dakota’s regular harness is that when we finish a run or an event, I need to get him dressed and out of the ring quickly, for his safety and the other dogs’, plus it is the rules. It’s a leash that slips over his head, and I can get it on him right away after a run. He literally wears the leash from his kennel to outside for bathroom breaks and from his kennel to the ring and then back again. Plus, like the slip leads that I keep in the truck, a martingale lead or collar also makes a good backup when walking a dog who is an escape artist. They are highly recommended for dogs who have small heads, like most sight hounds or northern breeds. A martingale does put more even pressure on the dog’s neck than a slip lead, and is somewhat less likely to cause damage. That said, I wouldn’t use one as a primary walking collar. They still do tighten up, and can be aversive, plus that kind of pressure on the neck is hard on a dog. A martingale is best used as a backup to a well-fit harness.
Not so much anymore, but head collars used to be considered a positive tool. As a dog walker, I will say that a dog who is well conditioned to wear one is a dream to walk. However, I have maybe met one dog who is conditioned to one. If one is put on a dog with no prior experience, the dog will spend the entire walk pawing at their face, rubbing their head on the ground or figuring out how to chew it off. I have seen that a lot of times! Just slapped on a dog, it is majorly aversive and can also cause structural damage and pain.
Fortunately, trainers are less likely to label a tool as good or bad. Perhaps, just as we don't want to label a breed of dog by one negative experience, or all owners who fit in a certain box. There are tools I will recommend to you above others, but at the end of the day, keeping your dog safe is the most important priority to me too.
Hi, I'm Rachel. I'm crazy about dogs and want to see all of them living the best life possible. Most of my free time is taken up by dogs, but when I am not working with my own or others, I also enjoy cooking, volunteer work, reading and Netflix in my pajamas.