Saturday, September 22, 2012

Walkin' Easy with the Easy Walk Harness

Walking your dog is an easy enough concept.  But I’ve learned that going for a walk with your dog is not the same thing as going for a pleasant walk with your dog. 

Most dogs do not know how to walk nicely on a leash at first.  It takes time for them to learn and there are many things you, as an owner, can do to help your dog on his path to walking nicely on a leash.  Ultimately, what a dog really needs is training, but how can you train your dog if you can’t control him to begin with?—this is of particular concern for large, powerful dogs. 

Leopold and Halo are large dogs.  They’re not gigantic, but together they weigh more than I do.  That’s a lot of pulling power—and their strength gives them the potential to pull me all over town if they wanted to.  But they don’t.  If I’m walking the dogs by myself, I take them both out at the same time and we all go for a pleasant walk together.  So how do I manage?
One key to my success in walking two large dogs at once lies in the type of restraint I use: the Easy-Walk Harness.

I was first introduced to the Easy-Walk harness years ago when I was volunteering at a humane society in Madison, WI.  Easy-walk harnesses were pretty standard at the shelter because of their humane-ness and effectiveness.  The clever Easy-Walk harnesses allowed all volunteers to manage dogs of any size.

What is an Easy Walk harness?
an Easy Walk Harness
First, I’ll tell you what its NOT.  It is not a regular harness:  On a regular harness, the leash attaches to a ring somewhere on the back.  In terms of physically restraining and controlling your dog, these normal types of harnesses are the worst thing you could possibly put on your dog because they actually make it easier for a dog to pull their owner around.  When the dog pulls, its entire strength is “caught” by the harness, the force of which then transfers to the back, which is attached to a leash, which is attached to you.  Regular harnesses, while they prevent choking, are best used on dogs that have already learned how to walk nicely on a leash.  They are for trained dogs.

The easy-walk harness, however, is a great tool to help you maintain control of your dog so that you can successfully work on training.

The trick of the Easy-Walk is that the leash attaches to a ring on a loop on the chest.  (I’ve seen knock-off brands that have a similar design; but they don’t use a loop—and the loop is key!).

How does an Easy Walk harness work?
It was explained to me by staff at the humane society years ago that the easy walk harness works so well because of the loop.  When a dog pulls, the loop pulls the two sides of the harness together at the chest, which causes a bit of constriction.  The dog’s movements are restricted just enough that it can’t continue pulling so hard.  The manufacturer (Premier) claims that the Easy Walk works by causing gentle pressure across the chest and shoulders that steers your dog to the side and thereby redirects its attention back towards you.  Whatever the reason, the Easy Walk Harness works.  And from my experience, it seems to work better the bigger the dog is (I think this has to do with the angle that the loop is being pulled).

I’ve tried many different kinds of restraint devices including regular harnesses, gentle leaders, choke chains, and prong collars.  Nothing I’ve found works as well as the Easy Walk Harness.

At this point my dogs are trained to walk nicely on a leash and normally don’t actually need physical restraint anymore.  However, I still like to use Easy-Walk harnesses because occasionally they decide it’s important to chase a bird or enthusiastically greet another dog, and they are difficult for me to control (especially both of them at once) without the harnesses on.

If you're interested in trying out an Easy Walk harness, I've seen them sold in most pet stores.  I would recommend actually taking the harness out of its package while still in the store and trying it on your dog.  Most pet stores are ok with you doing this and will probably even help you get the fit right.

The easiest way to get one of these things on.

The ins and Outs of an Easy Walk 
Getting a dog into and out of an Easy Walk is very confusing for people at first.  I’d like to give a few tips to help make it easier. 

First, leave all the clips shut except the one that goes under the belly (the manufacturers have cleverly used a different color of webbing for the strap that goes on the belly for the user’s convenience).


If you only unclip the belly strap, the loop that’s left is the one you slip over your dog’s head.  Hold onto the strap that does not attach to the leash and slip it over your dog’s head.  Then reach under and behind the legs to clip the belly strap on. 

I keep my hand under the clip so I don't pinch my dogs' skin.

Be careful not to clip your dog’s sensitive armpit skin in the harness!  We’ve accidentally done this to both dogs (poor Leopold and Halo!), so now I like to keep my hand between the clip and my dog’s skin when I snap it shut.

You may notice in my photos that Leopold's Easy Walk harnesses look a bit different from ones you’d see in the store.  I’ve added some fleece to areas of the harness that were rubbing his fur off.

Want to get started walking your own dog with an Easy Walk Harness?  I've seen them for sale at most major pet stores, or you can get them from here: PetSafe Easy Walk Harness for Dogs  Most pet stores allow you to take the harness out of the box to fit it to your dog; when I worked at Petsmart, we would help customers fit the harness to their dog right there in the store to make sure it was the correct size before they purchased it.  If you get the harness online, refer to the size chart on the product page.

Happy walking!

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