Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pulling and Parenting

There are some things we can blame on nature vs. nurture...things like having a tendency to point at things (Baxter) or the urge to crawl into small spaces (Kirby). Then there are those other things we would really like to blame on nature, but which we know, down inside, are probably the result of our own parenting skills. In this case I'm referring to pulling on the leash. With Baxter, I've blamed some of this on nature, as the pointer instinct says he should be yards out in front, but I know a lot of it is consistency in training too. Now we have Kirby...surprise, surprise, he likes to pull too. And while I know that his tendency to pull is based partly on seeing Baxter do it and partly on his desire to be in front of the pack, it's also partly (or mostly) because I haven't really taught him to walk loosely on a leash.

There are training advantages to having two dogs. Kirby, being the student of big brother Baxter, tends to do whatever Baxter does. This has been helpful in teaching him good behaviors like sit, lay down, stay and leave-it. Unfortunately, I'm now paying double for never having really mastered the "walk loosely on leash" idea with Baxter. Now I have two of them pulling me down the greenway trail, and determined little Kirby is practically choking himself all the way.

Kirby's face is so small, I can't quite imagine a gentle leader working on him (although I might try it if my latest trainer fails to work), so this past weekend we took Kirby to the pet store to try on a few harnesses. With his somewhat dachshund-esqe figure (long back, barrel chest, tiny neck and shoulders), the small sizes seem uncomfortably tight around the ribcage, yet he's swimming in the mediums. We left the pet store empty handed. Kirby left the pet store pulling and gasping all the way to the car.

Searching for something with fewer buckles and yet a customizable fit, I ran across the Four Paws "No-pull Trainer" yesterday. The name implies that it is to be used for training (as opposed to coping, which has been how I've used the Gentle Leader on Baxter for years), so I'm not sure if it's a good idea to use it all the time. We tried a test run this morning and it seems to work wonders. It's a bit complicated to get on and the buckle is next to impossible to pry open without tools, but once I got it on Kirby and adjusted properly, he didn't seem to be bothered by it at all. He trotted along at a nice, jaunty pace and didn't pull at all, even though Baxter was testing the limits of his Gentle Leader (and my patience) the whole time.

The design of the Four Paws No-Pull Trainer is pretty simple. It doesn't have any metal parts to rub on the dog, which is a plus, and the strap goes in front of the ribcage right under his front legs. My only concern would be chafing in his "armpits" on long walks (if anyone has any experiences with that, please share). And while I'm not sure that chafing is any worse than choking on long walks, I'm hoping it is truly a "trainer" and that with time and patience I can get Kirby to give up his quest for the front of the pack.

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