Leash Manners–it’s about training, not tools
I am a huge supporter of Freedom No-Pull and Sense-ation/Sensible front-hooking harnesses. I think they are fantastic tools for the vast majority of dog guardians to have more control over their dogs and to not hurt a dog’s neck or throat from constant pulling. If these tools do not provide enough control, I have been known to suggest a Halti or Comfort Trainer head collar for some dogs and handlers (in the last two years, I’ve suggested it a grand total of 3 times). Making sure a handler feels like they are safe walking their dog and have control is important.
All of these tools can be incredibly beneficial and make life so much easier for a handler but they are not the be all and end all. There are many dogs who will have one of these tools put on who will walk wonderfully with minimal other work–the harness is enough for them to learn to walk nicely with the equipment on (take it off and they generally go right back to being beasts on a leash). Unfortunately, these dogs are, in my experiences, in the minority–most dogs will need training to learn to walk nicely on a leash–with or without these tools.
Some dogs will have a piece of equipment put on and they’ll walk beautifully for a time but then they will either learn how to pull through the equipment or learn to tolerate the pain or discomfort of pulling on the equipment. Other dogs will have some improvement with the equipment but not enough to please the human. The instinct of most handlers is to say “okay, what new piece of equipment should I use” but the reality is, the answer is not in a piece of equipment. The answer is to do some training.
The equipment we use does not replace training. It may help manage a behavior and make it more tolerable while training happens but it is no replacement. It’s not the ‘easy’ answer but it’s the honest one. The training is simple but it does take time, work, and commitment.
Although there are great free online videos, great free online tutorials, and fantastic DVDs available to buy that can help someone learn how to teach their dog proper leash manners, individual coaching from a professional trainer can make all the difference in the world for most people. Having a second set of eyes to help improve the handler’s technique, help them problem solve, and walk them through the process step by step, is worth it for people who are really struggling. I’m not just saying this because I am a trainer but because I’ve worked with so many dog/handler teams who tried everything short of hiring a trainer to get a nice loose leash walk and they never quite got what they wanted. After struggling, they broke down a bought one or two sessions with a trainer and they had the skills to get the loose leash walk that they wanted from day one.
Front-hooking harnesses and head halters are great tools but they are best served with a lesson or two from a trainer to help you teach your dog to walk politely!