I have a small adult Chihuahua-mix who pulls very strongly when I walk him. I currently use a harness, but was wondering if a training slip leash would work better to reduce pulling? My concern is that I've heard that smaller dogs should only use harnesses so they don't get injured straining against a collar (or slip leash) on their necks.
NEVER use a slip leash or slip collar! You can cause your dog chronic pain, nerve damage and difficulty breathing with them and they don't magically stop your dog from pulling. There are very sensitive and vulnerable tissues in the neck that can be irritated, pinched, crushed, dislocated or otherwise injured if the dog pulls too hard or too often:
We humans are intelligent enough to know "if you just stopped pulling the slip leash wouldn't be so tight". A dog doesn't know that because it cannot comprehend the effects of the slip leash without experimenting and experiencing it in different situations. If the dog is used to always pull during a walk, how is it supposed to ever know that the slip leash relaxes once it stops pulling?
The difference in intelligence between humans and dogs can result in habituated animal cruelty and victim blaming. For the dog pulling the leash is part of the walk. It thinks it has to pull the human like a cart in order to walk properly. And the human chooses the worst possible place (the neck) to tether their cart. And now they make pulling even more uncomfortable and painful by intentionally choosing a tether that suffocates the dog. The human washes their hand in innocence by declaring "the leash wouldn't be so tight if the dog just stopped pulling so much. It's doing this to itself."
I know of 2 common trainings that stop leash pulling. One requires enough open space to change directions chaotically any moment, the other requires more consistency by the owner, both require patience by the owner and paying attention to the dog. Keep in mind that each dog is different and if neither of those 2 methods work for you, try a different method instead.
To aid you in your training and understanding, you can have a look at these related questions:
- What's the Difference Between Pulling Back on Leash and Stopping?
- Dog knows to stop on leash, but still pulls
- How to keep Husky/GSD from slowly increasing the effort he puts into pulling?
- You'll find more related questions on the right side of the page (if you're using the browser. The mobile version doesn't have that feature)
- You can search this site for questions about leash training
This is best suited for young dogs who didn't make a habit of leash pulling yet. It's supposed to teach the dog that you decide where you walk, to pay attention to your position and to follow you.
You simply start walking in any direction at your normal walking speed. As soon as the dog overtakes you (its hind legs are in front of your legs) you change direction chaotically (left, right, diagonally, opposite direction, anywhere you can walk a few steps) and keep walking at your normal speed. Do not yank the leash, but keep walking and pull the dog in your direction. The dog will (probably) soon notice that you changed direction and start running in front of you again. Rinse and repeat for about 10 minutes or until the dog doesn't run far enough ahead to pull the leash.
You'll need to repeat this training for several days until your dog internalized the pattern. There will be lapses, especially if there are other dogs ahead or your dogs favorite potty tree. You should allow your dog to approach those targets, but you can force them to detour a little by changing direction if they pull too much.
Calling the dog back
This method can be used for dogs of any age who already have a habit of pulling the leash. It's supposed to discourage pulling by connecting it to negative consequences (interrupting the walk).
To start the training, you'll need a handful of small dog treats to take with you on the walk. You should also choose a path where you're relatively undisturbed by other dogs and people when you suddenly stop walking.
You start your walk as usual and with your usual walking speed. When the dog starts pulling too hard, you simply stop. You won't take a single step and you won't have your hand pulled any further by the dog. Do not pull your dog back, but call them to you. Have a treat ready to reward your dog and continue your walk at the usual speed once the dog came to you. Rinse and repeat the process until your dog doesn't pull too much anymore.
In my experience this training is even more effective if you use a warning word before calling your dog back. Every time your dog starts pulling, you say something like "ah-ah" or "don't pull" and if the dog doesn't stop pulling within 2 - 3 seconds, you call them back to you. That gives the dog an opportunity to adjust their behavior before the negative consequences occur.
You'll probably have to remind your dog of the new "no pulling" rule at the start of each walk for several days, but you should notice that they'll pull less often. There will be lapses, especially if there are other dogs ahead or your dogs favorite potty tree. You should allow your dog to approach those targets, but you can call them back first.
How much pulling is too much?
I noticed a pattern with my own dog. Whenever he walks relaxed, his hind paws move very close together (closer than the width of his hips). When he starts pulling and leaning into the leash, his hind paws move further apart and stand on the ground in a triangular shape. Here are 2 images to demonstrate what I mean:
Above: Notice how the hind legs spread apart in a triangular shape. This dog is pulling.
Below: Notice how the hind legs are close together and standing straight on the ground. This dog is walking relaxed.
You should observe the posture of your dog and stop them from pulling as soon as the legs start spreading apart. There are some breeds which have spread legs in a relaxed posture, but they spread even more when they start pulling. This reinforces a relaxed posture without strain to the spine or neck and gives you an objective threshold for the training.