I am currently a student of the IDTE with Turid Rugaas, in the UK. As part of my education, we have been asked to observe the gait of dogs that I see. We have to make a note of whether they are walking in a 4 step gait. trotting, or pacing.
The results are quite shocking so far. Out of the 60 dogs I’ve seen, 42 were walked on a collar and lead or flexi lead, 8 were walked on a headcollar and flexi lead, 10 were walked on a harness and lead, but of these 10, only 2 were wearing a correct fitting one.
The most heartbreaking images, were of elderly Labradors, struggling to walk, whilst their humans were pulling them along by the collar, blissfully unaware of the struggle their dog was enduring.
Whilst it’s not conclusive that the dog’s posture is solely due to being dragged on a collar and lead, one fact is clear. He could be so much more comfortable if using the correct walking equipment!
This has inspired me to start a campaign, to raise funds and awareness about getting more dogs wearing a harness that fits dogs correctly.
You may be reading this and asking why specifically a harness, and how it could benefit a dog’s health and well-being. On a personal level, it makes absolute sense to me, that a piece of equipment that can support the whole body, will be so much kinder than something that’s pulling on the neck, or around the muzzle area. If you’ve ever worn a collar and lead, and asked for somebody to lead you around, you will understand just how unnatural and uncomfortable it is. I’m not structurally made to try a headcollar, but I have had whiplash, and now suffer from repeated neck and back problems.
Are dogs any different? Of course they are built differently to humans, BUT they are made of the same stuff as us – skins, bones, muscles, organs, glands, etc. and they feel pain the same way as we do, so everything we do with them, needs to be taken into consideration, to prevent any discomfort, pain or injury, and this includes how they are walked. An activity that is carried out with our companions at least once a day, 7 days a week.
Don’t just take my word for it though. In 1991, Anders Hallgren, - one of the first dog-psychologists of the world, from Stockholm, carried out a back study on dogs. The study was made on 400 dogs, of various breeds, and one of the contributory factors was the use of choke chains (sadly, still used a lot today), and jerking and pulling on the lead by dog, owner, or both. He went on to say “On the other hand, there seems to be connection between how the collar is handled, and back problems…………. One of the clearest correlations in the whole study was between cervical (neck) damages, and jerk and pull’. 91% of the dogs who had neck injuries had also been exposed to jerking on the leash by the owner or been allowed to pull hard on the leash for long periods of time”.
Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM, wrote an article in 2014, about the possible causes of hyperthyroidism in dogs. He sites one of the overlooked causes of this condition – “Trauma to the thyroid gland, caused by collars. The problem is that the thyroid gland is located at the front portion of the throat, right in front of the Adam’s apple (anatomically the laryngeal cartilages). This makes it very prone to inuries by dog collars……The harsher and more restrictive the collar is, and the stronger the dog is, the greater the trauma……”
I contacted Professor Martin Fischer, who has spent the last 11 years studying locomotion in dogs. He told me that “it seems plausible that tight harnesses may hinder the rotation and translation of the shoulder blade, which is the essential of forelimb’s locomotion. A rotation of up to 45-50 degrees of the shoulder blade is “normal”, and lift only starts when it’s in a vertical position”. He has suggested that I film dogs with correctly fitted, and ill fitting harnesses to note the movement. This is something that I shall now be working on.
We also know that pain and discomfort can cause behavioural issues too. It's not surprising that incidents in dog reactivity have increased greatly over the years, as our compasions can be so incredibly stoic, we have no ideal how they are physically feeling until it is so completely evident.
There is an abundance of different harnesses on the market, and another reason for the campaign is to draw people's attention to what constitutes a well fitting harness. My vision is to raise £2000 intitially, in order to buy 100 harnesses of various sizes. These harnesses will be available to rent for a month, for a nominal fee of £5. The harness will come with a brocure, explaining the benefits of using one, and fitting instructions.
The proceeds from the rental and hopefully, purchasing of the harnesses, will then be split between donations to animal charities, and purchasing more new harnesses, in order to keep the scheme going.
It will be a pilot scheme in Southampton to begin with, but if things take off, I would love to see it spread UK wide, and if we can generate enough income from it, harnesses can also be bought for rescue centres for the staff and volunteers to use on the dogs there.
It’s an ambitious campaign, but also a really important message to spread, as it not only benefits our dogs, it also makes things a lot more comfortable for those that walk the dogs. Of course, it’s not a cure all to excessive pulling, but it makes the process of loose lead training so much easier for all concerned.
Your donation will make a huge difference to the health and well being of our beloved companions. Thank you in advance.