My dog Henry is an Australian Shepherd (pictured below). The breed is, like, collie-smart. The kind of breed you could choreograph a dance for to impress the judges on Britain’s Got Talent.
But I’m letting Henry down. Sure, he can Sit, Stay, Down, Spin, Paw – he can even walk to Heel, on a good day.
But Henry is a PULLER. I’ve tried countless approaches to get him to stop, including the help of a professional dog trainer.
A few weeks ago we were at Crufts, the world's biggest dog show. Henry wasn’t competing but he was there helping out on one of our trade stands. Every time I had to take Henry for a visit outdoors and navigate through the hundreds of people and many dogs circulating through the exhibition centre, he would be pulling. In all directions.
I shared my exasperation with a friend. He asked why I wasn’t using one of our rolled soft leather slip leads on him, but with a figure-8 over the muzzle.
Strangely, this had not really occurred to me before, despite being told this very same thing many times over the years when we would attend the Game Fair or various horse trials.
So, I tried it. Simply took a slip lead off the rack, looped it widely over Henry’s head, twisted it under his chin to form the figure-8 and laid it over his muzzle.
By happy coincidence, we also had a dog show judge from Australia visiting the stand at this very moment. The Australian government's animal welfare people are progressive about dog training methods and, according to the judge, advocate the use of the figure-8 on the dog's muzzle as a method for control that does not cause pain or discomfort. That is, it's not in the camp of choke chains or so-called 'negative reinforcement'. And because the figure-8 is formed over the muzzle, there is NO pressure against the neck. I only want the best for Henry. The figure-8 on the muzzle is about controlling the head. It does not involve jerking or punishment or undermining a dog's welfare*.
With this reassurance, Henry and I set off through the crowds.
Life-changing. I swear.
Australian Shepherd Henry in rolled soft leather slip lead formed as a figure-8 over his muzzle.
Henry stuck close to my side the entire time. He wasn’t pulling, at all. We went outside where I undid the figure-8 and allowed him to roam a little more freely so that he could relieve himself.
I worried initially that the rolled lead perched on his nose might obstruct his vision, but this hasn’t been a concern and I make sure it doesn’t bunch down into his eyes. There was no indication Henry was unhappy about our new arrangement (you know your dog and whether or not they're unhappy about the figure-8 over the muzzle - so do be mindful to this).
I’ve shared this story a few times now with friends and customers. Some shook their head that it took me this long to figure out. I should have known!
A slip lead isn’t for everyone or for every dog. They are ideal for working gun dogs like Springers and Labradors – but you have to know what you’re doing and ensure the dog's welfare remains paramount. But the figure-8 is a simple, literal, twist of the slip lead that now gives me incredible control over Henry's pulling.
I can say, it is a marvel to me how immediately responsive and ‘obedient’ Henry became to our using it. As we made our way through the heavy crowds at Crufts, Henry trotted along happily by my side as though he were the best behaving dog ever, ready to collect his prize for Best In Show.
Our rolled soft leather slip lead is available in a range of colours/shades. We also make it in rope. All handmade at our London workshop. You can see the options here: SLIP LEADS.
* That said, opinion will vary on the subject, with some experts claiming that a 'head collar' can affect the human-canine bond or may cause anxiety and should therefore be limited in its usage. The recommended alternative could be a harness or seeking the advice of a professional dog trainer. Common Sense Applies. Your dog's welfare is paramount so if s/he is reacting badly then the figure-8 over the muzzle might not be the solution for your dog. But for others it's a god-send. You'll know what's right, or not, for your dog. Henry's wagging tail is a fairly reliable indicator of his enthusiasm for the slip lead configured as figure-8 over the muzzle. Because, of course, to him it means walkies and adventure.