Choke, Pinch or Halti? A better way to leash your dog.

Despite 15 years as a search and rescue dog handler, I’m not an expert on dogs in general. I’m barely an expert on the one I work. But doing this volunteer work has gotten me in the room with some pretty spectacular dog trainers and I try to soak up what I can.

One of the best tips I ever got came from Jean Hampl who runs a school in Gig Harbor, WA. The question always comes up when training basic obedience: Do I use an old fashioned choke collar, a pinch collar, or one of those “gentle leader” types?

Jean has a better idea. She recommends a harness, but then NOT

This ring connects the two shoulder straps with the chest strap. Clip into it instead of the usual spot on the dog’s back.

connecting to the usual spot on the dog’s back. Good harnesses will have a metal ring connecting the two shoulder straps with one that comes up from the chest. It’s not meant to have a leash clipped to it, but it works great. Here’s why: When the dog inevitably takes off running out in front of you, the connection at the chest pulls the dog to the side. There’s no choking, no pinching, and no yanking of the head on those supposedly “gentle” leaders.

If you clip to the usual spot on a dog’s harness, you’re pitting the dog’s strength against yours. After time, you’ll tire and lose. Think Iditarod.

A leash correctly clipped to the front ring of Ruger’s harness.

If you clip to the front ring, simple physics spins the dog back toward you. There’s no need to yank. Just hang on and the dog will correct itself. That’s another key to effective and humane training: the dog controls the correction, not you. (Especially not you if you’re frustrated.)

Because the dog gets pulled to the side, it has less strength to fight the correction. Its body isn’t built to pull hard in that direction. And when you’re ready to let the dog play around and be a goofball, then go ahead and connect to the regular spot on the back of the harness. Then the dog will know it’s OK to pull in search of that wonderful smelling fire hydrant.

Jean’s Facebook page is All credit to her for this tip.

If you enjoyed this post you can sign up to be notified of future posts. And be sure to like Sierra’s Facebook page at

Stay Found!

# # #


The Bangor Backstory

I had a great time today with Mattie Baker’s three and four-year old nursery-school group at the Sub Base Bangor (WA) community center. Mattie is a most gracious host, and the kids were wonderful. I read them both of my children’s books, and they asked great questions afterward.

But when I first arrived at this pretty-big-deal Navy base, I started to get nervous. In my truck was a K9 training setup called a Behavioral Shaping Device. The set consists of four large wooden boxes, three of which are distractions. The fourth has an electronic device inside that will launch Ruger’s toy when he performs correctly. Even more concerning, Ruger’s reward toy looks just like a stick of dynamite! Pink or green dynamite perhaps, but dynamite nonetheless. Annnd just to top things off…the remote clicker was in my pocket!

Having worked at an airport I’m VERY familiar with the qualities of a “suspicious package” and the BSD has every stinkin’ one of them. The guard at the gate was very professional. He touched my ID and tossed a surprise question my way to make sure I was legit (I won’t reveal it here). He apparently didn’t hear me exhale as he waved me in.

The rest of the visit couldn’t have been more fun, and Ruger did great. I’ll note the event in his official training log. Surrounded by a herd of noisy three and four-year olds, Ruger was still able to focus and successfully “find Digger.”

If you’d like to see how a BSD works, CLICK HERE. It’ll be pretty obvious from the video why it wouldn’t have been good for security to have flagged me for a “random search.”

# # #