Collars vs harnesses – Cambridge Puppy Training

collars vs harnesses

There is SO much choice out there with regards to what ‘tools’ to put on our dogs. Essentially, whatever we put on our dog is a tool of some sort, be it a collar, a harness or a head collar. However we NEED these tools to live in our society, our dogs have to be under control. A collar is, traditionally, our first go to piece of equipment. We normally buy our pup a collar before anything else in fact! Largely, this is for identification purposes, for the ID tag. However what is the best ‘tool’ to use once you start taking your pup out? Collar? Harness? Here, we will have a look at the pros and cons of each.

If you go into a pet shop you will surely be spoilt for choice with regards to collars. SO much variety. We have flat collars, half-check collars, choke chains, martingale collars, padded collars, oh my goodness so many. Obviously, when you bring your pup home he is not going on walks, so largely we buy a regular flat nylon collar and this suits us just fine. But, what when we start going out with our pups? Not ALL puppies pull on the lead, but pulling is something many owners do struggle with during those early months.

Dogs actually have incredibly sensitive necks. It really is one of the most vulnerable areas on a dogs body, so it is essential that it is treated with care. If a puppy/dog is pulling into a collar on a regular basis this can, long term, cause issues such as eye problems (caused by Intraocular eye pressure), or tracheal damage (ie. collapsed trachea). It could possibly worsen thyroid issues or cause problems for sensitive throats (such as after Kennel Cough for example). If your pup or dog is coughing when walking or starting to ‘huff and puff’ due to the strain on the neck, it’s pretty much certain you need to address this. I am not suggesting ALL dogs who pull on the lead will suffer ill effects later on, however, we want to be as sure as we can that we DON’T cause problems, don’t we?

A dogs neck contains the trachea, oesophagus, lymph nodes, thyroid glands, spinal column and more! It is hugely vulnerable to injury. Imagine, when your dog pulls suddenly to the end of the lead, that sudden ‘jolt’ they make, if that was on OUR necks we would usually get checked for whiplash wouldn’t we?? And likely will take such good care of ourselves that we ensure it doesn’t happen again. But, with our dogs, we allow this to happen again and again and again. A study including 400 dogs showed that “91% of dogs with neck injuries had been exposed to pulling hard on a lead for long periods”, also “there was a clear correlation between cervical (neck) damage and ‘jerk and pull’” (Hallgren, 1992). Additionally, it has been stated that “ear/eye issues are often related to pulling on the lead when in a collar, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head” (Dobias). There are MORE studies like this out there, if you are interested feel free to look some up.

Of the 400 dogs studied by Hallgren:

  • 79% of aggressive dogs had back problems
  • 21% had none
  • Of the more shy dogs, 69% had back problems
  • 31% had none


So, collars, perfect if you don’t have a lunger or puller, not so perfect and can cause damage if you do. I won’t discuss slip leads (only should be used for gundog work where a lead needs to be whipped on and off in seconds), choke chains (if they worked, you should only need to use them once, and people don’t, so clearly they don’t work), prong collars (are they even still legal?!), none of which should be used on a puppy.

It is commonly said that walking a dog in a harness will somehow make your dog pull more. This is a myth you may well have heard. A harness may well make it easier for a dog to pull, he can put more weight INTO a harness, and indeed make it harder for you to pull him back, but certainly YOU allowing your dog to pull, will make your dog pull. No equipment is responsible for a pulling dog. Harnesses, like collars, are a HUGE market and there are so many different types out there. A harness which sits high on the chest, with a back clip, will likely still elicit the same ‘coughing’ or ‘chocking’ from a dog that pulling into a collar will. Often back clip harnesses are not the optimal design. A ‘front clip harness’ often works the best. You can far more easily guide a dogs attention back to you in a front clip harness, rather than a back clip one. A harness will help to evenly distribute weight, and can be far kinder as long as it is a well fitting one.

Of course, for adult dogs, there is head collars, yet another tool! So many tools out there. I won’t discuss these too much as I am focusing on puppy training, and there should really be no need to consider a head collar for a puppy. However, if you have a large breed, you may want to consider habituating your pup to a head collar early on, in case it is needed at some point later down the line.

So, does your pup pull, lunge, or is it a breed prone to health issues related to the neck ie. tiny breeds or brachycephalics? Train it to walk well on a lead, or consider a harness until you have. Remember when training your pup, any pulling at all, anywhere, ever, is being reinforced, so it WILL be repeated. A flat collar and lead is perfectly sufficient if you don’t have a ‘puller’.

I honestly do believe, whatever ‘tool’ you choose, it will not ‘cure’ your pups pulling on the lead. There is no 100% humane tool out there which will ‘solve’ your dogs pulling in a flash. Many tools may ‘claim’ to do this, but be cautious. There is only one thing that will show your dog how to walk next to you, and that is you. Whether you have a collar, a harness, or something else, it is essential to know the things that can go wrong with the tools you use, but also remember that whatever your dog is wearing it is down to YOU to show him how to walk well.

If you would like more information about the 1-2-1’s I offer, just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining


Can puppies seek revenge or ‘protest’? – Cambridge Puppy Training

emotions in dogs

I was having an interesting chat with a puppy owner the other day, he said that when their pup is denied something, it will pee in ‘protest’. He believed the puppy was trying to ‘get him back’, show his annoyance after the event, ‘get even’ if you like, by urinating on the floor. This got me thinking, I have heard owners before saying their pups will ‘protest’, either via toileting or vocalising etc, but is this really what these pups are doing? Protesting? Getting their owners back and showing their annoyance at an event which has actually passed? Are pups capable of that kind of memory and indeed thought? And more so, that feeling of needing or wanting revenge, and actually gaining revenge? Anthropomorphism, and canine emotion generally, may help us to see.

Anthropomorphism, is quite simply, attributing a human emotion to an animal, inanimate object or concept. I’m certain you have all done this, have you ever said of the weather, it is ‘fierce’? We have ascribed a human quality or emotion, to something non-human. Much like if we say of our dogs, if they do something we perceive as naughty, we say they are ‘guilty’ and have a look of ‘guilt’. We sometimes even think this is quite sweet and funny, however all we are really doing is attributing to that puppy what WE think they SHOULD be feeling at that moment. Are they actually feeling bad about what they did? Feeling guilty? Unlikely. We need to be really careful when doing this, if we assume our pups are feeling emotions which firstly, they may not be and secondly, may not even be capable of, we will then treat them how we feel they SHOULD be treated due to this perceived emotion. If we are wrong, this is a dangerous place to be, treating our puppy in such a way which is not appropriate to the emotion they are actually feeling. For example, we see ‘guilt’, when in fact it is fear.

When looking at the situation with the owner I mentioned, the pup was peeing, the owner believed, due to protest. A ‘I am going to do this to you, because you did that to me’. If we break this down a bit, what thought process does the pup have to go through to achieve this goal of ‘revenge’.

  • Firstly, he needs what we may term ‘theory of mind’ to be able to recognise that YOU (another individual) had the intent to wrong him in some way, and to take it in that context, so he needs to be able to predict other individuals thoughts
  • The puppy would need to gain some form of reinforcement or satisfaction from ‘gaining revenge’
  • The puppy would need to have the complexity of thought to be able to recognise thoughts and emotions in others, thereby predicting how the owner will feel after he has ‘protested’ and recognise when his owner DOES feel this way

So, if this puppy were indeed protesting, or ‘getting the owner back’, he would need to be aware that this wee, a normal bodily function, was ‘wrong’, that the owner perceives it as ‘wrong’, that if he does it his owner will feel ‘hurt’, and that his owner will associate this wee, with the event prior to the wee taking place. That is a LOT for a puppy to be capable of don’t you think? I would hazard a guess this urination is anxiety based, derived from frustration in a given situation of being unable to communicate his desire effectively to gain a resource and being denied an object/item he feels is essential to survival.

If we look at children, their emotional development is something which changes over time, they are not born with a set list of emotions which are present and functioning from birth. As children age, they are able to feel more and more emotional states, largely gaining in complexity as they grow. Studies have suggested that dogs have the same mind, or emotional capabilities, of a 2.5 year old child. So certainly dogs do indeed have emotions, but certainly not on the same scale as you and I.

So, if we are basing our dogs emotions on a 2.5 year old child, what emotional range do they have ?

  • Calm/arousal – a range of excitement levels
  • Contentment/distress
  • Fear/anger
  • Shy/suspicious
  • Affection/love

Children generally do not experience emotions such as shame, pride or guilt until after the 2.5 year period, so we can somewhat presume dogs do not possess these emotions. We must remember that the rate in which our dogs will experience all the above emotions is QUICK, they will have felt all the emotions they will feel throughout life by around 6 months old.

So, what emotions will your dog likely NOT feel?

  • guilt
  • pride
  • shame

Have you ever spoken to someone and they tell you their pup raided the bin whilst they were out, or went to the loo in the house, and they came home to this unpleasantness! They then explain that they came in and saw the mess and ‘she knew what she’d done she looked really guilty about it, she knew it was naughty’. Well this is just not the case. The behaviours you see, the hiding, the tail tucked under the body, the wide eyes and the ears back, are all fear related. The dog has learned, when there is rubbish on the floor, or wee on the floor, when you walk in, punishment ensues (please remember ‘punishment’ does NOT always mean aversive treatment). A dog does not know that wee/poo is ‘bad’, it’s just a normal bodily function, they have no concept of it being ‘horrible’. Why would they feel guilty for going to the toilet?? It is a learned behaviour due to prior punishment for the same event occurring.

The world of canine (or animal!) emotion is a fascinating one and there is SO much scientific research being done as we speak, trying to find out more all the time. Canine behaviour is a fast paced subject!

I realise this article isn’t so much ‘training’ related, but I still felt it was important that we looked at emotion in our dogs, and what they do/don’t feel and are/aren’t capable of. Generally speaking, it may well not do our dogs any harm for us to attribute OUR emotion in a certain context to a dog, but be aware of it and be cautious of actively changing how you treat your dog due to how YOU perceive it may feel.

If you would like more information about this subject, or about the 1-2-1’s I offer, just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining


Noise sensitivity in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

noise sensitivity in dogs

Any kind of noise sensitivity for a dog may not only be hugely traumatic for the dog involved, it’s distressing for the owner to witness too. This fear response to certain noises may be linked to various different sounds, one or two, or span a wide range of different noises. But why do dogs develop such anxiety about sounds? And what can we do with our pups to prevent noise sensitivity developing?

Studies have shown approximately 80% of pet suffer with some kind of noise sensitivity or noise phobia (Maddison, 2016). It is hugely distressing for a dog, or indeed any animal, to display a fear response to sounds so it’s hugely important we set our pups up to confidently accept any kind of novel or familiar sound well. Sound phobias are not uncommon, they will largely develop due to lack of habituation to a particular sound or noise, or due to over-exposure causing distress or anxiety. They can be associated with ANY sound, from a siren to fireworks to thunder, there is no standard ‘sound’ which will induce a fear response. Of course, the ones we are likely all most familiar with is indeed fireworks. I will not delve too much into how to deal with an already noise phobic dog, more focus on puppies!

For reference, what are the physiological signs we may see when a dog is noise phobic?

  • increased HR
  • urination
  • panting
  • lip licking
  • dilated pupils
  • tensing of muscles

These are a broad and general range of physical changes you may see, however the behavioural signs may be easier to spot, these may include:

  • pacing
  • escaping behaviour
  • barking/whining/vocalising
  • self-harm
  • hiding

Of course, some of these are descriptive of severe cases. Often, you may see a dog simply seeming ‘uneasy’ and being particularly clingy to you, seeking reassurance for example.

The key point to remember with noise phobia is that we can set our pups up from very early on to be relaxed around any kind of noise. We encourage our pup to be relaxed and tolerant of lots of different types of sensory manipulation, for example:

  • touch/handling – we work on trading a touch for a treat
  • sight – we work on not racing after every moving object ie. rabbits/birds etc
  • sound – we can work on instilling calmness in our pups around all types of noises
  • fans/wind – we work on habituating our pups to ‘blustery weather’ and bags flapping in the wind etc
  • animals on tv – we play videos of animals/dogs on tv to habituate our pups to the sight of them in our living rooms!

So how can we go about all this? We can start with some sensory education! We expose our pups to many different sounds whilst pairing them with something good. We would start off very gradually, for example having some sounds playing very quietly, whilst doing our training sessions for example. We would then in time be raising the volume bit by bit. We would keep our pups busy whilst this is going on, so the noise of the sounds very quickly transfers to ‘background noise’. The more a puppy hears a certain sound/noise and is exposed to it positively the better, by pairing it with something GOOD we will build up positive associations with the offending sound.

Breeders are often quite on the ball with this! You may find your breeder has already been playing audio cd’s of various noises prior to your pup moving in with you, and you simply need to continue the process. However, if your breeder hasn’t done this, do not panic you can buy many cd’s online which are specifically designed for gradual exposure to sounds for puppies. Victoria Stillwell does a ‘noise phobia’ series of cd’s for example. You can start off with simply ‘relaxation’ sounds (some say puppies relax to classical music!) and then as your pup becomes comfortable with this via associating these sounds with something positive and reinforcing, you can gradually ‘up’ the level of cd’s until you are listening to fireworks or thunderstorms.

So, some tips:

  • gradual exposure to MANY different sounds
  • invest in audio cd’s ie. Victoria Stillwell series
  • pair potentially ‘scary’ sounds with something positive
  • repeated exposure, so noise becomes background noise, passively heard rather than actively listening
  • try to ensure pup has been exposed positively to many different sounds he will encounter during life by approximately 14-16 weeks old
  • start with ‘calming’ sounds, build up to more ‘offending’ sounds ie. fireworks
  • watch your pup and ensure he is comfortable throughout any noise exposure

If your pup DOES develop noise sensitivity later on, please don’t think you have done something ‘wrong’. The likelihood is you haven’t. You can do everything right, and still find there is one tiny issue which your pup develops. Remember your pup does have a genetic make-up too! There are medications available depending on the severity of the problem, ask your vet for advice. It must be remembered that whilst these may work, they do not treat the underlying cause they will simply ‘mask’ the problem. However, in severe cases, it is a necessity. Often medication is prescribed alongside a behaviour modification programme.

There are a multitude of natural remedies out there too, all claiming to help with anxiety relating to things such as noise phobias, travel, kennelling etc. I must state I have not looked into scientific studies relating to the effectiveness of various herbal products, feel free to though if you are interested! There are pheromone products like adaptil collars and plug ins, rescue remedy drops, skullcap valerian products, the list goes on.

Try and remember with regards to our pups, gradual habituation to ALL kinds of sounds will hugely reduce the risk of your pup developing a noise phobia long term. It won’t completely eradicate it, but it will set your pup up with a better chance. Look into sound sensitivity cd’s, you may find them hugely beneficial!

I do cover habituation to objects and sounds in my 1-2-1’s, and talk about how best to go about exposing your pup to these. For more information just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Fear stages in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

fear stages in puppies

I have been asked many a time by owners why their seemingly confident little pup has suddenly become fearful. This can manifest itself as a fear of anything in the environment, from people to dogs to dustbins! Your once relaxed little pup who would stride by anything and everything with ease, suddenly seems to have a minor meltdown at the mere sight of an outstretched hand or a dustbin in front of your home. But why does this occur? What is going on?? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, it is important to remember our pups go through quite a few developmental stages during the course of their first 2 years. It may seem quite clear cut, we get our puppy at 8 weeks, we bring them home and as long as we socialise them adequately then our job is done and we should have a confident and fulfilled dog at the end, right?? Well, maybe. There are however stages that it is important to be aware of along the way.

One of these stages is termed the ‘fear period’ or ‘fear imprint stage’. This is a stage in which your pup will seemingly out of the blue develop a fear or anxiety about something which has likely previously held no meaning. Something very normal like a person in the street, or something a bit more obvious like traffic or other dogs. This may display itself via avoidance behaviours ie. hiding behind you or pulling back away from the object, you may see a change in body posture from a relaxed tail carriage to a ‘tucked under’ tail and a ‘deer in the headlights’ expression.

Fear periods can occur twice in a pups development, the first is around 8-10 weeks old, and the second between 6-14 months (nicely coinciding with the adolescent stage which brings a whole new set of behaviours in itself!). The puppy will respond in a more fearful way to anything which it may deem ‘traumatic’. Something which is likely not traumatic, will be perceived by your pup as pretty scary and something to be avoided. It is also at this stage that events will have more of an impact than at any other time, so in short, it’s a pretty important period of time all round! The fear stage is not limited to NEW experiences or stimuli which is important to remember, it may be something that your pup has seen every day since being with you and something he has paid no attention to at all, or even enjoyed, up until now. So, to define, a fear period is a stage in which a puppy may perceive new or familiar stimuli as a threat.

We can see, biologically, why this stage may occur. A puppy at this age is just starting to ‘fly the nest’ and any wrong move or misjudgement about what is/isn’t ‘safe’ will effect survival chances. Also, the first fear stage will coincide with when a pup is leaving his mum and siblings and going off to a brand new unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people and stimuli.

So, what can we do to help our pups if we feel they are going through a fear stage??

There’s a few things to consider:

  • Bond – bond with your puppy! Via training, communication, and patience. Gain your pups trust and engage with him daily. Encourage focus behaviours ie. eye contact, practice engagement training (look back at my blog articles if you’re unsure how), and work on handling techniques to gain a solid level of trust between you both.
  • Make it FUN – use treats/favourite toy to help build positive associations with every new experience your pup has! Take things at your pups pace, don’t force interactions, let your pup make a choice as to how far he wants to engage with the environment around him. Encourage, praise progress, and keep a light-hearted tone in your voice. There is actually no evidence to suggest you can reinforce an emotion (fear is an emotional response to an event/object), however there is no need to go overboard with your ‘cuddling’ if your pup is fearful! Reassurance yes, panic-stricken cuddling, probably best not.
  • Use calming aids – I have said before that the scientific evidence behind such tools ie. Adaptil plug-ins and collars is far from conclusive, but, I can tell you some people swear by them so they are worth consideration I feel!
  • Use a set up – set up ‘pretend’ situations! Your pup is worried about people going by when walking? Ask a friend to help with gradual desensitisation. Your pup is scared of dustbins? Spend some time every day building positive associations with the dustbins! Pup is scared of the vets table? Ask your vet if you could have a ‘social visit’ with just treats/cuddles and fun! They will not mind!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep! Inadequate sleep leaves a pup unable to learn, process information and will likely be more sensitive to situations.
  • Stay calm!!! – the first thing we do when our pup is worried is worry ourselves! Stop yourself, think clearly, what can I do to improve this? How can I change my pups emotional response to this object? There will be a way, so just calmly work through it.
  • Ask for advice – if you are unsure, don’t go through it alone, ask a professional for advice!

Although it may seem like a worrying time, your once confident little pup is suddenly worrying about something entirely meaningless and inconsequential, try to stay calm. Don’t build it into more of an issue than it needs to be, stay relaxed and simply work out a plan to try and change your pups view of the ‘scary thing’. It’s perfectly do-able.

There is, as stated above, a second ‘fear stage’, however I am a puppy trainer and try to limit topics as much as possible to puppyhood so I will refrain from delving into it too much! If you need more information regarding this second stage just get in touch.

I do cover the developmental stages our pups go through during my 1-2-1’s so if you feel you are struggling with anything mentioned just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining