Slip leads are a topic of much controversy in both the worlds of dog training and animal welfare. Some people advocate that slip leads are useful dog training tools, and some people argue that slip leads are too dangerous to use as training tools. But who is right, and who is wrong?
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This article will examine the proper use of slip leads, their pros and cons, and when you should not use them. We will also discuss alternatives to slip leads for dog training.
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What Are Slip Leads?
Slip leads are leads that do not have a clip. One end of the lead has a handle and is pulled through a ring or loop on the other end to form a more extensive, adjustable loop. Instead of attaching to a harness or a collar, slip leads go directly around a dog’s neck.
Most slip leads also have a stopper, which allows you to set the maximum loop size to prevent your dog from escaping the lead. Slip leads follow principles of aversive behavioral training.
Pros and Cons of Using a Slip Lead:
- Quick to put on and take off.
- No need for manual size adjustment (one size for all).
- It allows immediate correction of misbehavior.
- It prevents dogs from slipping their collar.
- Ideal in emergencies.
- It can be dangerous for the dog if misused.
- Inappropriate for small dogs with smaller neck structures.
- Unsuitable for puppies under two whose necks need further development.
- It can break down owner-dog relationships if the dog is sensitive or submissive.
- Can slip down and out of the correct position.
The Proper Use of Slip Leads:
It is advisable to consult a local dog training or behavioral professional before using a slip lead. Ask for their opinion on the benefits of slip training for your dog based on its personality, breed, size, and age.
Slip lead training is practical with bull-headed dogs who fixate on something and won’t stop for more positive reinforcements such as treats. The opposing support of the pressure may be more likely to check misbehaviors in this kind of dog.
Start slip lead training in a calm environment with fewer distractions, and your dog is not likely to take off running. Also, begin with short periods and build up. Remember, your dog is learning something new, so don’t overwhelm them.
Slip leads work on behavioral training principles established but considered by some to be outdated and even damaging to a dog’s emotional well-being. For slip leads to be effective and safe training tools, they require correct and appropriate use.
How to Use a Slip Lead Correctly:
The slip lead’s correct position is high on the dog’s neck, underneath the jaw, and behind the ears. Position the stopper so the dog’s head can’t slip out of the loop, but there is slack when the lead is passive.
The slip lead should loop around the neck, with the end coming toward the owner. It would be best if you placed the slip lead in the right place on your dog’s neck, not only for effectiveness in training but also for your dog’s physical safety.
Correct any misbehavior when using a slip lead by pulling the leash sideways toward you, not pulling back. If you pull the slip lead backward, you will only pull it out of the correct position. Remember, you are not yanking your dog’s neck; you are briefly tightening the lead against the dog’s neck.
When Not to Use a Slip Lead:
Slip leads are not suitable for all dogs, and you should use one with caution. Submissive or sensitive dogs may find the pressure of the slip lead too uncomfortable and distressing, leading to a breakdown in the bond between the dog and its owner. Similarly, I don’t recommend slip leads for small dogs and puppies with weaker neck structures easily damaged by pressure. Puppies under two years of age have underdeveloped necks and are more vulnerable to harm during slip-lead training. Also, slip leads are inappropriate for dogs with overly anxious or aggressive owners who may apply too much force during a correction.
Are Slip Leads Cruel?
Slip leads are not cruel. However, people can cruelly use them. Even if you do not oppose the use of slip leads, you must acknowledge that they can have negative physical and mental impacts on dogs under certain circumstances.
According to the Whole Dog Journal experts, slip leads should not be used for training because they can hurt your dog if incorrectly used. However, they mention a slip lead’s benefits in moving animals at rescue shelters. The ease with which the slip leads are put on and taken off and their easily adjustable size make them ideal for this temporary use.
Victoria Stillwell of Positively® argues against using aversive training altogether. She opines that negative reinforcement creates emotional agitation in your dog, making it difficult for them to learn.
Alternatives To Slip Leads
I’ve used the PetSafe Gentle Leader head harness for training a dog that wanted to pull and ignore commands. Here’s a link to the head harness on Amazon that I used. Keep in mind, you cannot use this with an overly excitable dog and you must be gentle using it at all times. If used correctly, it is very effective.
If you decide not to use a slip lead for training your dog, there are other options. There is, of course, the regular flat collar and clip-on lead. These are cheap and easy but can still pressure your dog’s neck if the dog pulls hard or consistently against the lead.
Harnesses with clip-on leads are another option. The harness removes pressure from the dog’s neck but can be ineffective for training and may even encourage pulling.
Some people prefer to use head harnesses or head collars. With these, the lead attachment is on the head, not the neck or back. They provide reasonable control, especially for smaller owners with big dogs. However, suppose the dog runs to the end of the lead with force, or the owner jerks the lead back. In that case, it can cause significant damage to the neck, particularly the vertebrae.
You can, of course, move away from aversive training entirely – another alternative is positive reinforcement. You still have to choose a collar and lead, but the methods are completely different, so the lead requirements are additional.
The Principles Behind Aversive Behavioral Training
In animal training, people talk about the four quadrants of operative conditioning: positive punishment, negative punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement.
- Positive punishment involves adding a negative for bad behavior (e.g., smacking).
- Negative punishment involves removing a positive for bad behavior (e.g., taking a toy away).
- Positive reinforcement involves adding a positive for good behavior (e.g., giving a treat).
- Negative reinforcement involves removing a negative for good behavior (e.g., leash slack when a dog stops pulling).
Aversive techniques like slip-lead training use positive discipline and negative reinforcement. Pulling on the slip lead causes the negative result of pressure (positive discipline), then cessation of the negative behavior removes the negative impact (negative reinforcement).
The Last Word On Slip Leads
Slip leads are not abusive or cruel, but people can use them abusively or cruelly out of ignorance or malice. If misused, slip leads can cause damage to a dog’s trachea and larynx.
Slip leads are in the correct position when high up on the dog’s neck, under the jaw, and behind the ears. Correct any misbehavior by pulling the leash sideways toward you, not pulling back.
Experts and well-respected members of the dog training community each have their own opinion on slip leads. Those who advocate slip leads as valuable training tools advise dog owners to consult their local professionals on how to use them. Those that believe slip leads are too dangerous suggest alternatives, such as head harnesses, or alternative methods, such as positive reinforcement.
When deciding whether or not slip lead training is the correct method for your dog, you need to make an informed decision. Ask the opinion of a professional who can provide sound advice regarding the appropriateness of slip-lead training for your dog. Regularly reassess to ensure you have the correct lead and the proper methodology. After all, we all want what’s best for the dog to make them a happy, helpful members of our families.
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