What Should I Use to Walk My German Shepherd?

Taking your dog for a walk is obviously a fairly common occurrence in most households, even homes with a fenced yard occasionally leash up and go for a stroll. Even though taking your dog out on leash seems to be a standard practice, many pet owners unintentionally put their dog in danger. The equipment used to walk your dog is much more important than you may suspect, and using the wrong equipment can actually seriously injure your dog. When determining how to properly walk your pup, you should start by determining what “type” of leash walker they are.

What Type of Leash Walker is My Dog?

In it’s simplest form; does your dog walk calmly while you have them out on leash, or do they drag you about as if you were a maple leaf trapped in a stiff breeze? If your dog is very high energy and seems to be constantly pulling on the leash, they should not be walked on a collar. Conversely, if your dog walks calmly, or responds quickly if they begin pulling, they may be able to walk on a collar. If you have a young puppy, and you are working with them consistently, you can also attempt use a collar and switch to a harness if they begin to pull at any point.

Why Does it Matter?

Leash pulling is unpleasant to say the least, but it is a very real danger to your dog’s health if you are currently using a collar. Your dog faces a number of potential health hazards when you walk them with a collar. These possible injuries and complications include thyroid issues, eye problems, neck injuries, and even changes to their behavior.

  • Thyroid Damage – The thyroid is located directly below the larynx, and consequently, right where a collar typically sits on a dog’s neck. Constant pulling on the thyroid can cause inflammation, and the immune system begins to attack the inflamed cells damaging the thyroid. This damage can lead to hypothyroidism, which can cause long term health problems and unpleasant symptoms.
  • Eye Damage – Pressure on the neck can cause increased intraocular pressure (i.e. pressure inside the eye) because of restricted blood flow in and out of the head. If you have ever worn a ring that is too tight, or wrapped a string around your finger, you have likely experienced the throbbing feeling of your blood flow becoming restricted. This is similar to the effect that pressure from a collar causes in a dog’s eyes and head. This pressure can cause in increased sensitivity to glaucoma, eye injuries, cancer, and cornea thinning.
  • Neck Damage – The most frequently observed danger to the neck is collapsed trachea, which can impair your dog’s ability to breathe. If your dog coughs or chokes while pulling on leash they may very well be putting immense pressure on their trachea. A dog’s collar essentially rests directly on the trachea, and the more pressure, the more damage caused. Dogs that get a running start and “hit” the end of the leash can suffer from serious whiplash and spinal cord injuries, sometimes even leading to paralysis.
  • Behavioral Changes – When dogs are in pain they can be more prone to aggressive behavior or fearfulness. Think about the last time you had a headache, how did you react to the coworker who always talks too loud? You were probably a little grouchy. Dogs feel the same, and a dog that is in pain is more likely to express that pain via behavioral changes.

If You are Using a Collar

If you are using a collar to walk your dog the first and most important step is to ensure your dog is not pulling. I am repeating myself because, as you read above, it is very important to your dog’s health that they are not putting pressure on their neck. Please be advised that even minor leash pulling, or a single high-intensity “collision” at the end of the leash could cause damage to your pup. If your dog is not pulling, you should ensure the collar you choose is a thicker width. A thicker collar has more surface area, which distributes the pressure more evenly if your dog does pull on the leash at any point. You can choose a collar that is aesthetically pleasing, but avoid collars made of poor materials that may tear or break.

Example of a good collar choice:


Example of a poor collar choice (slip collar):


If You are Using a Harness

Dogs of different sizes require different harnesses. A smaller breed dog may be able to wear a typical harness that attaches at the back, but a larger dog that is pulling should use a harness that attaches on the front of the chest. The primary purpose of a harness is to relieve the pressure on the neck, but the secondary purpose is to relieve the behavior of pulling itself.

A “typical harness” does not actually help relieve pulling! Think about sled dog teams; sled dogs are attached to a harness with the purpose of pulling as much weight as possible. The harness takes the pressure off of their neck, but still gives the dog the power of their chest and shoulders to propel themself forward. This isn’t particularly useful if your dog wants to pull themself over to the squirrel in the tree, or the spilled garbage, or the aggressive dog across the street.

Attaching the harness at the front of the chest does two things; first, when your dog wants to go straight they get pulled to the side, this gets frustrating and your dog is likely to give up eventually. Second, when your dog is getting pulled from one side, they are only using about half the muscles in their chest and shoulders. This combination can reduce the voracity of your pup’s pulling, and the rest can be addressed behaviorally.

Example of a good harness choice (Freedom No-Pull Harness):

By using the proper equipment with your dog, and ensuring you are working with your dog behaviorally as well, you can provide a safe environment during your walks. If your dog is a maniac on leash it is important to address how much physical and mental stimulation your dog is getting in their day-to-day life. See How to Stop a German Shepherd From Chewing for more information on mental stimulation. By combining your behavioral training with mental stimulation and the proper equipment, you can progress with your pup towards happier and healthier walks!