No More Collars! Or, How To Go For A Sniffing Walk


“Pain always affects behavior.” I am not sure who said this, but it is so true. If your back hurts or you have a headache, you act differently than when you are feeling well, right? The same goes for our dogs.

A Swedish study showed that 75% of the 350 dogs examined had neck injuries their owners were not aware of. Another Swedish study showed 63% of the dogs examined had back problems. 91% of the dogs with these problems were either pulled or yanked by the collar on walks. Again, “Pain always affects behavior.”

Take a look at the photo. Pulling on the collar/leash is affecting this dog’s trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, neck muscles, back and neck vertebra, hips, shoulders, blood flow to the eyes and brain… Okay there’s more but I had to stop to take a breath.

When a dog is in discomfort, he may take it out on another dog walking by. He may, because of the way dogs reason things out, associate discomfort from his collar/head collar/no-pull harness with that other dog. That is often the start of dog-dog aggression.

So the first rule for sniffing walks is to use gear that is comfortable for your dog. This means a harness designed for comfort, NOT to prevent pulling. For many dogs, walking with comfortable gear is enough to reduce pulling significantly. Dogs don’t think things through the way we do and it is thought that many will pull even when choking because they are trying to get away from the discomfort! The harness should attach to the leash on the back as opposed to the chest.

The second piece of equipment you will need is a long leash. An 8-10 feet NON-RETRACTIBLE is best. The reason for this is that with the retractible kind, there is always pressure from the leash and the dog never gets a clear message about whether she is at the end of it or not. If you need it shorter for a minute, perhaps when passing another dog or person, it is easy to loop it with your hands.

Why do you need such a long leash? So your dog can explore and sniff and you won’t be running all over to keep the leash loose! More relaxing for both of you.

I want to invite you to go buy your dog (and yourself) a comfortable harness and a lightweight, long leash. Walk out the door on a nice day with your cell phone in your pocket, or even at home!. Let your dog put her nose to the ground or look around and start to sniff. Just be together. Watch her and learn about her. Ask her, “Where do you want to go?” Wait a moment and when she turns in any direction start slowly that way. Then let her lead. Relax, take a breath, and enjoy the lovely day.

For information on how to teach your dog to go on a sniffing walk mindfully, without pulling so you can both enjoy yourselves to the fullest, contact me for a Loose Leash Lesson.

I am available for individual lessons, or you can get some friends together for a low cost group class.

Okay, that’s it on the topics of sniffing walks and equipment!


Note: Although the Balance Harness can be attached to the leash in the front, for sniffing walks, it should only be attached on the back.

There is also a low cost basic harness that fits many dogs available at many big box pet stores. Please look at pictures of the Haqihana and Balance harnesses first to be clear on what to look for!


I am aware of the information of dog’s necks through my studies, but was not able to find a translation online from the Norwegian. It was conducted by Are Thoresen, an animal acupuncturist. If you find it in English, please tell me!


About the Author

Joanne Ometz is a holistic dog trainer in Durham NC. She uses only humane, science based, force free methods to achieve successful outcomes with dogs of all breeds and sizes.