The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 13, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Harness works better than a leash

By Ryan Richardson
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I will openly taunt the weather gods this week: I'm going to write about warm weather and how to keep your dog close by when you are out around town.

It seems that every time I've mentioned that it was nice out or that summer is right around the corner, we get hit with more snow. I feel like the anti-Ned Stark. I hate to break it to you, "Game of Thrones" fans, but summer is coming.

This is the time of year to take your dog outside to enjoy the weather. You both get exercise, you bond more, and it gives you an opportunity to work together as a team. I take my dog out as much as I can, and my dog is happy to see other dogs when we go on walks.

The one thing that sticks out is the type of collar that people use with their pets. While my dog is smaller, I ask big dog owners about their opinions, and most of what they say mirrors the guidelines and tips that I've picked up along the way.

Ditch any collar that has any plastic fasteners. Though they may latch, they are extremely prone to breaking. How many times has your dog darted off when it sees another dog? It is a matter of time before that plastic piece breaks off and you are chasing after a runaway dog.

This is important for people with big dogs. When you have a 100-pound dog that wants to chase after something, plastic is not going to win the battle.

As far as the actual collar goes, I prefer a body harness if you are going for a walk. If your dog is not attuned to a heel walk or a loose-leash walk, then it is an absolute must.

A body harness will evenly distribute the dog's weight against the leash and will take pressure off its neck. Normal neck collars, especially chain collars, are not comfortable for your pet.

Think about how much your dog pulls ahead of you. All of that force is pushed against its neck, which tires it out quicker.

You want your time outdoors to be as long as possible. The quicker dogs tire, the less prone they are to listen to anything you say. In the worst-case scenario, your dog may injure itself if it pulls too hard against its collar.

I've found that my dog responds quickly to commands when she is on a leash with a body harness. When I give a tug on the leash and issue a "sit" command, her whole body is pulled, giving her a better indication of what to do.

I want to point out two things: First, if you haven't used a body harness before, your dog will have to adjust to it. How long it takes may vary, but it will take some time. Second, don't leave the harness on them all of the time. You run the risk of rubbing their skin raw in places and matting their coat.

Reptile response

I would like to acknowledge the people who sent me feedback after last week's column about the Kansas Herpetological Society and my fear of snakes.

I had more than a few stories shared about Joseph Collins and his legacy, in addition to other people's phobia of snakes. I quoted a statistic stating that 56 percent of Americans have a phobia of snakes. I wonder how many of those people, myself included, are scared of something they don't know a great deal about.

While I suspect that I won't change the world with my column, I am happy to know people who are open minded are out there to take a chance and appreciate nature in a different way.

After thinking about it, a lot of my fears could be applied to other animals. I know that a lot of you may fear things such as big dogs, spiders and mice. But how much of that is rooted in fact, as opposed to unfounded frenzy on something we don't know a lot about?

I appreciate the kind words, and I was more than happy to help shed a little light on the work of Collins and his wife, Suzanne.

As always, I appreciate column suggestions and feedback. I won't pretend to know it all when it comes to animals, but I'm always driven to learn more about them from people in our community.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at or 417-627-7363.