YOU CANNOT LEAD FROM BEHIND
Lanesboro man hopes to improve dog/people relationships
By Bess Tinkham
Jed, a large, lanky, black and tan hound mix, somewhere between 4 and 6 years old, bounded into a room at the Berkshire Humane Society in Pittsfield and immediately jumped on the couch in a small meeting room.
Dan Merson was right there with the dog, petting and praising."What a handsome dog, a gentle, sweet nature," he said. "Who could have abandoned this dog?"
Merson was there for more than some kind words. He was there to take the dog for a walk using a special harness he developed and manufactures in Lanesboro.
After adjusting the harness to the wiggling dog, Merson led Jed outside, where he began sniffing everywhere - like lots of dogs do. As they walked out farther, the harness kept the dog in control.
Inside again, Merson put a standard leash on Jed, who immediately pulled forward and found a trash basket to tip over and investigate with his nose.“Jed just needs some leadership” Merson said “and a patient, kind owner.”
"Dogs are fun," says Merson, “yet when a dog pulls or tugs, the owner gets discouraged, they feel their dog is behaving badly.”
The problem with this is that many dogs are surrendered to animal rescues for a very easily remedied behavior issue. “It is easy to stop a dog from pulling and tugging when walking.”
A great experience
Merson is the creator of "The Walk Your Dog With Love" harness, which leads from the front. He manufactures his harnesses in The Berkshires, and employs local people to sew them.
A dog on a standard leash and collar or harness will have a natural reaction to pull. When you say "heel," the dog actually gets the opposite command, the command to pull. When leading the dog from the front, however, the dog naturally follows the command to heel.
"The basic concept of this is about 10,000 years old," Merson said. "You don't lead a horse or cow or a camel from behind and expect it to be obedient."
The harness comes in two styles: the original, with six color choices, and Yummy Treat, with the same functionality but various chic patterns.
The harness is easy to put on (it just slips over the head and clips underneath), is adjustable to your dog and comes in three sizes. An added advantage is the 3M Scotchlite reflective safety tape on each side and in front that reflects up to 1,000 feet.
They train us
Merson believes dogs really want to do work. Many dogs were bred to do very specific tasks.
Nowadays they don't have work to do. In fact, they remain idle in the house with no directions from their owners. This goes against their programming. Merson feels owners should create a “Walking Relationship” with their dog,” and give it directions.
"More importantly, learn how to give directions. Get some training for yourself," Merson said.
A good example is from Merson's own life: He walks all five of his dogs at once, and when he comes to a stop sign, he asks them to sit, just once. He said if you ask any more than that, they are training you to say it more than once. "Dogs are the best trainers in the world," he said. "They train us to respond to them. They train us to feed them off the table."
The bottom line is that Merson shows his dogs that he is the boss, but not in an evil-dictator way.
"If I allow them to tell me what's going on, then I'm not the boss and things get uncomfortable," he said. "Dogs are pack animals like people, and they need to know who the boss . . . is and who isn’t. When you let the dog out of doors first, you are giving it a confusing message about who is really in charge.”
"Dogs are very persistent and very consistent. When you feed your dog off the table once, they believe that they can get you to do it again. Your dog thinks ‘my Human is great, I love and trust them. If I continue to do what I did to get the food the first time, my Human will come through with this behavior again!”
On the other hand, the human members of the family are inconstant. Instead of just one command, “Fido sit”, the various family members will also say “Fido sit down, Fido down or Fido sit, Sit SIT!”
Merson said it's difficult for dogs to discern among these commands. “Dogs just need consistency.” Using different commands, “fates the dog to not be a good dog," he said. "You have to be a good human."
A Bad Dog Good
Berkshire Humane Society knows something about dog walking, since they walk their dogs four or five times a day. Kristin McCormick, kennel supervisor in canine services at BHS, said they have been using a similar body harness, called the Easy Walker, for a few years.
Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital office manager Emily LeBeau affirmed that her French Bulldogs, Shirley, "is more manageable when she is on the Walk Your Dog With Love harness." Her office sells Merson's harnesses, which she said are made well and of high quality material.
Merson said he just wants dog owners to build a good walking relationship with their dogs. He believes that his harness “makes bad dogs good and good dogs great."
With his harness, the dog owner, he said, is in the lead."It is a very important message," he said. "You cannot lead from behind."
Merson can be reached at email@example.com or walkyourdogwithlove.com