Like most dog lovers, Nicholas Aretakis, president of PaPPI (Puppy and Pet Products International, LLC), walks his dogs for three basic reasons. "We take them out so they can do their business, to get them some exercise, and for the companionship," he says.
Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the injuries that can result from the wrong collar/leash combination. Research by Swedish behaviorist Anders Hallgren revealed that 63 percent of dogs whose spines were X-rayed for a study had spinal injuries. Of the dogs with neck (cervical) injuries, 91 percent had experienced harsh jerks on their leashes or were serious leash strainers.
Aretakis' love for Jack Russell terriers, a small and active breed that can sometimes pull so hard on conventional collars that they damage their own tracheas, prompted him to start a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based leash and harness company in 2003. His goal was to develop safe, comfortable pet products that would prevent injury.
"I started this company and self-funded it based on my love for my own dogs," he says. "I don't do it as a business to make money."
Many dog guardians cringe at the idea of using heavy chain or stiff leather or choke collars on their pets, and according to Aretakis, they should. Such collars can press on the animal's trachea during training or walks and cause injury, or at the very least prompt increased agitation as the animal struggles for air.
One of the first major innovations in dog leads arrived with the invention of head halters such as the "Gentle Leader," which is designed to prevent dogs from pulling during walks. Head halters consist of one strap that goes around the animal's nose and another that goes around the neck just behind the ears. If the dog begins to pull, the head halter causes the animal's nose to be turned down and back, making it difficult to continue the behavior without causing injury.
The Humane Society of the United States posts information on how to use a head halter.
Aretakis decided to take a different route with his products. "I just can't imagine a dog enjoying their walk with their whole mouth covered," he says. "I want the dogs to be as comfortable as possible,"
As a result, he focused on creating products that were not only more comfortable and safer than traditional collars, leashes or harnesses, but would also avoid the chafing and soreness many dogs experience. The company's collars are made with a special soft padding that won't harm a dog's throat, and the harnesses don't touch the dog's neck at all.
Aretakis' EZHarness is a step-in harness that features double-padded fleece in every component that touches the dog's body, and includes webbing integrated with a four-foot lead, a swivel mechanism to prevent tangling and a fleece-padded handle for the human's comfort. On this site you can view cute videos that depict how easily the harness can be placed on a dog and how dogs respond to it while walking.
Pet lovers who want the most enjoyable and safest dog-walking experience for their dogs can do some research before buying a collar and leash. For more information on dog leads, collars, harnesses and walking, visit these sites:
Rapoport DesPres writes about pet care issues for Care.com and other publications. She has five cats and a website at ourplacetopaws.com.