WICHITA, Kan. - Emily Weiss invented the Weiss Walkie, but she did not name it. "It's a horrible name, but it's now stuck," said Weiss, a certified animal behaviorist from Benton, Kan., who designed a no-pull dog-walking device that has become a hit with humane societies.
Weiss said she and her husband, Mark Wasserman, designed the combination leash and halter in response to a plea from staffers and volunteers at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee.
"They were having problems with dogs pulling," Weiss said. They had tried pinch collars, harnesses, and Gentle Leaders - a harness that wraps around a dog's nose - but "it was difficult, especially for the volunteers, to successfully take a dog out on a walk."
Harnesses and other no-pull devices can be effective, Weiss said, but they may feel unnatural to a dog or may require adjusting a lot of buckles and fasteners.
"It either takes a long time for the animal to become comfortable with them, or it takes a fair amount of time to fit and put on," she said.
The Weiss Walkie - basically a rope that attaches to a dog's regular collar and then loops around its chest - is "no fuss, no muss, and that's the biggest difference," Weiss said. "There's no fitting. You just put it on and go."
The Weiss Walkie works using a combination of doggie physiology and psychology, she said.
When a dog pulls, the Walkie applies slight pressure around the widest part of the chest, and the dog's natural response to that is to slow down or back up, Weiss said.
The pressure in that area also tends to calm and relax the dog, she said.
Most dogs adapt quickly to the Walkie, Weiss said.
"Learning is instant because he's doing it himself," she said. "All you are doing is holding the end of the leash. By simply not pulling, he's successful."
Weiss said she got the idea for the Walkie when watching her husband participate with his German shorthaired pointers in field trials.
The dogs get excited while waiting to compete, Weiss said. But she noticed that when her husband would wrap the leash snugly around the widest part of the chest, their behavior would change.
"They would relax and wouldn't pull nearly as hard," she said.
"It was from that that I thought, these behaviors are very similar to what we're seeing in particular dogs in our shelters and in people's homes."
Staffers and volunteers at the Kansas Humane Society have been using the Weiss Walkie for a couple of years. It also is sold in the shelter's retail shop.
Dog walkers like it because it's easy to put on, instantly effective, safe, and comfortable for the dog, said Kelsey Callaway, an adoptions counselor.
"It directs pressure away from their neck and airway so it's safer for the dog," she said. "They're not going to choke or accidentally hurt themselves."
It also makes it unlikely that they're going to slip out of their collar, giving dog walkers more control and confidence, she said.
Maybe most important, Callaway thinks the Weiss Walkie helps dogs get adopted.
"With shelter dogs, you have a limited amount of time to work with them," she said.
Instead of pulling all over the place, dogs wearing Weiss Walkies "look partially trained," Callaway said.
And that means they're more likely to walk out of the shelter with a new owner.
Weiss, who also is senior director of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, said her ultimate goal in creating the Walkie was to "keep dogs in homes."
People and dogs that go places together form a stronger bond, Weiss said, and a dog that goes for regular walks is a happier, healthier pet.
"A lot of folks have dogs because they want to do stuff with them," she said.
"If you can't successfully get from the house to the car with a dog, that bond starts to break a little bit."