Collars, Leashes and Harnesses (oh my)

Collars, Leashes and Harnesses (oh my)

Go to anywhere dogs hang out (parks, pet stores, city streets, etc.) and take look at what their all being walked on. Chances are you’ll see a myriad (my word of the day that’s fun to say) of collars, leashes and harnesses. So many choices out there, but which is the best for you and your poochy pal?

Ask ten different people and you’ll get ten different answers. Many people have a favorite that they will happily tell you all about, others have only used one specific type and have never experimented with anything else, while others have tried them all and ultimately decided on one go-to collar/leash combo.

Which brings you back to the question: which one is best?

Ask ten different trainers and you might get ten different answers. Here you’ll most likely get some strong opinions on what’s the preferred choice and what’s is considered barbaric to each trainer. And many trainers will be happy to debate the choices of dog walking tools for endless hours on end.

Which again brings you back to the question: which one is best?

As far as I’m concerned there is not right or wrong tool. There is only the right one for you. Much like everything else in dog training, there is no right or wrong – there is only what’s right for you, with your dog. And what works for me with my dog may just plain suck for you and your dog. What works for one person with one dog, may not be the right choice for someone else with that same dog.

Are you with me here? There is no one right tool for everyone and every dog in every situation. And the only way to find what’s right for you and your dog is a little old school trial and error. The proof of this is the closet full of collars, leashes and harness I have at home. Stuff I tried but, for whatever reason, just didn’t work for me.

You need to try some stuff out and make an educated decision on what works best for you. To get you started here’s my take on ten of the more common leash walking tools out there (in on particular order).

.

1. Flat Collar

flat collar

A flat collar is probably the most common type of collar used, is typically made of nylon or leather, and has either a buckle or plastic closure. The leash is made of similar material and attached to the leash by a metal clasp. For me, no matter what kind of training collar and leash people use initially, they should work towards eventually being able to walk their dogs with a flat leash and collar.

.

2. Choke Chain

A metal choke collar constricts around a dog’s neck when he pulls, causing pressure on his windpipe. This can cause the dog some discomfort and limit his ability to breathe. I never use choke collars and think they are more of an old-school, outdated tool. With all the other choices out there, I see no real need to ever use this type of collar.

.

3. Martingale Collar

This type of collar is designed for breeds which have heads that are the same widths as their necks (such as Greyhounds and Whippets) making it easy for these breeds to slip out of a flat collar. It’s designed so that it tightens around the dog’s neck when pulled. Unlike the choke chain, which applies pressure on a single point of the neck, the Martingale Collar tightens evenly around the dog’s neck, making it a much gentler tool. I use them for very fearful or anxious dogs that have a reputation of backing out of their collars. Martingale Collars should be the only type of collars used with Greyhounds and Whippets. Buy on Amazon.com

.

4. Head Collar

Head collars go over a dog’s nose and attach in the front, as opposed to most other collars, which attach in Head collarthe back. This front-attaching feature makes the dog self-correct, because every time the dog pulls he is turned backward. These types of collars take all the power away from even the most aggressively pulling dogs, enabling the handler to walk them with two fingers. This is typically the purely positive trainer’s number one choice. Although it is very effective, it’s probably my least favorite choice of collars, and I almost never recommend it. Although some trainers claim they are the most humane choice of collar, I doubt that the dogs of the world would agree. Dogs obviously hate them because they spend most of the time trying to get out of them and can cause put the dog under stress – never a good thing. And if used regularly, the dog’s fur will rub off their nose where the head collar fits. Also, I don’t like to use them on dogs that have been vilified (such as Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, and others) because uninformed people think it’s a muzzle, giving them a bad impression of what is probably a great dog.

.

5. Prong Collar

A prong collar comprises of a series of metal links with prongs which sit against a dog’s neck. When the leash is pulled, the collar tightens and the prongs dig into the dog. Big, muscular breeds don’t seem to flinch when wearing a prong (assuming you’re not yanking the hell out of it), however I still don’t like them. Yes, the pinching can make dogs walk slower, but if there are better tools and ways to train leash walking (and there are), why not use them. Also if you have a bully breed it can give people the impression that you have a scary dog that needs to be held back by big chains – these guys don’t need more bad press and the image of the prong amplifies the false stereotype.

.

6. Electric Collar

The three most popular kinds of electric electric collarcollars are shock, citronella and vibration collars. Shock collars deliver an electric shock to the dog (usually by a remote control) when the dog makes a mistake. Citronella collars spray a burst of the distasteful chemical citronella in the dog’s face when does something unwanted (this is most commonly used to deter barking). Vibrating collars will, as you would expect, vibrate to correct the dog. I don’t think that electric collars are very good for the dog and can, in fact, cause additional anxiety issues. They are typically used by people who are looking for a quick fix and who don’t want to spend the time required to properly train their dog. The big problem with these is that their use often creates some negative side effects, such as fear and anxiety. I personally don’t like any treatments that comes with adverse side effects.

.

7. Rear-attaching Harness

These harnesses go around the dog’s midsection Clash of the titanswith the leash attaching on the back of the dog. For dogs that pull, this is the worst choice, because the chest is the strongest part of the dog and using this type of collar actually empowers the dog to pull. However, for small dogs they are perfectly acceptable, and the rear-attaching harness should always be used for breeds with genetic breathing difficulties, such as Pugs and Bulldogs.

.

8. Front-attaching Harness

Front-attaching harnesses are built somewhat front attaching harnessthe same as the other harnesses, but instead of hooking the leash to the back of the dog, you attach it to the front of the dog in the center of his chest. I like this harness very much. It is similar to the head harness in that it is self-correcting – as the dog pulls forward his body is turned back in the opposite direction. Labs seem to do very well when using this harness. This kind of harness is not a good choice, however, for dogs who like to bite on leashes, since the leash can hang right in their line of view when at rest. Additionally, dogs that hesitate and are reluctant to walk will not do well with this type of harness. Buy on Amazon.com

.

9. Slip Lead

The slip lead is probably my favorite tool to use for pulling dogs, because it gives the handler very good control of the dog (which is why they are the only leash/collar used in dog shows). A slip lead is a leash and collar all-in-one. The leash is looped on one end, and this end goes around the dog’s head and is pulled snug and held in place by a stopper. This allows us to keep the lead up high close to the ears, offering the handler greater control: if you control the head, you control the dog. The farther the collar is toward the chest (the strongest part of the dog) the more control the dog possesses. Corrections made using a slip lead should be made straight up and not at an angle. This is fine if you’re tall enough to do so, but for very large dogs or for short people, the slip lead may not be very effective. Buy on Amazon.com

.

10. Retractable Leash

Hands-down the single worst thing made to walk a dog is the retractable leash. Walking is a team sport, and during the walk you need to be able to communicate with your dog.Broken Leash But how the hell do you do that if the dog is ten to sixteen feet in front of you? Almost everyone I encounter who uses a retractable leash has a relationship problem with their dog. The thing to remember is that the farther the dog is from you, the less influence you have on the dog- in fact, you’re really not even on the same walk. It’s like asking your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend to go for a walk, but walking ten feet ahead of them and attempting to communicate.

.

My top two favorites are the slip lead and the front attaching harness. I find those two are a nice balance of giving the handler a high amount of control and well tolerated by the dog. However, as I mentioned above, there is not right or wrong. If you hire me I’ll steer you away from chokes, prongs, e-collars and retractables and have you give the slip or the front harness a go.

Always remember that the tool is not a substitution for training. The goal should be to train your dog to walk nicely on a leash so that you can walk him with anything.

Let me know in the comments what your favorite collar, leash and/or harness is and why.

.

  • Jessie

    Is a shock collar okay to have for a 6 month old dog? Like will it hurt them or do anything to harm the animal?

    • Fern

      I am not a fan of shock collars because you run the risk of causing anxiety or fear – which is much worst than whatever behavior you’re trying to correct. Especially with a puppy. You want a puppy’s (and an adult dog too) world to be nothing but positive. Training can and should be fun and pain-free for both dogs and humans alike.

  • Judy

    My female beagel/boxer dog isn’t good on the leash. She pulls and get’s aggressive with other dogs A LOT (I don’t think she was ever walked before we adopted her, and she was already around 4 years old) It’s been a year now and we’ve changed leashes a few times. First we had a rear attach harness, which was the worst, then a flat collar. Finally a trainer recommended us to get a Martingale Collar, which kind of worked at first, but still isn’t the best. I was told by a neighbor that she used a Front-attaching Harness for her older rescue dog with the same issue. Would you recommend this? I don’t want to keep chaging collars, but i would get it if it works. Thanks.

    • Fern

      A front attaching harness does work pretty good for most dogs that pull and is one of my favorite choices. I think it’s definitely worth a try. However if your dog is reactive to other dogs, no tool will get rid of that. You might want to work with a trainer to show you how to manage he when she reacts. Dog reactivity is a difficult thing to treat unless you have the time and resources (other dogs that you can control to work with).

      • Judy

        Thanks for the fast reply, we worked with a trainer and she was really good for a while, then something happened (probably us going on vacation and leaving her with relatives – she also has separation anxiety) and she regressed back to being stress out and aggressive, but I guess we just have to be patience and vigilant and keep up with the training. But I will definitely look into the front harness too, Thanks again for the advice.

  • Becky

    I have a coon hound who keeps slipping his collar on his dog run any ideas on an appropriate collar to use. He is a love but very stubborn.

    • Fern

      I wouldn’t keep a collar on in his run. You don’t want to get himself caught up if he’s trying to get out of it. As he matures you can try it back on but there’s no real reason to keep on in there. Otherwise make sure it’s on tight enough. You should be able to fit 2 fingers under the collar but no more. Hope that helps.

  • Anna

    I have a very reluctant j.Russell. walk her with an extendable lead an back attaching harness,help please. Shes getting more confident and appears quite clever but stops on walks an just sits there! Only 4 mnth old. Thanks

    • Fern

      Sounds like you need to do some socialization. When you go out for a walk don’t have an agenda and let your dog lead the way. If she stops just hang out and don’t move and see what she does. Many dogs will then start to explore. Also try carrying her over to a nice grassy area with lots of smells to engage her. This may entice her to start moving as well.

  • marcia

    i have a 1 yr old male chocolate lab, very sweet dog. he goes crazy every time we walk him, i’m 5’5 and i cant handle him. we use a step-in rear attaching harness (same thing we use for our dachshunds), he leads, he pulls, he jumps at people/dogs/cars…anything, he barks at people as he’s trying to rush them. he comes across as a very vicious dog, which he’s not, at all! help!

    • http://ferndogtraining.com/ Fernando Camacho

      Your problem isn’t the leash/harness it’s your dogs behavior. What you need to do is to find out why your dogs is reacting (excitement, anxiety, possessiveness, etc.) and treat the cause. His reaction is merely the symptoms. Find a local trainer who can assess him and work on some treatment. Good luck.

  • JAY WINSTON

    I always used the extending leash with my miniature schnauzer. We never had a relationship problem. But I don’t believe I used it when he was a puppy. Once trained I gave him more freedom.

  • Kat Pharoh

    I have a 1.5 year old bull mastiff mix (90lbs) and a 4 year old lab/border collie cross (70lbs) and use front attaching harnesses on both. The lab cross seems to do well with the harness and this is actually the first really effective collar we’ve had for walks with him, but the bully (who has a personality that is very puppy-like) still manages to pull… a lot. I was pretty sure that I have had the harnesses on properly, and purchased the correct sizes, but some how it seems even with the leash attached in front, he gets it so that the front section rides up and to the left so he can continue to pull, and just walk at a slight angle, constantly bumping into me or leaning on me. He’s not trying to charge ahead or anything (unless there is a dog behind a fence that is barking very aggressively at us or a motorcycle roars by- help??), but it seems like he wants to be in my exact spot which results in him making that angled path and tripping me up. He’s very strong and I find myself having to hold the leash out to the right and up, while restraining him just to keep him from walking right in front of me- and this is major (unwanted) exercise for my arm. Why is this thing not turning him around? and is there ANY leash out there for smaller framed people (tall but lanky and long limbed) who love their big bullies?

    • http://ferndogtraining.com/ Fernando Camacho

      Hey Kat. I have one big question for you: Are you working at training your dog to walk on a leash? All leash walking collars, leashes and harnesses are just tools and should not be used as substitutes for training. Using a tool is helpful but we need to train our dogs to walk at our pathetically slow pace – and in a straight line (both of which are unnatural for dogs).

      Check out this post on how to work on training the big guy to stop yanking you around. http://ferndogtraining.com/pulling-on-leash/

      Hope it helps and thanks so much for the comment.