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
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 the 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 collars 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 with 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 the 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. 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.