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 no one right tool. There is only the right one for you. No two people or two dogs are the same 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.
Okay, 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. A leash to go with this collar is made of similar material and attached to the leash by a metal clasp. It’s simple and just plain works.
I prefer the buckle collars instead of the ones that use a plastic quick release clasp. Those collars tend to loosen up as tension is placed on the collar which can cause your dog to slip out of the collar.
The flat collar will not aid you if you dog pulls but it’s not meant to be a training tool. For me, no matter what kind of training collar and leash you use initially, you should work towards eventually being able to walk your dogs with a plain flat leash and collar. It takes training but hey, that’s to be expected.
2. Choke Chain
A metal choke collar constricts around a dog’s neck when he pulls, causing pressure on his windpipe. This will cause the dog some discomfort and limit his ability to breathe. They are one of the first “training tools” invented by humans to help control dogs on leash.
These are the dinosaurs of the dog training world and I’m baffled as to why they’re still around. I mean, we’ve learned so much in the decades since these were first introduced, plus we’ve got so many more advanced, more humane and more effective ways to work with our dog’s on leash.
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. If you have one, don’t worry – I won’t judge you. Just go throw it in the garbage right now and pick one of the many more useful tools available.
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 but 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. If these dogs slip out of their collar you may never get them back.
If you have a Greyhound or Whippet you should only use a Martingale collars. However, they can work just fine on all dogs if you like the style. Because you need to keep them a little big to fit over the head of the dog they can sit kind of low on the neck (similar to a flat collar) and won’t help you that much if your dog is a puller.
4. Head Collar
Head collars, as opposed to most other collars, attach in the front right under the dog’s chin. This front-attaching feature causes the dog self-correct leash pulling because every time the dog pulls he is turned around toward the back.
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 dog 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.
Many trainers claim they are the most humane choice of collar, but 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.
I once worked with a dog reactive dog that the owner had on a head collar and I could see how uncomfortable and stressed the dog was wearing it. Once I removed the collar and put him on a slip lead (see below) he immediately relaxed and was so much less reactive. True story.
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.
Because they work so well I do recommend them if you are physically outmatched with your dog. That dog reactive dog I mentioned was a strong Pit Bull being walked by a petite women and there was no way she was going to be able to hold on to that tank with a regular collar or harness, so she needs to use it (even though it’s making the reactivity worse).
5. Prong Collar
A prong collar comprises of a series of metal links with prongs (there is also a plastic one available as well) which sit against a dog’s neck. When the leash is pulled, the collar tightens and the prongs dig into the dog causing discomfort.
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, however whenever you introduce something negative to your dog you take a chance at causing behavioral side effects like anxiety and fear – which are way worse than leash pulling.
I say if there are better tools and ways to train leash walking (and there are), why not use them. Also, once again, 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 great dogs don’t need more bad press and the image of the prong amplifies the false stereotype.
6. Electric Collar
Electric collars (also called e-collars) come in three varieties: shock, citronella and vibration. 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 – called a “bark collar”). Vibrating collars will, as you would expect, vibrate to correct the dog.
If you’re with me this far you can probably guess my feeling on e-collars. I don’t like them one bit. They are typically used by people who are looking for a short cut to training. It’s and “easy button” – the diet pill of dog training. And much like diet pills although they may have an immediate effect, they don’t have a great long term success rate and often come with side serious effects.
As I mentioned earlier their use often creates some negative side effects, such as fear and anxiety. Let’s say your dog is reactive toward other dogs when walked on a leash so you strap a e-collar on and zap him every time he barks at another dog. Sounds simple, however you’re assuming he’s going to associate the negative stimulus (the shock) with the bark. BUT what if he connects the bad consequence with the other dog instead and now hates dogs even more because every time he’s around one something bad happens.
Don’t go for the shortcut. Take the time to work with your dog on leash and enjoy the long term results.
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 so the harness actually empowers the dog to pull. They actually have contests where the strap dogs to harnesses and see how much weight they can pull.
For small dogs that aren’t going to pull you off your feet they are acceptable although they may enable the dog to pull. If you’ve got a big dog that is good on leash and you prefer to use this kind or harness, that’s perfectly cool. It’s only an issue for dogs that like to pull.
The rear-attaching harness should always be used for breeds with genetic breathing difficulties, such as Pugs and Bulldogs. We’ve designed these poor guys so poorly that they are struggling for breadth under normal circumstances, so you don’t want to put anything around their necks that could restrict airflow.
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. So, much like the head collar, when the dog pulls forward he gets turned around.
This is one of my favorite leash walking tools. It usually works really well without putting stress on the dog or require much physical force from us. It can even enable children to be able to walk a large dog (assuming they don’t see a squirrel running by).
This kind of harness is not always a good choice, however, for dogs who like to bite on leashes. Since the leash hangs right in their line of sight it’s too tempting for these guys not to go for it. Additionally, I don’t recommend them for dogs that hesitate and are reluctant to walk because it’s possible for them to back out of them. Buy on Amazon.com
9. Slip Lead
The slip lead is one of my favorite tool to use for pulling dogs, because if fitted properly it gives the handler very good control of the dog. Every dog in every dog show is walked on a slip lead because of this.
Basically 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 is the important part – not all slip lead have stoppers and those without them won’t help you much). 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. NOT a snap but gentle pressure and release. The important part is not the tension, it’s the release because you want a relaxed leash at much as possible.
Much like the Martingale collar it’s impossible for dogs to slip out of them making them great for those escape artists. It’s also the leash that should be used if you volunteer or work with shelter dogs because it’s easy to slip on and off and in the event the dog gets grumpy with you you can control the dog better (I’ve been saved from some very serious bites because of a slip leash).
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10. Retractable Leash
I saved the worst for last. Hands-down the single worst invention every created in the dog world 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 can you do that if the dog is ten to sixteen feet in front of you? You’re actually not even on the same walk.
The thing to remember is that the farther away your dog is from you, the less influence you have on what he does. 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.
Plus they are a major safety hazard. Many people get their fingers and hands cut up trying to grab the lead when they need to reel in their dog. Don’t believe me? Go to Google Images and search “retractable leash accidents” and witness the carnage.
If you’re in a field or large open area and want to give your dog some room to explore then I can see using it, however they have no place in suburbia.
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’s no one tool for everyone and you might not know what works best for you until you experiment a bit.
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. That takes time, patience and practice. Remember walking at our slow, straight line pace is opposite of what your dog’s instincts are telling him. So cut him some slack and start working with your dog to teach him some leash manners.