As the holidays approach, we often think about buying new items for our pets. We frequently go for new toys, treats, sometimes even beds, but what about a new collar, harness, or leash? With so many types available, it’s often difficult to know exactly what to choose. Let’s take a look at different collars, harnesses, and leashes and see which one might best suit your dog.
Flat Collar – the standard type of collar that all dogs should wear and to which their identification tags always should be attached. These usually come with either a buckle or snap closure. These are not particularly good for walking your dog, especially if your dog is a puller or charges other dogs or people on the street. They are best for dogs that walk very well on a leash.
Martingale Collar – fits over the dog’s neck and has an additional small loop that tightens if the dog pulls. This type of collar was originally developed for small-headed dogs where the width of the head is almost the same as the width of the neck, like greyhounds, whippets, and Shetland sheepdogs. If they pull, it tightens and prevents them from “backing out of the collar” if they become frightened. This collar works well for dogs that are only slight pullers when they walk. If the dog pulls, the loop tightens and sends the message to stop. It is not good for strong or constant pullers.
Choke Collar – stereotypical chain collar. It is a metal chain collar that tightens instantly and places pressure on the dog’s neck causing pain and discomfort when they pull. This type of collar is usually used for training purposes as it provides negative reinforcement when the dog does something undesirable, like pulling on the leash. It should not be left on the dog when not training.
Pinch, Electric, or Shock Collars – these collars are designed to inflict pain when the dog demonstrates an undesirable behavior. Again, this is known as negative reinforcement. While these collars have their beneficial uses, it is better to leave their use in the hands of professional trainers.
Harnesses come in a variety of styles and have some advantages over collars. Harnesses tend to evenly distribute weight across the dog’s chest. They are preferred for dogs that have breathing issues or collapsed tracheas as they don’t restrict breathing or put undue pressure on the neck area. Depending on the design, they can offer better control when walking your dog, discourage pulling when walking, and prevent your dog from “backing out” if suddenly frightened.
When deciding on a harness, it is important to consider several factors – adjustability, comfort, style, and affordability. As we all know, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. A fifty-pound boxer has an entirely different body shape than a fifty-pound bulldog, so it is important to select a harness that allows for these variations.
Comfort is another factor. The dog should not have any pressure on their throat or neck from the harness nor should it be causing any rub spots, especially under the armpits. Finally, while your dog may not care what they wear, we all know we want our dogs to look good, so style and cost is important. Fortunately, there are a plethora of styles available at various price points.
Web – is made of flat, webbed straps similar to those found on a flat collar. This style tends to be more prone to rub spots. Again, it is not good for a dog that tends to pull when walking.
Anti-Pull Front Clip – is a good choice for the dog that pulls when walking as the leash ring is at the front of the harness or chest of the dog. Harnesses with the leash ring at the back tend to produce an “opposition reflex,” a natural tendency to push against pressure pulling them in the opposite direction.
So, if you are using a harness with the leash ring in the back and your dog starts to pull, you pull back on the harness which tends to make your dog push into the harness (in opposition to your pulling) and pull even harder. Walks then become a battle of wills and no one has any fun.
With a front clip harness, when the dog starts to pull, the harness almost acts as a barrier and lessens the dog’s desire to pull. They tend to slow down and pull less. For many dogs, this seems like a miracle cure for pulling and makes for a more enjoyable walk.
Dual-Clip – this has a leash ring both at the back of the harness and in front of the chest. It tends to provide the best of both worlds, allowing your dog to walk easily if not pulling, but permitting you to redirect your dog if they start to pull. It does require a special leash with a clip at both ends and takes some practice to use efficiently. It also may be prone to causing rub spots.
Vest – is usually composed of a mesh material and looks almost like clothing – like your dog is wearing a vest. The leash ring is at the back usually at the lower part of the neck or farther down along the spine. This style tends to chafe less at the armpits. It is often used on smaller dogs and is not good for any dogs that tend to pull.
Head Halter – is a halter that fits over the dog’s head, one strap sitting snugly behind the ears and the other strap fitting over the muzzle with the leash ring under the chin. It works on the same principle as a horse halter in that the dog will follow the direction of his head. This is a good choice for dogs that are strong pullers, for which the anti-pull harnesses don’t work. It is also good for reactive dogs, large dogs, and dogs walked by people of limited strength. When the dog starts to pull, it pulls the dog’s head down and toward the walker, giving the walker more control.
While the head halter may look like a muzzle, it is not a muzzle. Dogs still can open their mouths, eat, drink, carry a toy and bite. It is not a good choice for dogs with pushed-in snouts. The other drawback is dogs tend to not like this initially and balk at wearing it. You will need to work with your dog and this type of halter before taking them out for walks in it. Do not use a retractable leash when using a head halter.
There are a wide variety and style of leashes available on the market, some being better than others.
Standard – is the usual type of leash with which everyone is familiar. They range in length from 4 – 8 feet with a clip to attach to the collar at one end and a loop to hold at the other end. The materials used for the leash can be flat web, rolled rope, chain link, or leather. It is important that the weight of the leash be comparable to the weight of the dog and comfortable for the walker. A good quality leash will last for years so don’t skimp on this item.
Bungee – is a stretchable leash that gives and takes while your dog moves about. While it may seem like a good idea, allowing your dog to bounce around as they walk offers little to no control and your dog learns nothing about walking properly.
Retractable – allows your dog to wander, sometimes as far as 20-30 feet while walking. The leash could be flat webbing or very thin and rope like. This is usually ineffective for walking as the changes of releasing and retracting do not occur quickly enough to readily control the dog. Consequently, it can lead to some unfortunate or dangerous situations. Free ranging can allow your dog to interact with another dog that may not be friendly and result in a fight. The long length of the leash allows for easy entanglement both for the dog and the walker and even others that may be met during the walk. There have been several instances where the walker has suffered serious rope burns or even severe lacerations or amputations of fingers from being entangled in this type of leash. It also will give your dog the impression that they are in control of the walk which is not the message you want to convey. Most dog trainers and pet professionals are not in favor of retractable leashes and discourage their use.
As you can see there are a gamut of choices for collars, harnesses, and leashes. You will be sharing many years with your four-footed friend, so it is worth the time and money to invest in good quality items. Remember, you don’t have to stick with just one type of collar or harness. Try different styles or colors. Have more than one for different situations and occasions. The important thing is that you select the type of product most suitable for you and your dog’s needs. Anything to make the walks with your dog easier and safer will help both of you to live happier, healthier lives.