It’s easy to be swayed by trendy dog collars and harnesses out there. But does your dog have the type that best fits their needs? The wide variety of shapes and categories can be intimidating to browse through, so here’s a quick breakdown of some of the more common ones you’ll see in stores!
Traditional collars are the most commonly available, and with the most variety, and for good reason. A dog that walks well on a leash generally has no problems with regular collars, and there are plenty of fashionable options! (You will notice Max is sporting a Coach collar). They’re easy to use and convenient. However, correct sizing is incredibly important. You don’t want it so loose that it can slip over their head, but you also don’t want it so tight that it hurts their neck. Generally, you want to be able to fit two fingers under the collar. Three fingers is too loose, one might be too constricting. And regardless of sizing, a dog who needs leash training would be better served by other options with stronger pull-deterring features. The key is to know your dog’s behavior well!
A variation on the traditional collar is the Martingale. This is like a regular collar, with a mostly fabric length, and rests loosely on the neck. The big difference is that it includes a loop that tightens as they pull harder on their leash. This is a milder version of the full choke collar, which does not have a limit to how much it tightens. Choke collars can be dangerous since some dogs may not get the message and essentially pull through the uncomfortableness and can be injured.
The Martingale is a compromise on that idea and you can set an exact tightness to it. Through proper training, they will walk and keep the collar relaxed, and they know that pulling causes the loop to tighten. However it’s important to recognize whether or not your dog reacts properly to that. It’s safer than the full choke, but it’s important to be cautious.
This is a very common type of harness, and there is a large assortment of styles, but the basic fit is one hole for each leg, and the leash clips between their shoulders on their back. Sometimes it’s just straps buckled together, but it can also be made of mesh that rests on their neck or on their chest to work as a cushion. If your dog doesn’t pull much, but you’re worried about using a neck collar, this is a good solution that is easy to use. The primary negative is that it doesn’t work well as a pull deterrent. A dog who pulls will generally just lean into the harness as much as they want without a built-in repercussion.
For dogs with good leash skills, it’s a solid way to steer your dog on a walk while keeping them comfortable. Make sure it’s properly tightened though! Always read the manual to see how tight it should be, and where elements of the harness (like the shoulder rings in the picture) should line up with their body. You don’t want it to slip over their head or for them to slip their legs out.
If your dog is a puller and you use an aversive collar (choke, prong, shock), these next two harnesses are great positive reinforcement alternatives that teach your dog how to walk well on a leash and they experience no pain.
The head halter (most popular brand being the Gentle Leader) is a highly effective pull-prevention aid. Some dogs are able to “muscle through” collars and harnesses to keep pulling, but that behavior typically stops entirely when using this. Instead of simply making pulling harder, when they pull your dogs head turns his whole body around. He feels like he is not getting anywhere, and thus stops pulling. The big “but” here is that it has to be consistently used in order for your dog to become acclimated to it. Sometimes a dog will scratch at it when they start using it, either because they don’t like the feel of it on their snout, or because they don’t like their movements being redirected so easily. With training and patience, they can become exceptional walkers while using the head halter. It may take the most perseverance to use, but it may also have the best results in the long run. It’s also worth noting that these are not muzzles! It’s sometimes mistaken for that, but your dog can drink, eat, play with a ball, etc.
Front Lead Harness
The front-lead harness (Easy Walk is the most popular brand) is likely the most popular “no-pull” variety of training harness, or anything other kind of walking aid, and for good reason. The obvious difference between this and the step-in is that you clip your leash on their chest. This means that if they pull, the harness forces them to turn to their side, and they’ll turn around completely. (Same idea as the Gentle Leader above). So they learn to stop pulling in order to not get redirected. If you’re training for leash reaction, this means it’s very easy to turn them around to face you and focus on you.
The Easy Walk also gets a special mention for having a small Martingale loop on the front attachment, which squeezes the harness and their shoulders together when they’re pulling. It’s also worth repeating the importance of correct fit here – you generally want a one finger tightness, the odd-colored strap should be under their legs, and the shoulder rings (brand dependent) should be in the correct place. Fitting a front lead harness is often more important than other harnesses to ensure they can’t slip out.
Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a perfect collar or harness that works for every dog. They all have pros and cons. You have to know your dog, and know their behavior needs. If you stop by a pet supply store, they may have some on hand that you’re able to try out! The ones listed here are the most common ones, but don’t be afraid to try something new that you’ve never seen before. Maybe it’ll be perfect for your pooch. Just check those instructions about correct fit!
If you need advice from us dog walking pros, contact us and we can help you get the harness/collar that is best for your dog!