Collar, Harness, & Halter, Oh My!

What type of dog harness or collar is the best?There are a lot of choices when it comes to col­lars and har­nesses and even more opin­ions about each.  From hav­ing the oppor­tu­nity to see all sorts of equip­ment being used for all sorts of pur­poses, here is the low down on what these tools are best (and some­times worst) used for.

Flat col­lars in gen­eral are great safe options for hold­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and for walk­ing trained dogs.  They do noth­ing to assist with train­ing and actu­ally encour­age pulling on leash by stim­u­lat­ing a dog’s oppo­si­tion reflex (his nat­ural instinct to resist pressure).

      — Buckle col­lars are safe sturdy col­lars great for car­ry­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, for man­ag­ing very strong dogs, for com­fort when pulling in sports where it is part of train­ing, or for long-term wear around the house or when safely teth­ered.  Just as with any col­lar they need to be prop­erly fit­ted to pre­vent then slip­ping off and may not be the best choice dur­ing dog-dog play as they are hard to remove quickly should a tan­gle occur.

      — Mar­tin­gale col­lars are a great col­lar choice for escape artists that fre­quently attempt to slip col­lars.  They gen­er­ally slide over the dogs head, then are fit­ted.  They usu­ally have no clasp to fal­ter and pro­vide a gen­tle even cinch should a dog pull away or try to escape.

      — Quick-release col­lars are a good choice for off-leash play or for around the house wear.  Because they can, well, release quickly, they are not a good choice for walk­ing strong or aggres­sive dogs as acci­dents do hap­pen espe­cially with plas­tic parts.

Correction/Aversive Col­lars are intended to apply an unpleas­ant con­se­quence to pulling or behav­ing poorly such as pinch­ing, pain, or restric­tion of air pas­sages.  They should be used only dur­ing a train­ing pro­gram with the inten­tion of mov­ing to a reg­u­lar col­lar when train­ing pro­gresses.  They are in no way a sub­sti­tute for training.

      — Choke chains are intended to be used on a loose leash so they take some skill to exe­cute good tim­ing.  They work by jerk­ing or apply­ing pres­sure to a dog’s neck.  Because of the expe­ri­ence they require to be effec­tive, they are used mainly with for­mal obe­di­ence dogs and have become less pop­u­lar with the gen­eral public.

      — Pinch/Prong Col­lars work by apply­ing an even amount of pressure/pain to a dog’s neck using a ring of small metal prongs fac­ing inward.  They need to be prop­erly fit­ted to be effec­tive and some dogs develop a tol­er­ance to them even then.  They are most effec­tive when used only to give cor­rec­tions and in con­junc­tion with a sec­ond leash attached to a flat col­lar (mean­ing the dog only feels the prongs when being corrected).

      — Shock col­lars are intended to offer a wide range of dif­fer­ent aver­sive lev­els (from mild stim­u­la­tion to an intense hard shock) to a dog when off-leash.  Shocks can be deliv­ered for short inter­vals or con­tin­u­ously.  Shock col­lars are most effec­tive when used infre­quently and in a vari­ety of novel envi­ron­ments.  An expe­ri­enced trainer is rec­om­mended as tim­ing is para­mount and com­pli­ance from the dog must be assured.  When used improp­erly or used unsu­per­vised (like bark or elec­tric fence col­lars), shock col­lars can cause an immense amount of psy­cho­log­i­cal and behav­ioral dam­age.   It can be chal­leng­ing to set the stim­u­la­tion level at an amount where it is heavy enough to mod­ify the behav­ior but mild enough to pre­vent trauma.  For this rea­son shock col­lars are most effec­tive when train­ing behav­iors that would be offered nat­u­rally in response to fear or pain such as recalls and emer­gency downs (a dog would nat­u­rally flat­ten to the ground when scared but not nat­u­rally per­form a for­mal obe­di­ence front).

Head Hal­ters can be a fan­tas­tic option for unruly, reac­tive, or extremely strong dogs.  They take some con­di­tion­ing before intro­duc­tion but can offer an unsur­passed amount of con­trol.  Unfor­tu­nately, some dogs find accli­ma­tion dif­fi­cult or are just over­all sub­dued by any facial pres­sure.  Occa­sion­ally a dog becomes skilled at slip­ping even a prop­erly fit­ted head hal­ter.  For these rea­sons it is best used with a double-ended leash to main­tain another point of con­tact so that pres­sure can be released from the hal­ter and to pro­vide more instruc­tion to the dog.

Har­nesses come in all shapes, sizes, and sorts but are gen­er­ally intended to max­i­mize com­fort for the dog and allow for the most nat­ural range of motion.  Some pro­vide com­fort when pulling such as for track­ing or weight pulling while oth­ers assist leash train­ing by min­i­miz­ing pulling.

      — Rear-attach har­nesses max­i­mize com­fort and allow for the most nat­ural move­ment on leash even when pulling.  They are gen­er­ally safe and durable.  There are a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions depend­ing on your dog’s needs.  Rear-attach har­nesses do noth­ing to pre­vent pulling but can pro­vide a good alter­na­tive to flat col­lars for chronic pullers.

      — Front attach har­nesses assist leash train­ing by turn­ing the dog’s body when pres­sure is applied to the leash.  The dog can­not line up and pull against the leash and is redi­rected when lung­ing.  For this rea­son they can be a good option for reac­tive dogs.  These har­nesses are less effec­tive when not prop­erly fit­ted and short legged or crafty dogs some­times find them easy to escape from (which is why a dual collar-harness attach­ment is rec­om­mended).  When used long-term or with­out train­ing dogs can learn to pull into them and they can inter­fere with a dog’s nat­ural movement.

How to choose?  What­ever col­lar or har­ness you choose, make sure you are com­fort­able using it and that it helps you get your dog out and walk­ing.  The Free­dom No Pull Har­ness with two attach­ment points is a good start.  If you find leash walk­ing chal­leng­ing or your dog dif­fi­cult to con­trol, con­tact a qual­i­fied dog trainer.  Just keep in mind that any equip­ment you use should assist you with your goal of a dog that is polite and eas­ily man­aged when walking.

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