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.