Written by Amanda, Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital’s Certified Behaviour Therapist
With the wide variety of leashes and collars available in pet stores today, I am often asked how to go about choosing the right leash and collar for your dog. The simple answer is to choose a strong, comfortable collar and leash that are easy to use, gentle to wear, and make your walks with your pet an enjoyable exercise.
As a veterinary behaviour therapistand dog lover, I often recommend using any of the excellent tools on the list below for a safe, gentle, and fun walk with your dog.
- Balance Harness: This harness is designed to have your dog’s leash attach to the front of the harness, at your dog’s chest. When your dog tries to lunge or pull forward, the harness actually turns their body back toward you by shifting their centre of balance. In order to continue moving forward, your dog has to stop pulling to regain its centre of balance, effectively stopping them from pulling. This harness is unlike typical body harnesses which allow dogs to push their weight into the harness actually making it more difficult to control powerful dogs.
Note: Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital keeps the Balance Harness stocked in sizes ranging from extra extra small (for those strong Chihuahuas out there) to extra-large for dogs greater than 100 pounds.
- Head Halter: Although there are many different brands with minor design differences to each of them, head halters generally provide good control over your dog’s head, which in turn allows you to control the rest of their body on walks much more easily.
Caution: Although not designed to cause pain or fear, dogs not properly desensitized to a head halter may experience anxiety while wearing one. Gradual acclimation to the new head halter is recommended if you notice your dog’s anxiety during the first use.
Caution: Can lead to serious injury if you use leash corrections, such as those used with a choke chain, while your dog is wearing this equipment.
- Flat Collar and Leash: For a dog who already has some control on leash and doesn’t pull, the best equipment to use is a simple flat collar and leash. These are simple and affordable tools which are also handy for displaying your dog’s identification tags and keeping your pooch close to you and under control.
- Martingale Collar: For those dogs with larger necks and smaller heads who may be able to slip out of a typical collar, a Martingale Collar is a great alternative which tightens when the leash is pulled without choking or pinching the dog’s neck.
- Positive Reinforcement: No matter which collar and leash on the above list you end up choosing, one of the most effective tools for pleasant walks and to encourage good walking behaviours and habits in your furry friend, is positive reinforcement. Treats, toys, and positive attention work wonders with an animal who desires to please you and be rewarded.
There are some tools that are unsafe, painful, or frightening for your dog. We cannot recommend their use, and are happy to schedule an appointment to discuss alternatives, including training, behavioural conditioning, and safe and effective alternative tools (see above).
Tools to avoid:
- Prong/Pinch collars, Shock Collars, and Pinch Body Harnesses: These are tools which use pain or fear to control your dog. They are not recommended, as inappropriate use can result in serious animal welfare concerns.
Note: If this degree of force and discomfort is needed to gain control over your dog, it is strongly recommended that you consult with a positive reinforcement behaviour therapist.
- Choke Chain/Chain link collar: These collars can cause serious neck and trachea injury to dogs if they surge forward or are forcefully corrected. Easily and very frequently misused simply as a choking device, they are often sized incorrectly and frequently put on dogs incorrectly so that they don’t release properly when tension is removed.
Alternative: A Martingale Collar is a hybrid between a choke chain and flat collar that tightens when the leash is pulled without choking or pinching the dog’s neck.
- Any Tool Causing Pain or Fear: Using pain or fear to control your dog is not appropriate, and is likely to encourage additional bad habits and behaviours related to the pain, fear, anxiety, and mistrust caused by the use of these tools.
Alternative: Training classes for you and your dog, behavioural conditioning for your dog, and positive reinforcement techniques.
- Retractable Leashes: Although these leashes can allow your dog more freedom to roam while you enjoy a leisurely pace, they greatly reduce your control if you are attempting to train your dog to walk on a loose leash. It is often necessary to have both hands free to use treats and other training methods while walking our dogs, and a retractable leash takes up one whole hand on its own. Retractable leashes are also designed to constantly apply pressure against your dog’s collar or harness, which prevents your dog from being able to stop pulling. This makes it impossible for them to offer a “loose leash”, the behaviour you desire.
Alternative: A typical flat leash can be slipped around your wrist for safety and convenience, allowing you the use of both hands, and allows your dog to offer a loose leash while walking.
An additional word about creating good walks with your dog and encouraging positive walking habits in your pup. Any punishment based training to obtain a loose leash or other positive walking behaviours from your dog is not recommended. Additional behaviour problems can actually be created and reinforced by the use of fear and pain in training.
Some dogs will learn to stop pulling, wandering, or becoming distracted only when the correction is applied. Others may continue to behave poorly despite the pain and discomfort. In addition, a possible serious consequence is that each unpleasant correction may make the dog more anxious so that it becomes afraid of having its collar applied or becomes increasingly fearful and conflicted about going for walks. Another serious consequence is that owners who give corrections each time the dogs pulls, wanders, or gets distracted (such as when meeting new people or new dogs) may actually be causing their dog to become more fearful and anxious in the future during similar situations. These techniques also often require excessive physical force, limiting which members of the family can share in the responsibility of walking the dog.
If your dog reacts in an aggressive manner towards other people or pets on walks, it is highly recommended that you contact a positive reinforcement behavior therapist to develop a plan to work with your dog.