Collars, Leashes and Harnesses

Equipment — Collars, Leashes and Harnesses

There is an extensive variety of tools available to make easier the job of teaching your dog to walk on leash politely. For training purposes, you’ll need to outfit your dog with a well-fitting collar (for most dogs) and at least a couple of leashes. The type of collar you use for training will depend on your dog, or you may use an alternative to a collar, like a head collar or body harness.

Dog Collars

The wide array of collars in your local pet store can be a little overwhelming, but with a little experimentation, and possibly an open mind, you’ll find the perfect training collar for your dog. The following are several options:

  • Buckle Collars: These are leather, nylon, or fabric collars, sometimes adjustable, that fasten with a buckle or snap. You’ll need this collar to hold your dog’s tags, for the follow me game described later in this chapter, and maybe even for leash walking. This collar is not recommended for strong pullers because the pressure it can apply to the trachea can hurt such dogs.
  • Martingale Collars: These are also called no-slip or greyhound collars. They are especially good for dogs whose heads are smaller than their necks, since they are designed to keep dogs from backing out of them. Made of nylon, chain, or a combination of the two, they deliver a very mild correction by delivering pressure equally around the neck. Unless your dog is already a strong, habitual puller, this collar is an excellent choice for leash walking.
  • Choke Collars: Most often made of chain, but also available in nylon, this collar is the traditional choice for teaching leash walking. To be a safe and effective choice, the owner has to put the collar on correctly (it should form a “P” from the owner’s perspective before being slipped over the dog’s head), and have impeccable timing in its application. This collar has been losing favor in recent years due to the evolution of other training methods.
  • Prong Collars: Although these collars unfortunately look like medieval torture devices, they are actually much safer and (arguably) more humane than traditional choke collars. Like a martingale collar with rounded prongs for “power steering,” they are the collar of choice for strong pullers or dogs with collapsing tracheas. Unless your dog has a very heavy coat, use the small size and add or subtract links to fit. Buy only the Herm Sprenger brand and let a trainer or knowledgeable person help you fit it properly.
  • Head Collars: Gentle Leader and Halti are the major brands of head collars. More like a horse’s halter, these devices use the principle of controlling the dog’s muzzle to control the rest of the dog. They can be very helpful in controlling strong or aggressive dogs, but are more of a management device than a training one when it comes to leash walking. Head collars require an adjustment period, and some dogs never stop fighting them.

Take your dog into the store to fit her collar. Buckle and prong collars should fit mid way on the neck, with just enough room for two fingers to fit between the collar and the neck. Choke and martingale collars should ride higher up, just under the ears to be effective, but must have enough slack for the “pop” action and to fit over your dog’s head. Refer to the manufacturers’ directions for fitting head collars.

Dog Leashes

You’ll need at least two leashes for training purposes. For long-line walking, you’ll need a 15-foot leash, and for regular walks and normal day-to-day control, you’ll need a 6-foot leash. Your 15-foot leash should be made of cotton or mountain-climbing rope — whatever you prefer the feel of. For your 6-foot leash, you just can’t beat a good leather leash, and a well-cared for one will last generations.

For multiple reasons, retractable leashes should never be used for walking untrained dogs, not the least of which is the message they send to your dog about your relationship, which, if he’s leading the way, is the wrong message. In addition, the constant tension that they produce on the collar actually teaches your dog to pull. While they are useful tools for recall and potty training (you can even snap one on your dog on potty breaks during walks), they shouldn’t be used to walk dogs that don’t yet have leash respect.

If you’re not good about making sure your dog keeps his mouth off your leash, use cheaper cotton until your dog matures. Thin nylon and decorative leashes may look cute, but they’re anti-productive, not to mention often painful, for training purposes. If the leash doesn’t feel good in your hand, it’s useless.

Dog Harnesses

There are a few basic types of harnesses. Some are simply a way to keep hold of the dog while he drags his hapless owner down the street. These are cases where people felt sorry for their dog who was quite literally choking on a collar, but for some reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t train the dog not to pull.

There are also a couple of pulling-management harnesses available that use pressure points to discourage the dog from pulling. They vary in effectiveness depending on the dog. Like head collars, they are management, rather than training, devices, and the dog often has to use the device forever.

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