How To Choose The Proper Collar Or Harness For Your Dog!

Let’s take a walk!  Today, in honor of National Walk Your Dog Week we are going to talk about ways to make your walk with your best friend more enjoyable for everyone involved.

close up photography of french bulldogs

The top complaint from pet owners trying to walk their dogs is pulling.  There are numerous products on the market designed to help with pulling, but how do you know which one to use?  This is yet another time I will say “an ounce of prevention goes a long way”.  Dogs innately do not know they should not pull on a leash; so, if no one ever taught them differently it’s a tough habit to break.

So, let’s start with some tips:

  • Having a collar and leash on is often a new feeling for puppies. Most of the time if you leave the collar on them after about 24 hours they will stop bothering with it.  Having a leash on is a different story.  Suddenly having someone applying pressure, telling them to go a different way, can be daunting.
  • The first thing we recommend when you are doing training with your puppy is to have them drag a light leash behind them. That gets them used to the feeling and the weight of the leash.
    • PRO TIP: Do not keep their poop bag dispenser attached to the leash while training; they are big and clunky and can be frightening for puppies.
  • Next, encourage your puppy to follow you. If they are pulling ahead or refusing to move forward, then stop putting the pressure on the leash and instead get down to their level and make it fun to follow you.  Use treats, toys, or even a stick or leaf nearby that they might be interested in to entice them to follow you and reward them when they do!
  • Avoid picking up your dog if they are refusing to move unless you feel they are so overwhelmed/scared that they don’t want to move. The last thing you want is to carry an 80-pound Labrador home because they didn’t feel like walking anymore!!
  • Also, avoid continuing to go forward when/if the puppies are pulling on the leash. Again, we don’t want to reinforce bad habits.  While it might be cute at 10 weeks old that they are pulling towards people to say hi, again an 80-pound Labrador pulling you over to say hi to people is no longer cute!!
    • RECAP: If they are pulling you can do several different things:
      • Start walking in a different direction
      • Stop and refuse to move forward until there is slack on the leash
      • Ask them for alternative behavior (sit, hand touch, etc.)
  • If they are pulling to go towards a person/another animal:
    • Don’t let them become “rude greeters” and rush up to a person or another dog. Some people are scared of dogs and will find this rude and potentially even scary.  Most dogs do not appreciate strange dogs barreling up to their face, this can often spark a fight between a normally friendly dog if they are greeted so abruptly and rudely.
    • In the same manner, do not let people or other dogs rush up into your dog’s face. Shy and timid dogs can find this interaction overwhelming causing them to bite or become more fearful.  Don’t ever feel bad about telling someone not to interact with your pet if you are training them or you think it might overwhelm them.  It is easier to prevent a bad interaction than to help them get over it.
    • Again, if they are pulling towards something else ask them to sit first and then reward them when they stay in position while either the person/dog either passes or comes towards them. If they get up from the position, then ask the person to stop coming towards you and reset the dog in the sit position.  Only let them say hi when they are listening and remaining sitting or lying down.  We suggest having a release word to let the dog know they are ok to interact with the person or dog.

black dog close up photography

Now let’s do a brief overview of the different types of equipment you can use for walking your dog:

  • Martingale collar – these types of collars will cinch down when pressure is applied but have a stopping point so they cannot choke the dog. These collars are ideal for dogs with big necks and smaller heads, like greyhounds, that could easily slip out of a regular buckle collar.  These come in a variety of either all fabric, chain, or a combination of the two.  We recommend the fabric ones as they are least likely to cause damage to a dog’s airway if they are continuously pulling.
  • Gentle leader/Halti – these types of head halters/collars use the same principle of using a halter on a horse. When the dog pulls pressure is applied to the weakest point of its neck (right behind its ears) and then they are turned back to look at you.  These are especially nice for dogs who cannot wear a collar or harness for either medical or behavioral reasons.  These are nice in that the dog can still pant, drink and eat treats with them on.  Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, etc. should not wear gentle leaders because they cannot be properly fitted to them and risk putting too much pressure around their eyes and nose (causing elevated eye pressures or trouble breathing).
    • PRO TIP: Many dogs have a strong aversion when these are first used because of the strap that goes over the nose.  Heavy positive reinforcement can help them get used to it.  We recommend feeding them with the gentle leader for at least the first week to help increase the positive association with it.
  • Regular harness (clips over the back) – these harnesses are not designed to help with pulling. In fact, for dogs who already pull hard on the leash, a regular harness will often allow them to pull even harder because they get can leverage from their chest and front legs to pull.  Dogs with a collapsing trachea, Brachycephalic breeds, etc. are the best choice for walking because they do not put any pressure on the airway even with pulling.
  • Easy walk/front clip harness – these harnesses put pressure on the dogs’ shoulders when they pull to encourage them to stop. Like the gentle leader, having the clip in the front also works to redirect the dog back towards you when they are pulling.  These should not be used on dogs with shoulder problems.
  • Prong collar – these collars work by putting pressure on the dogs’ necks giving them a “correction” when they pull. To be effective when the dog starts to pull a “correction” should be given that is a quick snap and release.  The collars become ineffective when you have continuous pressure on them because the dogs learn to “pull through the pain”.  These collars should not be used on dogs with spinal or airway problems.  Also, if not used properly, the constant pressure on the neck and airway can cause future breathing problems.

Check out our tips from Dr. Loeffler during her Facebook Series Lunch with the Vet!

It is important to mention that any training tool if used improperly can cause problems.  If you have trouble walking your dog, we recommend you either contact a trainer or our office to enroll in an upcoming training class.  Let’s get back to enjoying walks with your dog!

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