Hey everybody! I was thinking the other day that I know how confusing it can be for new dog owners to buy a collar or harness, and leash for their new dog. I've seen clients go through at least a dozen leash, collar/harness systems and spend a lot of money in the process. This is why I had my friend David interview me about dog collars, harnesses, and leashes, so you have a resource to turn to when you’re buying them for your dog.
David: What advice do you have for a new dog owner?
Jason: First of all, the most important thing to recognize is that all dogs are not created equal. You should try and buy the right collar or harness that matches your dog's personality. Dogs that jump or lunge at people as they walk should have a certain collar or harness. Old, middle-aged dogs, or puppies should have a different kind of collar or harness. Of course, It also depends on their body size and weight, and your physical strength. I would always like to meet a dog and get a feel for them before I decided what’s right for them.
Also, before you buy a collar or harness, try it on your dog in the pet store. You're usually allowed to do this. The collar or harness needs to fit correctly and be snug. It should be tightened to the point where you can only fit two fingers between your dog and the collar or harness because I've seen dogs slip out of harnesses before. All collars and harnesses are adjustable so make sure it fits correctly in the store before you buy it.
David: What kinds of harnesses do you recommend?
Jason: Well, first let me explain the different kinds of harnesses. A front clip harness, which is also called a No-Pull harness, clips to the front of a dog’s chest, so when you correct the dog, you’re pulling it back toward you from its front legs. This creates more leverage for you.
A back clip harness, which clips to the dog’s back, is the traditional kind of harness. There's also an Easy Walk harness, which has clips for both the front and back of a dog.
There are also different ways to put a harness on your dog. There are harnesses that slip on over the dog’s head and harnesses that go on from underneath a dog’s legs. As a dog walker, I don't like “under the leg” harnesses. I'll tell you why—when we enter a house, usually the dogs are so excited to see us. They might be jumping on us or running around the apartment. While this is always very cute, I’m usually in a pinch for time because I may have other dogs waiting. It's hard to apply “under the leg” harnesses because you have to get the dog to stay still while you're fighting gravity. This is why I prefer “over the head” harnesses. You're literally just dropping it over their head, using gravity to your advantage.
When walking a dog with a harness, it’s all about leverage. You don't have to be strong. You just have to know how to get leverage on your dog. A front clip, or No-Pull harness, could be used for a dog that pulls forward, lunges, or has leash aggression. If the dog is pulling forward, you will use your leverage against the front of the dog’s legs to pull it back toward you. Back clip harnesses are good for calmer dogs, older dogs, or small dogs who are low to the ground. A front clip harness on a small dog isn’t the best option because the leash will constantly get tangled under the dog’s legs.
David: Do you recommend harnesses for puppies?
Jason: Definitely for puppies. A back clip harness is the way to go for puppies. Never use collars for a puppy because their necks are still developing, and they're very sensitive. You wouldn't want to do any damage to their trachea.
Also, always use harnesses for pugs or other kinds of dogs with respiratory problems: bulldogs, pugs, French bulldogs, and some Boston Terriers.
David: How about an “Easy Walk” harness? When would you recommend that?
Jason: I like the Easy Walk harness for a few reasons. You apply it over the dog’s head, which I like, and it has clips on the front or the back of a dog, which makes it an all in one harness. Since it has a clip in the front, you can easily keep your excited dog from pulling. When your dog mellows out, you can just flip it the other way and clip to their back for an easier stroll. This is also good for puppies since you can switch between back clip and front clip whenever needed.
One thing about an Easy Walk harness that I would be careful about though, is that some dogs can slip out of them because of the way they are designed. I would always make sure that it fits very snug and use a back up collar if necessary. In general, we use back up - safety collars with every dog because collars and harnesses can malfunction or break, and leash clips can break. I've seen this happen more than once. Another simple safety solution is to attach a carabiner to your dog’s harness and collar. This way if one fails the other is still attached.
David: What kind of collars do you recommend?
Jason: Again, there are many different types of collars so I would basically assess your dog’s needs and decide what's right for them. Here’s a list of the basic types of collars. There’s the flat buckle collar, which is the simplest collar. It’s usually made of nylon or leather, and has a metal ring to hang ID tags on it. There’s the Martingale, which, rather than having a buckle, has a loop that can tighten around the dog’s neck to give you some control. It doesn’t choke the dog because it tightens equally around the dog’s neck to just give them the information they need. The Martingale is generally considered a more humane version of the choke collar, which has a chain or fabric loop that tightens around the dog’s neck when pulled.
The prong collar is generally for stronger, aggressive and/or excited dogs. It has wide links in the chain with two flat prongs that angle towards the dog’s neck. When you pull the leash, the prongs tighten around the entire dog’s neck, like a choke or Martingale collar, but with equal, balanced pressure (information) coming from the prongs.
Finally, there are head harnesses, also called a “Halti,” or gentle leader, which are made of nylon straps that fit around your dog’s head and nose. The head harness is good for dogs that have leash aggression or dogs that are constantly eating things off the street.
If you have a generally calm, well-behaved dog, and are just going to use a collar with your dog, I always recommend a Martingale collar. Here’s why: flat buckle collars only engage one part of the neck and should just be used for ID tags. With a Martingale, the collar compresses around more of the neck, alleviating pressure on the trachea. Martingales also make it harder for a dog to slip out of its collar. The more you pull, the more it tightens.
I see a lot of dogs that have what I call ADHD. They are very excited and distracted on a leash and usually pull in all different directions—lunge, jump, etc. If you have a dog that pulls a lot and is distracted on a leash, I always recommend doing a few sessions with a trainer or at least spending some time watching leash training videos. For these types of dogs you may be able to use a Martingale collar, but I think a choke collar or prong collar might be the best way to go.
Currently, I really like the prong collar for hard cases. People look at prong collars and think they're spikes, but the teeth are rounded at the tip. You can also buy rubber tips, sold separately. Because a prong collar is raised off the dog’s neck where only the teeth are in contact, it has the ability to compress equally around the dog’s entire neck, getting their attention, where other collars just won’t. It gives them the information they need and will make it annoying for them to stay distracted. Again, it’s perfect for strong dogs that are leash reactive, leash aggressive, lunge or jump on people or other dogs. Similarly, if you're not that strong, and it's hard to control your dog, a prong collar is the way to go.
But you shouldn’t use a prong collar with puppies. They can be used with dogs older than 6 months. Again, you can use rubber tips to make them softer or put a piece of cloth between the collar and their neck. In my opinion a prong collar in many ways is safer than other collars because they are designed to take pressure off the trachea. And when your dog is walking normal and not pulling the collar disengages.
We walk a bulldog with a prong collar (at the owner’s request) because he has a tendency to chase and lunge at plastic bottles, which he will chew and swallow if left to his own devices. When he catches them he won’t give them up without a fight.
The prong collar is very effective in preventing this behavior. A “Halti”, or head harness, won’t work in this situation because bulldogs don’t have a prominent enough nose. A choke collar, Martingale collar or front clip harness won’t work either because they’re not strong enough to snap him out of his “obsession.”
Obviously a muzzle would keep him from actually grabbing the bottles in his mouth, but they don’t correct the behavior. And I don’t like using muzzles on dogs unless I absolutely have to. That’s why I use the prong collar.
David: How about different kinds of leashes?
Jason: It’s a good idea to get the right sized leash for your dog. There are different materials—some are leather, some are metal, some are fabric.
David: Do you have a recommendation about the material itself?
Jason: I’ve seen dogs actually bite their leashes in half. That's when you would buy a metal leash. If someone ever says, why would I ever get a metal leash?, you would if your dog bites through leashes or if you don’t want your dog playing tug-of-war with a leash while you’re walking them. Most leashes though, are fabric like nylon or rope. People put knots in their leashes so they can have more leverage when pulling a dog back. I like the knots for strong dogs. The thicker the leash the more leverage you have. For bigger, stronger dogs I would get a nice thick rope or nylon leash. There are also the retractable leashes, which have a system where you press a button, and it’s a pulley rolling on a wheel inside the case. You can let it go really long, like 25-50 feet and then it retracts on its own. They're fine in the park, but we don't use retractable leashes for strret walking because they can malfunction.
If anyone ever has any questions about collars, leashes, or harnesses, you can contact me at www.jasonthedogwalker.com. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.