There are a lot of collars out there. Which one is right for your dog? Many veterinarians are suggesting that harnesses be used to ease the strain on the dog’s neck and trachea. For the average dog I agree with the Veterinarians. But what if you have a dog that pulls when she walks? Or a dog that is highly reactive to other dogs or people and lunges and pulls toward them?
There are several countermeasures I have noted in other blogs on how to counter-condition your pup to reduce or eliminate her reactivity to pups and humans. This blog is more about the equipment than dog behavior. What collar/harness do you use for a pulling dog? A reactive dog?
Let’s take the dog that pulls hard on leash. There are several options, depending on the dog’s breed (weak trachea) or size. I recommend one of three collars:
Gentle Leader. The gentle leader (or halti) is a collar that has an additional strap that goes around the snout of the dog, and is connected to the collar. The strap has a piece that hangs down so you can attach the end of the leash to it. The idea is that when the dog pulls, the leash will pull on the strap around the snout and cause the dog to turn his head, eliminating/reducing the pulling substantially. The gentle leader is a great tool but a small percentage of dogs never get used to having the strap around their snout. It often takes multiple walks for the dog to finally realize the strap is not going anywhere and they get used to having it on permanently. To get your dog accustomed to the halti more quickly, you can put it on her in the house for 15 minutes a couple of times a day – during this time, give your dog treats so they equate the gentle leader with yumminess. When the dog is wearing the gentle leader, it’s important to have the collar part of the gentle leader connected physically to a flat collar around her neck. That way, if the gentle leader comes off, you have a back up to keep her connected to you via leash. The gentle leader can be used on smaller dogs.
Front-Clip Harness. Harnesses are great, they diffuse the energy caused by the pulling dog across the upper legs and shoulders of the dog, easing the strain on the neck. However, if you clip the leash on back of the dog, it creates a situation much like a sled dog – she can pull with even greater force. That’s why it’s important to get a harness that has a front clip under her neck, at the chest of the dog. That way, when the dog pulls, it causes him to be yanked sideways, dispersing his front-pulling energy. However, it does not fully eliminate the pulling. In order to do that, it requires training the dog to walk loose-leash next to you. I have another blog that describes in detail how to accomplish loose-leash walking. The front-clip harness can be used on smaller dogs.
Prong collar. It looks like an archaic pain device and for that reason, many dog owners shy away from it. However, the prong collar is extremely effective in eliminating the pull. It’s important to fit the collar correctly. It should be placed high up on the neck below the ears and should be fairly tight but not too tight – you should be able to fit a thumb between the end of the prongs and the dog’s neck. The way the prong collar works is that when the dog pulls, the prongs pinch the dogs skin on the neck and that makes the dog feel very uncomfortable. In one walk, maybe two, the dog learns that the only way to eliminate the pinching is to walk with a loose leash. It’s important that when the dog pulls, you should not pull back but rather “pop” the leash to create the pinching feeling on the neck of the dog. Equally important, you should buy only the Herm Sprenger brand prong collar – their collars are superior in strength, and the prongs have rounded ends so they don’t inflict unnecessary damage to the dog’s neck. The prong collar should not be used on smaller dogs as it is overkill for the problem at hand. For smaller dogs, a halti or front-clip harness are the best options.