Leash pulling is a common and frustrating dog behavior, but walking calmly on a leash is not a natural instinct for dogs and learning to do so requires training. One important component of training is using an appropriate collar or leash that provides secure restraint, gentle control, and can aide in discouraging leash pulling. Not all collars and harnesses are created equal and here are some points to consider when making the right choice for your dog:
Flat Collar or Martingale Collar - These collars are excellent for keeping identification and tags on your dog at all times. They can also be used with a leash for walks, but are best for dogs that never pull or require leash corrections. With leash pulling these collars can cause strain on the neck, press against the airway, or elevate pressures in the eyes. A martingale collar is similar to a flat collar, but is designed so the collar can be worn loosely and then snugs down when the leash is pulled to avoid slipping off the head. A martingale collar is not meant to be used as corrective tool or choke chain - a correctly fitted martingale collar does not strangle at its tightest. For dogs with neck pain or discomfort - these should be avoided.
Head Halters - These are a great training tool for dogs who are persistent leash pullers, especially large breed or strong dogs that are difficult to control. Since the point of leash attachment is the head and not the chest, a head halter disrupts the drive to pull against the leash. When used appropriately, it also allows for gentle control and correction during training without causing pain or pressure. The challenge of using a head halter is that many dogs dislike the feeling of something on their face and it often requires a fair amount of training to condition a dog to accepting the halter by associating it with positive rewards. Again, for dogs with neck pain or discomfort - these should be avoided.
Chest Harness - These can be a good alternative to a neck collar or head halter as they provide secure control of the body and avoid any risk of neck strain or pressure. There are many varieties and styles, but they can be simply divided into harnesses with a leash attachment on the top of the back and ones with a leash attachment on the front of the chest. Back attachment harnesses tend to encourage pulling as it allows dogs to comfortably pull against the leash using their full body strength. Alternatively, harnesses that attach to the front of the chest are designed to gently discourage pulling as attempting to pull will apply uneven pressure across the shoulders that turns the body to the side. This effect can be similar to using a head halter, but more easily accepted by most dogs, and is a great training tool for many leash pullers. These are the best to use when there is any neck or back discomfort. They can also be useful in dogs with mobility issues as a “handle” for the front end.
Collars to Avoid or use with caution - Choke Chain or Pinch/Prong Collar - These are designed to be training device that provide a negative stimulus for leash pulling or other unwanted behaviors. However, punishment training techniques for dogs increase fear, anxiety, and stress. When using a choke chain or pinch collar, dogs can become more fearful of any stimuli that is associated with the collar being tightened - including interaction with other dogs or people - as they learn to associate these events with pain. For this reason and the medical dangers associated with these collars - strangulation, elevated eye pressures, nerve damage, and neck strain - these should be avoided and are generally not recommended for any dog.
Choosing the right collar or harness for your dog may also require trying a few different products to see which provides the best fit and what is most helpful in achieving your training goals. It is important to note there is no collar or harness that when used alone will magically result in a dog with good leash behavior. These products are simply training aides and must be used in conjunction with consistent positive reward-based training techniques to help your dog learn how to walk well on a leash.
Additional recommended resources on collar/harness selection and leash training:
Photo credit: William Warby on Flickr