Dog Collars: Which is Best for Your Dog?
Choosing the right dog collar is one of the most important decisions you will make for your dog. This dog collar buying guide should help you make the right choice.
No collar or harness can function as a panacea for behavior problems (there are no "miracle cures"), nor can it replace the need for consistent and dedicated training. Actually, some training collars and harnesses can exacerbate physical and behavioral problems, particularly in inexperienced hands. If you are concerned about a significant behavior problem or obedience hurdle - from aggression to shoddy recalls, consider enlisting the services of a great dog trainer near you. Your trainer and your veterinarian can work together to help you choose the right tool for your dog.
Some of the tools mentioned should only be used under the tutelage of an experienced trainer. Any of these tools can be a safety risk when used inappropriately.
How To Choose A Dog Collar
Your dog may have a license tag, a microchip tag or other identifying tags. Generally, these tags are attached to a traditional/standard collar. Buckle collars can be made from nylon, leather, or other fabrics. These are the collars that many dogs wear all the time (as identification collars as opposed to training tools). If your dog always wears his buckle collar for I.D. and is ever left unsupervised, it is worthwhile to consider a "break away" or "quick release" collar.
Dogs in collars can strangle themselves during play with other dogs, in crates, on fences or gates, and in myriad other ways when running and romping - "break away" collars are designed to release under pressure in these situations. You may want a "break away" collar for your dog's "all the time" collar and a different tool for walking your dog.
Another popular collar is the martingale collar. While these are widely recommended for sighthounds, martingales are a good collar for any dog prone to backing out of the leash. A martingale collar fits loosely when walking, but tightens if the dog tries to back out of the collar - not enough to cut off air or hurt the dog, but enough to keep him safe.
Certain collars may be recommended for medical purposes including the Elizabethan collar (the infamous "conehead") and parasite repellant collars. Other collars may be recommended for behavioral reasons, most notably the D.A.P (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) collar which disperses a calming canine pheromone.
The final category of collars is correction collars; which includes choke collars, prong collars, shock collars, and citronella collars.
According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, "punishment (e.g. choke chains, pinch collars, and electronic collars) should not be used as a first-line or early-use treatment for behavior problems. This is due to the potential adverse effects which include but are not limited to: inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals," and lists a number of adverse physical and behavioral side effects (including but not limited to nerve damage, asphyxia, increased aggressive response, glaucoma, etc.). Refer to AVSAB's advice on finding a good trainer if you are considering using these tools, and consult with a professional.
Another tool that should be used under the guidance of a training professional is the head halter. Two popular examples of the head halter are the Gentle Leader and Halti. These tools need to be fit properly and as importantly, desensitized well before you even begin using it on walks. Halters can be difficult for owners to fit well, and it is worth taking a few training sessions to make wearing one a comfortable, low stress experience for your dog!
Before getting to walking harnesses, it is important to acknowledge a very important specialty harness - the car harness. If you enjoy traveling with your dog, provide for his safety by providing him with a impact-tested safety harness for riding in the car. Not all available harnesses are tested to human impact standards. To learn more about the ones that do, check out this great Dogster forum thread.
For dogs that pull like freight trains, front clip harnesses are a great choice. With a front clip harness, the leash clips at the chest. Two of the most popular of these are the Easy Walk and SENSE-ation harness. With both choices, there are no straps around the neck, effectively eliminating stress on the delicate trachea.
Finally, there are traditional back clip harnesses. These can be good choices for small dogs, but are not generally recommended for pullers. To understand why, simply search for images of sled dog harnesses or weight pull harnesses - they are always hooked to the dog's back. Back clip harnesses give dogs maximum leverage for pulling with all their strength.
More Questions? Get Help!
Dog owners are encouraged to research all training tools well, and to consult with a trainer for any questions regarding appropriate use or fit.
Photo: Angela N.
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
The gentle harness is the best
I highly recommend the gentle harness. If your dog is pulling on walks, these harnesses will put a stop to it without hurting your pet. If it works with 200 pound dogs (I have a Mastiff) it will work with a small dog. Eventually they will realize pulling won't get them anywhere and you can go back to using a regular collar.
When using a gentle leader harness or any harness I would leave a collar on just for the purpose of having ID tags on your dog at all times.
As far as leaving a harness on a dog, it should only be for outside, I have seen dogs wear harnesses full time and have skin irritation issues because it's harder to keep them adjusted properly and they just cover more skin, leaving more to get irritated.
~Candy H., owner of Mastiff
Choose the right harness to help train your dog
If you have a dog that naturally (or through training) walks very nicely on lead without pulling, a body harness is a great choice for him. However, if you have a dog that pulls strongly, the types of harnesses where the leash attaches on the back are a poor choice. Those actually encourage pulling because they allow your dog to put his full weight into pulling you.
A good option is the Gentle Leader harness or similar harnesses, which have the leash clip in the front. What happens with those is, when the dog starts to pull, it turns the dog toward you. While they can still pull to some extent, this helps you in training your dog to walk nicely.
No type of harness or collar is ever a substitute for proper training, and everyone's goal should be to eventually only need a flat collar when the dog is trained to walk nicely without straining. All devices that control, correct, or turn the dog are TRAINING devices, not a permanent solution.
~Chris & Brian C., owner of German Shepherd