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How to Choose the Right Training Collar or Harness for Your Dog

Our guide to collars and harnesses will have your dog outfitted in no time and ready to learn leash manners.

Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST  |  Dec 2nd 2016


These days, there are an overwhelming number of options when it comes to collars and harnesses, which can make choosing the right training one for your dog difficult. With that in mind, we put together this guide. In it, we explore the different types of collars and harnesses available and offer our recommendations for what you should (and shouldn’t) use to teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash.

Collars

A collar is what many people immediately think of and use when walking their dog. Most of these types of collars can be found at a local pet store.

Flat collar

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Wider is typically better when teaching a dog to walk with a flat collar because it’s less likely to dig into their skin. (Photo by Shutterstock)

A flat collar is a basic collar that buckles or clips. If you happen to have a unicorn of a dog who walks nicely on leash from day one, you may not ever need anything else. Collars come in different widths, fabrics, and designs, and are found just about everywhere, from the pet store to Etsy.

It is possible to train with a flat collar, but if your dog pulls and chokes when you go for a walk, try another type on this list. Contrary to what you may think, your dog doesn’t care about choking, and the pressure can cause a neck or trachea injury.

Head halter

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The head halter doesn’t restrict breathing. Many pet owners also have their dog wear a regular collar with tags, too, when out walking. (Photo by Shutterstock)

This training tool has one loop that goes behind the dog’s head and another that goes around the nose, and then it clips in under the chin. It’s not a muzzle, doesn’t put pressure on the throat/neck, and shouldn’t restrict breathing. If your dog has a shorter nose, though, it may not work as there won’t be enough snout to loop around.

A head halter works by turning your dog’s head back toward you when they try to pull. Your dog won’t like being turned around with every pull, so they should stop pulling. Some worry that this halter can bother a dog’s neck, but if you keep your dog close, the turning is limited and the tool can be effective for training a dog to walk nicely on leash.

The two most popular head halters are the Gentle Leader and the Halti. They are very similar, but the Halti is made from a looser material and has a looser fit. Both should be fitted so that you can put a finger between the halter and your dog’s nose/neck. For the best fit, try both on your dog at the store and compare.

This tool is meant for training, and when your dog masters walking on leash, you can switch to a flat collar. Some people use a head halter all of the time, which is totally fine, but you will need to get a separate flat collar for tags.

Martingale collar

Martingale collars come with a chain loop or a fabric loop. Photo Credit: PetsMart

Martingale collars come with a chain loop or a fabric loop. (Photo courtesy PetSmart)

I only recommend a Martingale collar if a dog’s head is smaller than his neck, like Greyhounds or Whippets, or if a dog easily slips out of a regular flat collar. Three-quarters of a Martingale is a flat collar. The other one-quarter is either a chain or a fabric loop that tightens when your dog pulls, making them uncomfortable and therefore more likely to stop pulling. The more important and useful feature of this collar is if your dog tries to back out of it, the collar will tighten and not slip over the head. This isn’t a choke collar, as the rings safely limit how tight the collar can get.

Not recommended: pinch or prong, choke, or e-collar (aka shock collar)

Prong collars are an aversive training method. (Photo by Shutterstock)

A pinch or prong collar is an aversive training method. (Photo by Shutterstock)

These collars are in the category of aversive training tools. That means they cause enough discomfort or pain that the dog stops the behavior causing it. A pinch or prong digs prongs into your dog’s throat/neck to stop pulling, and a choke does exactly its name says. With an e-collar, you “stimulate” (aka shock) your dog until the pulling stops.

Training your dog through force or pain is not the most effective method. I go into the topic at length here, but know now that it’s much better in the long run to teach your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, not to punish for pulling and sniffing (which is a natural behavior, not an attempt to exert “dominance” over you). Training your dog should be fun, not painful for either of you. If you are having such a tough time that you are considering one of these methods, call a positive reinforcement trainer for more help.

Harness

A harness is an excellent option if you want to avoid hurting your dog’s neck/throat or you need more control over a stronger dog. While many harnesses have rings for tags, you may want to only use it for walking, so a collar is still necessary.

Back-clip harness

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Some back clip harnesses have mesh in the front, while others are flat like a collar. (Photo by Shutterstock)

This is your basic harness, with the leash attaching at the back. This can be a more difficult option for training your dog to walk nicely because if  they pull forward and you pull backward, a struggle ensues. It’s much better to teach your dog to walk using another option, and then switch to this harness if you like.

That being said, I use this kind of harness when I run with my dog, and it’s also great if you enjoy urban mushing (but that’s a whole other story). When I run with Buster, I let him go ahead so he’s out of my way, and it’s okay if he pulls, so the back-clip harness works for us.

Front-clip harness 

The Easy Walk Harness is one of several that clip in the front. (Photo courtesy Doctors Foster and Smith)

I love the front-clip harness and have had great success with it teaching dogs to walk by my side. Dogs can’t pull forward or even to the side because the leash is attached at the chest and will just turn them back toward me. They soon learns they aren’t going to get anywhere by pulling.

Freedom No-Pull Harness 

The Freedom No Pull Harness connects at two points.

The Freedom No Pull Harness connects at two points. (Photo courtesy Doctors Foster and Smith)

The Freedom No-Pull Harness is much like a front-clip harness, but it also clips in the back. This is a favorite of many dog trainers, as many feel like it gives them even more control than a front-clip harness because of the second attachment on the back. This harness is also great because you can use it as a front clip or a back clip if you don’t want to use both. The way the Freedom No Pull Harness is created, it will not chafe and gives your dog a wider range of mobility.