Is it any wonder why training can be confusing? I was recently at a huge trade show
and was taken aback by the selection and variety of different types of training
equipment. I can only imagine what it feels like to a new dog guardian, or worse, a first
time dog guardian.
There are head halters, collars, harnesses, short leashes, long leashes, retractable
leashes, leashes of cotton, leather and poly. My head spins just thinking about it.
Where to begin?
From a trainer's point of view, it should never be about the equipment. If all your training
is dependent upon the use of a particular collar, what happens if the collar fails? The
same holds true with a leash failure, or any other piece of equipment that fails. What
then? You must have a good relationship with your dog and realistic expectations. If you
don't spend the time training, don't expect results!
Back to equipment - as with most things, there are pros and cons. Many problems arise
when the equipment is not used properly, and can lead to more harm than good. There
are some tools I recommend more highly than others.
The standard for leashes, and now required by many parks, is 6 foot. This is probably a
holdover from competition, since that's what is used in obedience completion. Six feet is
a good length for walking on trails as well as in the city. It allows your dog a little bit of
distance to relieve himself, sniff a little while walking but still manageable without too
much excess hanging. Most people prefer leather, they last the longest, some of mine
are at least 30 years old. However, there are nice matching (to the collar) cotton
leashes that people might like. Although cotton can burn your hand it is much kinder to
your hand than the poly or nylon leashes. Chain leashes are still made but I don't
usually recommend them, they are heavy on the dog's neck and very hard on your
Retractable leashes have been very popular, but the inherent problem with the
retractable leash is that in order to get more leash, the dog must pull. Typically, pulling is
not a behavior we want to encourage in our dogs only they are service or working dogs.
When used properly, the retractable leash can be a piece of safety equipment. When
used in open space areas where you would like to give your dog the freedom to run
around a little more than a six foot leash would allow, but don’t want to let them off
leash, the retractable leash can be a useful tool. I often use one with my smaller dogs
when hiking so I can grab them if, say, a coyote pops out of the bushes. However, even
with my small dogs they are trained not to pull until I give the command that it is safe to
Unfortunately, because of improper use, there are safety concerns with the retractable
leash. There are serious problems when people use them in crowded places and dogs
become tangled and cause injuries to themselves and others. Never leave a dog on a
retractable leash unattended on a tie down. They can become entangled in the rope
and become seriously or fatally injured. When not used properly, people can inflict
damage to themselves and others such as deep cuts and rope burns.
Remember, to use the retractable leash responsibly and with caution. Two dogs should
not be allowed to play while each on a retractable leash. If one or the other gets a leg or
neck entangled in the leash, it could result in a serious injury.
There are cotton, chain, prong, electronic, martingale, training (choke), and many more.
We could fill a whole book on different types of collars and their purposes.
My preference is a martingale or also known as a half-check collar. If fitted properly a
dog cannot slip out of it. However, for many small dogs who pull, I might suggest a
properly fitted harness. Again, pros and cons, from a professional standpoint, a harness
is used when we want a dog to put all its strength and movement forward, such as
tracking, protection work, weight pulling. For small dogs, which are more prone to a
collapsed trachea, a properly fitted harness might be the answer. A harness might also
be appropriate for a large dog with cervical or spinal injuries.
Harnesses are also excellent for newly adopted dogs or foster dogs who may be fearful
and not bonded to you yet. If spooked, a dog may slip out of a standard collar, but a
harness is harder to slip out of. For extremely fearful dogs, who are a flight risk, using
two leashes with one attached to the collar and one to the harness can provide extra
security until the dog is more confident out in the world.
No Pull Harnesses
In the last several years many new pieces of equipment have immersed, one of then
are the 'no pull harnesses' with most the leash attaches is in front rather than from
behind. The principle of these is that when the dog pulls the front attached leash applies
pressure and turns the dog back. I find for some dogs they work and some not so much.
They can be difficult to fit on some dogs, usually shorter dogs seem to have a problem
with them not fitting properly. Again, not all equipment work in all dogs.
There are several types on the market and all except one (right now) attach the leash
under the dog's jaw. The Canny Collar attaches behind the head and is strictly for
pulling. The others are good for pulling as well as turning the dog's head from staring or
threatening. The biggest problem, I find, is the owner adjusting to the use of them and
the dogs may resist at first, but if trained before using many work nicely with them.
The tools I do not recommend are prong collars, choke chains, and electric shock
collars. There are humane alternatives to each of these. The market is changing on a
day by day basis, so remain current; check your options. The training tool for your dog
should be tailored to your dogs needs, should be humane, and should allow you to train
If you’re still confused, seek professional advice. A good trainer should be able to
explain the benefits and shortcoming of all equipment, and help you find the right fit for
your best friend.