This post is dedicated to educating dog owners on the subject of proper dog collar & harness usage. In my time working in the pet care industry, I’ve found that many owners are not using the appropriate materials for dog walking restraint. With so many options on the market and so much misinformation floating around the internet, I can understand why it would be so confusing. This post is meant to be an informational guide on what you should be using, based on behavior, dog size, and dog breed.
The Prong/Choke/Chain Collar
In my experience with dog ownership and working with dogs, I have formulated many different opinions on choke collars and their uses. I decided to start my article with choke collars, because I would first like to veer you away from a product that I personally feel you should never-ever use. For those of you who are considering a choke collar, I’d like to inform you that these products encourage negative reinforcement, can be harmful to your pet, and do not function as a stable form of restraint.
Many choke collars on the market claim that they are effective because they simulate the teeth of a mother dog. Mother dogs have an excellent gift of being able to pick up her pups by the scruff of the neck for transportation and correctional purposes. Choke collars are often used improperly by owners, for when the dog is pulling or misbehaving they give it a good tug. The force that you are putting on your dog’s neck is nowhere near the gentile touch of a mother dog’s teeth, and can cause serious damage! According to PETA, “The use of choke collars has been associated with whiplash, fainting, spinal cord injuries leading to paralysis, crushing of the trachea with partial or complete asphyxiation, crushing and/or fracture of the bones in the larynx, dislocated neck bones, bruising of the esophagus, bruising and damage to the skin and tissues in the neck, brain damage and prolapsed eyes caused by sharp increases in pressure in the head, and other injuries.” Needless to say, the use of any Prong/Choke/Chain Collar is not a good option, especially considering all of the other restraint options on the market.
For those of you who are already using choke collars, it is my assumption that you probably transitioned over to a choke collar at some point. Generally owners transition to the choke collar when they notice that their puppy is getting bigger. Owners fear the inability to properly restrain their dog, or lack the patience to properly train their animal. I’ve heard it before “My dog is using a choke collar but I never have to pull on it, and no negative side effects have come from my using a choke collar.” My question to this type of owner is this: Do you really need to be using the product then? If your dog is doing well on walks anyway, why continue using a product that claims to be a “good training method?”
Choke collars can be a form of negative reinforcement! The term “negative reinforcement” means to take something away from your dog to achieve a desired outcome. Pain-inducing methods associate your command with pain, thus creating a negative experience and taking away from true reinforcement. This method is backwards from what you want when training your dog. Instead, you want your dog to be praised for the things he does correctly. This is called “positive reinforcement.” For those of you who are having trouble following through with positive reinforcement methods, I urge you to have a consultation with a dog trainer instead of using a choke collar.
The Four Types of Harnesses
Most owners don’t know that there are actually four different types of harnesses available to use for dog restraint. Depending on the dog breed and what you want your desired outcome to be – harness type restraint should be the most popular method used. The four types of harnesses cater to two specific types of dogs: the dog who doesn’t want to walk, and the dog that pulls and walks too fast. Long coat harnesses are used for long coated dogs whose fur might get trapped and tangled in the harness, and short coat harnesses generally have a protective padding to prevent chafing and rub-burns around the arm-pit area.
If your dog is hesitant to walk on a leash, stops in its path or is more of a follower than a team walker, consider getting a harness that’s leash attaches on the back. This will encourage them to lean forward and walk – as their front side will lean more towards the ground. Most owners will find that they have no issues with getting their dog to walk around, though I’ve found that most owners actually get the harness that attaches the leash to the back of the dog, simply because they assume that any harness is better than no harness. To combat this, a harness that attaches the leash to the back also encourages your dog to walk forward, so those owners that find their dog walking too fast, pulling, or veering around randomly should NOT get this type of harness. It will defeat its purpose of properly restraining your dog on walks.
If your dog is pulling and walking too fast or veering around randomly, you will definitely enjoy a harness which is designed to attach a leash to the front of the dog (chest area.) This technique will cause the dogs body to halt from its core, and prevents their body from leaning forward. Gentile tug training methods can be used to stop your dog in its tracks. On the flip side, if your dog is hesitant to walk on a leash or stops in its path – you will not want to use the harness that’s leash attaches in the front (chest area.) Never use this type of harness to pull your dog from the front, as it could potentially slip off of the dog.
Does your dog have short fur or long fur? This is important when purchasing a harness because long coat harnesses are used for long coated dogs whose fur might get trapped and tangled in the harness, and short coat harnesses generally have a protective padding to prevent chafing and rub-burns around the arm-pit area.
Brachycephalic breed examples are: Carlini, Boxer, Boston Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, English and French Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Brachycephalic Breeds are flat face, short, or muzzle dogs. Because of their anatomy, these breeds should ALWAYS wear a harness – no exceptions! Other types of collars are detrimental to these breeds because they are able to cut off air supply and can cause serious internal damage.
The Average Collar & Martingales
Standard collars may be used when your dog has no issues with walking on a leash. They are generally found to be more fashionable and easier to put on. Misuse of standard collars can be detrimental to the health of your pet, so be sure your dog has no issues with pulling – and never tug the leash of a dog wearing a standard collar. Martingales are generally used for sight hound breeds such as greyhounds and whippets because their necks are often larger or thicker than their heads, therefore these breeds can more easily slip out of standard buckle collars.