With so many leashes, collars, and harnesses on the market, it’s hard to know which one is best for your dog. The truth is, you may need different products for different dogs, and even further, you probably need different products depending on what you want to do with your dog. This can seem like a daunting task – choosing the “best” product, and then knowing how to use it. The following lists the different collars and harnesses, the uses, and the pros and cons of each. Use this list to help you find the proper fit.
1. Chest Harnesses
How They Work
Harnesses go around a dog’s chest instead of the neck. This gives the dog more freedom, and doesn’t harm their necks from pulling, but it also may entice the dog to pull harder.
Harnesses are not only used in dog pulling events and contests, but by the everyday dog walking owner. Some owners claim that they have more control over their dogs with harnesses, however it might be the opposite depending on the strength of your dog. Large breed dogs like Pit Bull Terriers and Mastiffs have more strength in their chests and the harness may actually give the person less control when walking. The fact that Pit Bull Terriers wear harnesses when pulling up to 3000 lbs shows just how much control they have when wearing one! For this reason, the chest harness is generally not used to train your dog to walk nicely on a leash, but more for the owner who wants to give her dog more freedom on the walk.
Harnesses are not thought to cause pain on the dog, which is why many prefer them. Just be careful to note if the straps are rubbing too much under the dog’s legs, as this can cause sores to develop. Be sure to get a harness with padding in those sensitive areas if your dog doesn’t have a lot of fur for protection.
- Gives your dog more freedom
- Does not cause pain (unless improperly fitted)
- May not be useful for training your dog to heal
- Can give your dog too much freedom
- Because it goes around the chest, your dog will have more control
2. Head Harnesses
How They Work
Head harnesses go across the dog’s muzzle and over the back of his ears. When pulled, the dog feels slight pressure on his mouth, which is an indication to listen to what you have to say. Head harnesses are similar to a bridle on a horse, without the bit of course.
The head harness’s main use is to train your dog to stay by your side when walking. In fact, most of these harnesses have a leash attached to them.
Head harnesses are thought to be the most gentle on your dog. While part of the head harness does go around the dog’s mouth, your dog will still be able to pant, eat, and drink while wearing it. However, if pulled too hard, your dog could develop sores on his mouth. One company has named their head harnesses The Gentle Leader. The very name suggests it is to be used gently. Because of this, this harness will likely not work on a dog that pulls very hard on a leash, as it will most likely break. In the case of a heavy puller, the prong collar might be a better choice.
- Gentle on dogs
- Easy to use
- Effective for many dogs
- Don’t work for strong dogs
3. Prong Collars
How They Work
Prong collars work by pinching the dog’s skin when tightened (the collar will remain loose until you pull on the leash). The amount of force and how quick you pull will determine how much the dog feels the pinch of this collar.
These collars are considered training collars in that they teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash. Once your dog has learned proper walking etiquette it is likely that you can switch to a nylon collar. Some dogs adjust perfectly to the transition of a nylon collar. However, many people find that their dogs behave differently when the prong collar is on, even if they never pull on it; just knowing that the collar is on or off is enough for some dogs to behave or misbehave. For this reason, some people choose to use the prong collar whenever they walk their dogs.
These collars come in all sizes, but are most often seen on the stronger breeds like Rottweilers and German Shepherds, which are often seen pulling people on roller blades or skateboards, or running next to bicycles. In these activities, prong collars are essential for your safety, as large breeds, no matter how well trained, can pull you over in a flash!
Proper use is essential for this collar, because if used improperly, prong collars become cruel very quickly. Prong collars are NOT meant to be pulled for an extended period of time. Rather, use is meant to be a quick tug and release. Even if you have to “tug and release” a few times in a row, it is imperative that you give the chain a release for the safety of your dog. Also, most dogs respond better to a quick tug than a choking pull.
If your dog is yelping in pain, you are pulling too hard or for too long. Causing pain in your dog is likely to ruin your relationship with him. The prong collar is meant to serve as a reminder to your dog to behave, not a punishment for not.
NEVER leave this collar on your dog unattended or for an extended period of time. Dogs have been known to hang themselves, get their feet and toenails stuck in the prongs, or choke themselves; this collar is for training only.
- Great for teaching your strong dog to heal
- Easy to use
- Very effective if used properly
- Can be dangerous if left on unattended
- Cruel and painful if used improperly
- May train the dog to have bad walking manners when not wearing it
4. Choke Chains
How They Work
Just as the name suggests, these collars actually choke the dog when pulled, and will continue choking the dog until you release.
The uses for the choke chain are similar to those of the prong collar. However, more people tend to use the chain as a regular everyday collar, which is NOT advised. (See below.)
Similar to the prong collar, choke chains should operate with a tug and release motion, instead of a constant choke. Often these are not as effective as prong collars, as many dogs seem to bear through the choking longer than the pinching.
Choke chains are often used by dog trainers in the beginning stages of training. These collars are better suited for those who know how to properly use them, as they can harm your dog if used improperly. Leaving the chain on the dog all the time, especially when unsupervised is a real threat to your dog. A blue healer was left in his kennel-run all day wearing a choke chain. The owners returned to find that their dog had hung himself by jumping against the kennel in an attempt to escape.
- Effective on some dogs if used properly
- Easy to slip on
- Can be very dangerous if used improperly
- Not effective on some dogs
- Chokes the dog
How They Work
Electronic collars, like the iQ Collar, have two prongs that touch the dog’s skin. These collars come with a remote with different intensity levels and usually a couple of different buttons, including the “nick” and “pulse” buttons. When pushed, these buttons send a slight shock to the dog’s neck. For obvious reasons, these collars are slightly controversial.
Unlike the choke chain and the prong collar, which are mostly used for teaching your dog to walk properly, the e-collars are used for a variety of training options. Perhaps the best known use for them though, is teaching your dog to come when called. When dogs get too far from you and won’t listen to your call, the e-collar comes in handy. In fact, the e-collar can save a dog’s life if he is about to run into traffic or other dangerous areas.
Given the proper technique, these collars can do wonders for teaching your dog not to chew on something, walk nicely, sit and stay, and several other obedience commands.
Please don’t use this unless you have worked with a trainer or have been taught the proper way to use it. The damage that this tool can cause to your relationship with your dog is great. If used improperly your dog may lose trust in you.
With that said, when used properly, these collars are not as bad as they sound, and in fact are becoming a popular training tool among dog trainers.The key is using the right intensity for your dog. Your dog should not yelp at the feel of the “shock.” Instead, the level should be at a spot where it just irritates, or tickles your dog’s neck. If your dog is shaking his head from side to side, scratching his neck, or looking around to find out where that feeling is coming from, you can be sure you are using it at the right level.
Before you just start pushing the buttons, you need to train your dog what you want him to do when he feels it, otherwise your dog will become very confused. In other words, do not let your dog loose, push the button, call his name, and expect him to know that you want him to return to you. He will not associate the feeling the correct way.
Another thing to note about the e-collar, is that it can actually make your dog aggressive toward other dogs or even people. If you are properly using the device to train your dog, but there are other dogs around, your dog could begin to associate that feeling with the other dogs and turn on them, thinking this will make the feeling go away. This is just one more reason you need an expert to help you with this collar.
- Can be extremely effective
- Can protect your dog from danger
- Does not cause pain when used properly
- Is often misused
- Could harm your dog
- Painful if misused
- Could trigger aggression
So there you have it, the pros and cons of the most common collars that are used in dog training today. Hopefully this guide has helped you determine a starting place for training your dog with a collar. Please remember to use these properly, and if needed seek a professional trainer.
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Photos courtesy of Yozakura