Making Sense of Harnesses, Collars, and Leashes

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Today dog owners have a number of choices when it comes to harnesses, collars, and leashes. This can sometimes be overwhelming, but in this article we will discuss common types and uses for these tools

Harnesses have traditionally been designed to encourage pulling; think of sled dogs. The leash attaches on the back. Newer harnesses have been designed to decrease pulling. The leash attaches on the front, just below the neck. These include the Easy Walk HarnessTM and SENSE-ation ® Harness. Visit the website abrionline.org for a video called “Fitting the Easy Walk HarnessTM”. Either type of harness may be recommended when dogs have a medical condition in which their windpipe collapses, called a collapsing trachea, as harnesses do not put any pressure on the windpipe. A third type of harness designed to decrease pulling has thin band of material (which is sometimes padded) that pulls against the armpits. These harnesses decrease pulling due to the uncomfortable and sometimes painful pressure exerted on the armpits and are not recommended.

There are many more types of collars than harnesses. A flat buckle collar is the most common type. This type of collar is good for attaching your dog’s tags to and for dogs that walk well on leash. A martingale or limited slip collar is most commonly used with Greyhounds and other breeds that have a narrow head since other collars tend to slip off of them easily. This type of collar constricts around the neck when pulled up until a certain point. It is important that the double D rings be able to meet; otherwise these collars can tighten too much and choke the dog.

Limited Slip Collar

Limited Slip Collar

Training (aka choke) collars and prong (aka pinch) collars have been used for traditional dog training. In this type of training, the collar is sharply jerked to give a correction. This type of training focuses on punishing the dog and is largely outdated with the risk of creating many long-term negative consequences such as fear, anxiety and aggression. Prong collars can even cause wounds to the skin. It is also possible to strangle a dog with a choke collar that is improperly used. The field of dog training has advanced greatly in the last 20 years and today positive reinforcement methods are recommended which focus on setting the dog up to succeed and rewarding the dog for good behavior. For dogs that are more difficult to control, that pull or are aggressive, often times a head collar, such as the Gentle Leader ®, is recommended. To see a video on how to introduce a head collar visit the website abrionline.org. The video is called “Conditioning and Emotional Response”. Note: head collars should not be used with dogs that have a history of neck pain. They also should not be used while running/moving quickly and with a leash longer than 4-6 feet.

Finally, leashes also come in different forms. Average leashes are 6 feet in length, made from nylon or leather, and are ideal for walking, running, hiking, and training. Sports, such a tracking, utilize leashes that are longer. Retractable leashes give dogs more freedom to roam without the owner having to continually adjust the length of the leash, but they pose a hazard as the owner does not have as much control of the dog, and people and other animals can even get seriously injured if they are tangled by the leash. Another type of leash that does not offer much control and therefore is not usually recommended, but is more convenient to owners of multiple dogs is a leash that splits into two leashes at the end, so that two dogs can be walked on the same leash together.

– Dr. Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB (Veterinary Behaviorist)

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One thought on “Making Sense of Harnesses, Collars, and Leashes

  1. There are many additional uses for leashes, harness, and collars that are beyond the scope of this article. Thank you Dr. Sweitzer for commenting that back attach-harnesses are safer for attaching a dog to a seatbelt in the car for restraint.

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