Kate's Favorite Things: Collars, Harnesses, and Leashes
Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Walking your dog can be an excellent way to bond with your dog, get some exercise, and reinforce training with distractions, but the equipment you use can make or break your dog walk. First, we want to make sure that your dog is safe and secure and cannot get away from you, but we also want to make sure that you are not causing any damage to their trachea, spine, shoulders, thyroid, etc. Collars in general, as well as some harnesses, can put your dog at risk of injury or extra orthopedic wear, even if they typically walk calmly without pulling. Then, of course, there's the fact that you want to make sure that you can control your dog in a way that is comfortable for both of you, especially during the training phase when they may be more prone to pulling. Here are my recommendations for collars, harnesses, and leashes.
While I prefer to walk my dogs on a harness, a martingale collar (aka limited-slip or Greyhound collar) is a must-have if you choose not to use one. The limited-slip feature prevents dogs from backing out of the collar while still preventing your dog from choking, and it also helps equalize the pressure somewhat around their throat if they pull, rather than placing all pressure at the trachea in the front. Martingales are particularly helpful for dogs with thick necks and narrow heads, such as Greyhounds, Whippets and other sight hounds, Shelties, Collies, Vallhunds, and many spitz breeds. If you have an escape artist, you can also use a leash connector to connect a harness or head collar to the martingale collar as a back-up. DO NOT LEAVE A MARTINGALE COLLAR ON YOUR DOG - the loop can get caught on corners and knobs, or in the mouth of another dog during play (or a scuffle/disagreement). A martingale collar is ONLY for use with a leash, under supervision, NEVER as a tie-out. For a proper fit, the two rings of the extra loop should not be able to touch each other unless your dog pulls significantly. Just as with a regular collar, you should be able to fit 2 fingers between the martingale collar and their neck when your dog is not pulling.
Good2Go Martingale Collar This brand is a little heavy, but it is soft (great for dogs with thin fur like Boxers and terriers), sturdy, and wider than most brands (which is safer for your dog’s throat).
PetSafe Buckle Martingale Collar If you are looking for the benefits of a martingale collar, but your dog doesn’t tolerate things going over their face/head, or your dog has a rounder head, you’ll need one with a buckle.
Blueberry Classic Nylon Dog Collar This collar (and most similar buckle collars) is great for keeping ID and license tags on your pet. They are also easy to remove for safety when crating your dog, or in an emergency should their collar even get caught on something or grabbed by another dog. NOTE: Plastic buckle collars are NOT recommended for walking.
Harnesses prevent injury to your dog’s neck, spine, trachea, thyroid, and eyes. They are a must-have for brachycephalic breeds (smoosh-faced breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, and Pekingese) that already have compromised airways. A front-clip or dual-clip harness can also redirect pulling and help guide your dog away from distractions, but some harnesses created for that purpose can greatly restrict your dog’s natural gait and cause orthopedic/joint problems. However, some harnesses are quite easy to jump, roll, or even back out of even when fit properly. In general, I avoid 3-strap front-clip harnesses such as the EasyWalk and SENSE-ation harnesses (negatively impact the dog’s gait, chafe the legs, and are easy to escape), step-in/butterfly harnesses (easy to back out of even when too tight, and often promote pulling/limit control), and vest harnesses (difficult to adjust/fit, can make the dog hot, and promote pulling/limit control).
Hamilton Classic Adjustable Harness Budget-friendly with no bells or whistles. May restrict some movement in very deep-chested dogs. Leash can be clipped on the back D-ring, or on the front O-ring for added control (HINT: Use a dual-ended leash to clip both front & back.)
Blue9 Buckle-Neck Balance Harness Lightweight, 5 points of adjustment for superior fit, front & back D-ring for added control. Unlike most harnesses, it has a buckle on the neck piece for dogs with large heads or those who don’t like harnesses pulled over their head. Since these were designed for dogs who pull, they run a full size larger than most harnesses with the Extra Small made for dogs 10-25lbs.
PetSafe 3in1 Harness Very similar to the Balance harness (including the large sizing), but with light padding and reflective stitching added. The padding is great for dogs with sensitive skin/very thin fur, but makes it bulkier and it may also retain more odor.
Indi-Dog Vari-Fit Harness (Highly adjustable. Y-shaped chest distributes weight & pressure evenly; does not restrict range of motion. Has a front ring for added control. Also available with a houdini belly strap to prevent escape artists and deep chested dogs from backing out. Lightly padded.) Indi-Dog Houdini Strap (A strap that connects to the girth strap of most harnesses which sits behind the rib cage in order to prevent your dog from backing out of their harness.)
Perfect Fit Harness (Comes in 3 pieces to custom fit any shape dog; prevents pulling and chafing on chest and legs.)
LEASHES: Just like we have different kinds of shoes for different activities (one for working out, one for the beach, and one for date night), it’s a good idea to have different leashes for different scenarios. Of course, the bare minimum to own is a 6ft leash for walks and basic training, but a 15ft leash can give your dog more freedom and prepare them for responding off-leash, and there may be scenarios where you would benefit from other types of leads.
Halti 6-way Lead My everyday leash, it’s super soft. It’s dual-ended so it can be used to clip both the front and back rings of your dog’s harness, clip a harness or head-collar and a martingale collar, used as a coupler for two dogs, can be clipped around your waist or over your shoulder with a tall dog and shorter person, or clipped to a pole while supervised.
PetSafe Hands-Free Leash Fully adjustable leash and belt without a bungee, so you and your dog both know exactly where the leash ends. Bungee hands-free leashes are only for running/hiking with a dog who is already trained not to pull or lunge. (Read why to use a hands-free leash for training here.)
EZYdog Track and Train Leash 16ft long for practicing COME when called, adventure walks, off-leash prep, BAT, and STAY with distance. It’s woven with rubber to increase grip and prevent rope burn, and the leash holds up really well even with giant breed dogs.
Mendota 15ft round cord This leash was designed for use with BAT, but can be used for all the same training as the EZYdog leash. It’s super soft and you won’t get rope burn, but I find it is difficult to grip with very large dogs, especially when wet.
Mendota Check Cord Long Lead For distance work or fetch at the park. The rounded cord prevents rope burn and prevents stickers/burrs from getting caught on it, and I don’t trust any other leash of this length not to hurt my hands. Comes in 30ft, and 50ft lengths for dogs up to 50lbs and 30ft for dogs over 50lbs.
EZYdog Slip Lead For quick leashing in the house, potty training, or emergencies such as leashing a loose dog. I personally do not recommend slip leads for walks, but this slip lead does at least have a metal stopper to prevent the leash from over tightening.
OTHER TRAINING TOOLS:
The only way to ensure your dog will respond to you on walks and in public is to train on walks and in public. During the beginning stages, this will mean frequent rewards until your dog makes a habit of walking the way you’d like and responding to cues given, and then the walk and access to sniffy things itself becomes the reward. Using a belted training pouch ensures you can bring everything you need on your walk or trip to the park (including phone and poop bags), no matter what kind of pants you’re wearing.
GiveADogAHome French Hinge Training Pouch It’s pricey, but worth it. Pops open and stays open when you pull for fast access to treats/toys, and it pops closed & stays closed with a tap to prevent accidental spills (or inquisitive noses from reaching treats). The maker will replace the French spring hinge for free if it breaks within a year of purchase. Most smart phones can fit in the front pocket, and there’s room for keys, credit cards, pens, poop bags, etc. in the back pocket, and a ring for a clicker or keys. The standard waist belt fits 30-40”, but the maker will make custom adjustable sizes on request for no extra charge. Good2Go Ultimate Pet Treat Tote This is my budget option. The french hinge/bag does not have warranty and it’s not quite as comfy as the previous option, but it’s not uncomfortable and it certainly gets the job done. Most cell phones can fit in the front pocket, and there are small front pockets for a clicker, keys, and waste bags. Belt extends from 25-45 inches.
PetSafe Clik-R While you can certainly train your pup without a clicker, using one can really speed up most dogs’ rate of learning when timed properly. This one attaches to your finger with an elastic band so you don’t have to worry about grabbing it on time or dropping it on accident. This one is quieter for indoor use or for sound sensitive dogs.