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  • Which Harness is Right for My Dog?

    by Alyssa Wethington

    As a person who’s walked hundreds of pups, I’ve seen almost all there is to see as far as harnesses, collars, and leashes go. Just as smartphone technology has made arranging pet care easier, improvements in product technology can make dog walking itself better. Below I break down some of the most popular (and some more obscure) dog walking gear, and reasons you might select one for your pooch.

    While totally adorable, this is probably not the best way to walk your dogs

    Standard Collars

    Most owners consider collars essential attire, as a dog generally wears his or her ID on it. In most cases though, collars are not actually ideal for walking your dog. Well-behaved or not, most dogs tend to pull at least occasionally during walks. Putting 100 percent of this pressure on a dog’s neck is not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous for their health. Ideally, the purpose of a standard collar should be identification, with leash walking limited to short potty breaks or emergencies.

    Martingale, Choke, and Prong Collars

    Martingale collar with metal loop

    A martingale is a standard collar with a loop of either fabric or metal links that contracts when the dog pulls. Martingale collars are generally marketed as a safe alternative to choke chains. Choke chains/collars differ from martingales in that they have unlimited constricting power. This means the collar will continue to shrink as a dog pulls, potentially causing severe damage to his neck or windpipe. Choke collars are inhumane and ineffective. While martingale collars are certainly a more humane alternative, they too should be avoided for regular walking. Like standard collars, martingales can still put uncomfortable and potentially dangerous pressure on a very sensitive area.

    Standard metal prong collar

    Prong collars are similar in design to both martingales and choke collars yet fundamentally different in purpose and use. Prong collars appear cruel at first glance to many dog owners. They consist of individual pieces of metal linked together to form the collar that goes around the dog’s neck, metal prongs sitting inward, with a loop where the leash attaches. When a dog pulls, the loop contracts, and the blunt prongs pinch the dogs neck. Prong collars should only be used in concert with consistent training. They must be worn high up on the neck and adjusted correctly for your dog. Unlike choke chains, prong collars have limited constricting power. The pinch of the prongs is meant to mimic neck-biting behavior dogs use on one another and should be noticeable and uncomfortable, but not painful. Pulling on the leash of a dog that is wearing a prong collar should be used only as a corrective method. Pressure should immediately be let off once the dog has ceased negative behavior.

    Much debate exists over the use of prong collars. While I understand the controversy — we never want to cause our friends unnecessary discomfort — I have personally seen prong collars transform dogs’ behavior from erratic and dangerous to manageable. When harnesses, treats, and voice commands fail, it’s still imperative a person maintain control over a dog at all times. Losing control because the dog is strong and will not listen could result in injury to dog, owner, or passerby. While extensive professional training may be the best answer for problem pups, it’s not always a feasible one. Before choosing to use a prong collar, make sure other options such as no-pull harnesses (see below) have been exhausted. Do ample research or, better yet, consult a professional trainer before attempting to use a prong collar on your dog.

    Step-In Harnesses

    Springer spaniel wearing a step-in harness

    Harnesses that consist of two loops, one for each leg, and clip together with a leash attachment on the back are typically referred to as “step-in” harnesses. They are easy to put on — simply guide the dog’s paws into the appropriate holes, pull up, and clip — and most dogs find them relatively inoffensive. Step-ins, along with any type of harness, take pressure off a dog’s neck and disperse it over the back and chest. While step-in harnesses are great for relaxed well-behaved pooches, they offer little influence over behavioral problems such as pulling. They also carry the risk of slipping over a dog’s head if they are adjusted too loosely.

    No-Pull Harnesses

    Lab wearing a No-Pull Harness

    For dogs that pull, there are several specially designed harnesses that attempt to remedy the problem. The most common types I see are the Easy Walk and Freedom harnesses. Both have leash attachments in front, placing pressure on a dog’s chest when he pulls. The effectiveness of no-pull harnesses relies heavily on the strength and tenacity of the dog, as well as the training methods that accompany their use. I recommend trying a no-pull harness first to address leash pulling before jumping to a more uncomfortable solution such as a head halter (see below) or prong collar (see above).

    Head Halters

    Lab wearing a Gentle Leader head halter

    Head collars are another creative solution to leash pulling. Resembling a horse halter, these collars consist of fabric that loops around the dog’s head and snout, with the leash fastening below the dog’s chin. The collar works in much the same way a horse halter does, by redirecting the animal’s attention through leading the head. The biggest problem I find with halters is that they are often adjusted wrong. These collars can be extremely uncomfortable for a dog if they are applied incorrectly, for example with the leash attachment above the dog’s mouth instead of below. Like harnesses and prong collars, use of halters should be coupled with training to ensure safety and effectiveness.

    Breed-Specific Harnesses

    French bulldog wearing a Frenchie brand harness

    Some companies have created products that are tailored to specific breeds of dogs, and even cats! For example, harnesses made specifically for bulldogs often have a broader, stretchier piece of fabric around the neck/chest to avoid exacerbating the breathing problems they already experience. Walking “jackets” and “vests” are sold for cats to provide a more comfortable experience for sensitive felines (note: cats should only be walked with some sort of harness, never a collar. Cats’ throats are softer than dogs’, so the risk of causing damage is even higher). If you think your pet may require some extra TLC in the harness department, try researching the brands that exist specifically to accommodate your type of furry friend!

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