Pros, cons, and how-to's for different restraint options for your dog

  By: Dr. Janet Cutler, PhD, CPDT-KA
        Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada
        On the Right Track Animal Behaviour Consulting

September 12, 2016

Collars and leashes are on everyone's list of things to purchase for a new dog. They are very important for the safety of your dog while out of your home, making sure they don't get away from you near roads or other dangers. Collars also let owners attach contact information in case your dog happens to get away from you.

If you've walked into a pet store lately, you'll notice that there are an overwhelming number of options available. They are all designed to help you restrain your dog in different ways. To help you pick the best option for you and your dog, the most common types are briefly explained below.

COLLARS

Flat collars

Flat collars are one of the most common types of collars and can be made from a variety of different materials, such as nylon or leather. These collars have a buckle made of plastic or metal and a D-ring for clipping a leash and adding identification.

There are many different sizes available with different lengths and widths. Make sure you pick an appropriate one for your dog. You want to be able to fit a few fingers between your dog's neck and the collar but you don't want to be able to slip the collar over the dog's head.

If you have a puppy and want to use flat collars, you'll likely have to go through two or three different sizes as your puppy grows. Pick a collar that has room to be lengthened but isn't too wide. It is very important to check the fit of the collar every couple days to make sure it isn't getting too tight as your puppy grows.

If you have an adult dog, getting a collar that can be shortened or lengthened a bit will get you the most use from your collar as they may gain/lose weight or their coat might change throughout the year.

Head collars

Several brands of head collars are available in stores. Most head collars fit over your dog's nose and buckle around the back of their head. These allow for much more control over your dog's head and are usually used if you have trouble with your dog pulling.

A majority of dogs need some training to get used to their head collar and will scratch at the collar if they are not used to it. To have the most success, gradually introduce the head collar to your dog while using treats. For example, you can start by putting the head collar near their head and giving treats, then move the collar away from their head. Next, you can put the collar up to their nose or put their nose slightly through the collar while giving treats. Gradually work up to having the collar on fully.

Martingales

Martingales are a combination of flat collars with a small section of chain or fabric that acts to tighten when your dog pulls. Unlike a regular choke chain, this type of collar releases immediately when your dog stops pulling and will not lock in place.

This type of collar provides a small correction when your dog pulls and releases when they stop. They DO need to be fitted properly so that the rings holding the smaller loop of chain or fabric that tightens do NOT touch each other when pulled tight. If this happens, it means the collar is too loose and may slip off your dog. If your dog is playing with others while wearing a martingale, make sure that an adult is there to supervise as teeth or paws of other dogs could get tanged or stuck in the extra loop.

Choke chains

Choke chains are designed to 'choke' a dog when it pulls and then release once they stop, in an aim to teach your dog not to pull. Choke chains need to be put on properly though, as looping the wrong way allows the chain to tighten when your dog pulls and then not release. These collars should not be left on your dog unsupervised as they could tighten if caught on anything.

Due to the risks of injury to dogs with choke chains, the use of choke chains is not recommended. Instead, it is recommended that you train your dog not to pull while walking and using one of the other collars described above.

Harnesses

Harnesses are often bought in stores with the IDEA of preventing your dog from pulling while walking. However, harnesses were actually designed to help animals pull heavy loads, putting pressure of the restraint on their chest and allowing them to put the full power of their legs and body against the harness.

For this reason, these are NOT a good option for an average dog. However, if you have a dog that you are training to pull for outdoor activities or if your dog has a neck or back injury, this might be the ideal option for you and your dog.

Prong and pinch collars

Prong and pinch collars are designed to cause pain when your dog pulls on the leash. These collars can easily cause permanent damage to your dog's neck. For these reasons, these collars are very rarely recommended. Using positive reinforcement to train your dog to stop pulling and using other devices described above would be a much better option for your dog.

LEASHES

As with collars, there are many types of leashes available. Nylon or leather leashes are the most common and have a clip to connect to your dog's collar and a handle for you to hold.

There are many lengths and widths of leashes available, and it is important to consider the types of activities you will be doing with your dog before buying. Very long leashes have the potential to get tangled around objects and other dogs while on walks, while very short leashes may not give you and your dog enough length for your dog to explore while walking. Keep in mind the height of the people walking your dog, as adjustments to length could be needed for them as well.

If you will be spending a lot of time walking your dog, make sure the handle of the leash is comfortable for you. Wrapping long leashes around and around your hand could cause injury to you if your dog suddenly pulls on the leash.

Flexi-type leashes are commonly found in stores; however, they can be dangerous and can also teach your dog to pull on the leash. Flexi leads work by allowing your dog to continue to pull a longer leash while they walk away from you, which actually teaches them to pull while walking. They can also be dangerous when meeting other dogs as the long line can get tangled around dogs or the legs of the people with them, causing injury.

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It is important to ensure that the restraint devices you choose for you and your dog are comfortable, safe, and fit properly. The majority of pet stores or veterinary clinics where you buy collars and leashes can help to make sure that you have the proper fit on your dog.

As well as having proper restraint, training your dog not to pull on the leash will make walking much more enjoyable for both you and your dog. Making sure that your dog has an excellent recall (i.e., coming when called) is also very important in case you ever drop the leash or your pet accidentally slips out of their collar.

Have fun walking your dog!