Collars, harnesses & halters – which is best for my dog?
How do you know your dog is fitted with the correct walking equipment to ensure their comfort and safety? There are an astronomical number of options available in the construction, style and fashion in leads, collars, harnesses and halters.
Choose the right one for you and your dog and you’re set on the path to many happy wanderings. The wrong one, and your dog is at risk of discomfort and possible injury. Even if the correct equipment is chosen, improper fitting or use can still result in some nasty outcomes.
Let’s take a look at the options available:
Head halters have been around for a while and although may take a bit for you and your dog to get used to, they are a wonderful option for most dogs. They are designed similarly to a horse bridle with a nose strap with another strap high on the back of the head.
The premise is simply that wherever your dog’s nose is pointing, that’s the direction their body will go. The effort required by you, the handler, to influence the direction you need your dog to go is minimal so that even boisterous, strong, and often otherwise un-walkable dogs are more easily managed, meaning pleasant experiences and better opportunities for obedience and manners training.
From personal experience, head halters can be a wonderful gift to the owner–dog bond. Plus, when used correctly, are a fantastic alternative to regular collars as they don’t put pressure on the neck, trachea or oesophagus.
They’re not just for dogs that pull on the lead, they are great for snapping, mouthing or generally dominantly behaved dogs. As the head collar also loops the lower jaw, you’ll also have control in these situations too. Finally, these are an excellent choice for dogs who a built in such a way that harnesses simply don’t fit well.
- Your dog should be able to pant, eat and drink with the head collar fitted. It is not a muzzle.
- The strap across the nose needs to be firm so that it doesn’t slide up into the eyes.
- The head collar you choose needs to have a safety feature – either a secondary clip that secures to a regular collar or harness, or designed to slip into its own neck collar design in the event that your clever doggo works out how to get the nose strap off (this usually only occurs in the initial stages until the fit is perfected and your dog gets used to the head collar).
- Less is more. There is no need to tug firmly or “check” on the lead. If in doubt, discuss the fitting and use of the head halter with the manufacturer or a reputable dog trainer.
Again, there are many types of body harnesses for dogs. Like the head halter, they are designed to avoid pressure on the neck, trachea and oesophagus – though they do need to be fitted correctly to ensure this.
There is a great popularity for “no-pull” or “anti-pull” harnesses – and for good reason. These are particularly useful for use in dogs that like to pull or lunge when on the lead, even more so for the dogs who are unable to wear the head halter.
What is an anti-pull harness? It is similar to a regular harness, but it clips at your dog’s chest (the front) rather than at the back. There are some that have clips in both sites so that progressive training can occur.
The premise in the anti-pull harness is that the handler’s control comes from the front of the dogs body. When the dog pulls, the pressure felt from the harness and lead at the front of the check causes them to slow their pace. With the harnesses that clip at the back, this can often give a dog leverage to get their weight behind a lunge.
- Your dog should be able to fully and comfortably extend and flex their forelimbs, particularly the shoulder while wearing the harness.
- The harness needs to be fitted well so that it doesn’t slide to the side to allow full range of movement of the shoulders or down the back (this will cause the harness to ride up at the chest and throat causing pressure on the internal structures.
- A harness with a secondary clip at the back as is a good choice for the extra security. A tip with these is to have a double ended lead – this is a lead with a clip at each end, so still only one strap/leash to hold.
A regular collar should only be used for identification purposes, i.e. name and registration tags. Yes, they are quite safe for dogs who walk calmly on lead without pulling, however in an emergency situation, for example being rushed by an uncontrolled dog, a harsh pull on the leash by an owner can result in injury for the spine, trachea, oesophagus and muscles of the neck or cause the collar to slip off your dog, resulting in an escaped, unidentified pooch – yours!
If your dog is able to walk without pulling, not only am I a little envious, but I would also recommend a regular harness (back clip only) for security and safety. If a good hard pull is necessary, the risk of injury and/or escape is far reduced.
How to I choose the right equipment?
Each set up has its place, but it must work for both you and your dog. Sometimes, particularly in the use of the head halter, it can take a bit of practice to get used to it (that goes for you and your dog!).
If you’re unsure, speak to a reputable dog trainer, your veterinarian, or me to get some good advice. If your dog is reactive, lacking in socialisation or generally poorly mannered, it is best to also engage a canine behaviourist to address the cause as well as using a head halter or harness to manage the symptoms.
Oops! I’ve been fitting my dog’s equipment incorrectly!
It’s always a learning experience – I remember the days where check chains were advocated as highly as dominance training. Thankfully, our dogs are very forgiving of us and we keep learning, developing and improving!
If you feel that your dog has an injury that may have been caused or exacerbated by set up you have been using, the first step is to see your vet. Any injury however mild, chronic or subtle should be addressed.
Often gentle muscle work will help alleviate pain and discomfort, and massage is a fantastic place to start. It can improve the circulation to affected muscles, improving mobility and well-being immensely. By doing this, we can ensure your dog enjoys his walk even more!