There’s quite a bit of controversy about equipment for training dogs. Some dog trainers swear by one device, some dog trainers condemn other devices. It’s hard to cut through the drama and find the best choice to make.
My goal here is to help you understand the different dog training tools, how they are supposed to be used, and how they are often misused. I’ll also share with you my personal opinion about the devices, and which equipment I personally use to train dogs.
Flat collar. This is the typical collar, with either a buckle or clip closure. It usually has a D-ring to clip a leash on. Handled correctly, this collar serves to hold the dog’s identification at all times and it allows us to take ahold of the dog and to control a situation and provide guidance for the dog. If the dog has never been trained to walk on a loose leash, the flat collar can cause injury to the dog’s neck and throat if the dog is pulling. The flat collar is my personal favourite because of it’s simplicity. Once a dog knows how to walk on a loose leash, the flat collar is usually all one needs to walk and train their dog.
Harness. This is a device that wraps around the chest and abdomen of the dog. There is a great variety of harnesses out there, including some with clips on the back of the dog, or on the dog’s chest. Harnesses typically reduce risk of injury to the dog’s neck and throat and so are the choice of well-meaning owners who don’t want their dogs hurting themselves from pulling. In my-opinion, a harness does’t replace good dog training. Your dog should learn how to walk on a loose leash so that they aren’t pulling at all. Sometimes I find it tricky to train a dog how to walk on a loose leash while in a harness with a back clip. Other times a front-clip harness helps a dog understand how to walk loose leash. And still other times, a harness is a must, especially for a dog with a little head and big neck, where a flat collar won’t stay on during dog training.
Head collar/halter. These devices allow the owner to handle the head of the dog more directly. They involve a slip mechanism where, when the dog pulls, a strap is tightened around the dog’s snout. A halter is meant to give the trainer more control of the dog. The problem is that proper dog training isn’t being put in place and some trainers are counting on the device to do the training for them. This does’t work, and the dog can panic when the strap tightens on their snout. My opinion is that there is a place for the the proper use of the head collar. It is a temporary tool to get through to a hard-to-reach dog. It is not meant to “control” the dog, but to guide them until they don’t need it anymore.
Choke collar. A choke collar is a smooth, weighted chain that slips tighter as the dog pulls. The idea is that it can give a corrective message to the dog and then the weight of the chain allows it to quickly release. This tool is never meant to be used on a pulling dog, ever, as it tightens on the dog’s neck without release. In my opinion, a choke chain doesn’t really have a place in my dog training. I train dogs as companions and partners, but as I don’t hold them to strict behavioural expectations, I have no need to train dogs with a choke chain. Perhaps there is a place for them in specialized training, like for service dogs, who need a quick, gentle reminder of the task previously taught to them.
Martingale. A martingale collar is a mix between a flat collar and a choke collar. A D-ring for the leash connects to a strap on the collar that partially tightens with tension on the leash. Unlike the choke collar, the martingale collar can only tighten a certain amount. I feel the same about the Martingale as I do about the choke collar. There’s maybe a place for it, but it’s not in my dog training method.
Prong collar. A prong collar also called a pinch collar, is a metal device which, when tension is applied to the leash, metal or rubber tips poke or pinch into the dog’s neck. The theory is that applying pain will reduce the dog’s tendency to repeat certain behaviours. In my dog training method, I don’t have a place for a prong collar. Again, perhaps those who train dogs for service or other specialized roles require one.
E-collar. There are three main types of e-collars. All three use noise, vibrate, or varying levels of shock to deliver a message to a dog. Fence e-collars are to keep a dog contained in a yard or other area. Proper training is required to teach the dog where the perimeter is, to avoid a dog becoming unconfident and afraid because he does’t understand the concept. I think these collars are great if used properly. Most dogs respond to the sound or vibrate, rarely ever receiving a shock. Barking e-collars give a sound, vibrate, or shock when the dog barks. I disagree with these completely. A dog shouldn’t be punished for having a voice. A barking dog usually doesn’t feel safe on some level. In my dog training method, I focus on helping the dog feel safe, then they don’t feel the need to bark at everything. Training e-collars are used by dog trainers to communicate with the dog silently, over a long distance. Most times, these trainers never deliver a shock, but use the sound or vibrate to communicate different messages to the dog. There’s a place for these collars in specialized training. However, in my method, I am training dogs to be partners and companions and so I never use an e-collar.
Flat leash. This is your standard leash, usually 4-6 feet long with a loop on the end. I do the vast majority of all dog training with a flat leash.
Tab leash. This is a very short leash. Either the dog can run around with it and you can get control of the situation again easily, or it can be useful in teaching the dog loose leash walking. It is meant to be a short, loose leash to give the dog only a small wandering space.
Retractable leash. A retractable leash is handy as it helps us alternate between social walking (where the dog gets some freedom to sniff and pee, etc) and structured walking (where the dog walks calmly by our side in a more structured way). Proper dog training must take place with the use of a retractable leash as the dog has to learn how to walk on a loose leash, no matter how long it is.
Muzzle. There are two main types of muzzles. A sleeve muzzle is a fabric cuff that slides over the snout and keeps the mouth close, preventing the dog from biting. Vets and groomers often use this type as it is more temporary. Basket muzzles are larger than the dog’s snout and stiffer. They form a basket around the dog’s snout, preventing bites and nips, but without holding the mouth closed. This is the better option if the dog will be walking or running so that they can pant. Muzzles are necessary for vets and groomers for their own safety. Muzzles might also be necessary for the dogs who are aggressive or show signs of aggression. In my opinion, other than for your veto groomer, a muzzle is a safety blanket only, not something we rely on. About 90% of aggression is fear so in my dog training method, I help the dog feel safe first, then introduce the stressor, when we are 99% sure that the dog won’t bite. The muzzle is there for the 1% just-in-case scenario.
For all this dog training equipment, there’s a common theme: the equipment itself does not train the dog. The dog still needs proper dog training, regardless of what equipment you use.
For the vast majority of cases, a flat collar and a flat leash are the simplest, cheapest, and most effective means to deliver my message. I use the tools, not to control the dog, but to communicate to the dog. If I am depending too much on the equipment, then the dog doesn’t understand and we’ve gone too far, too fast, and we need to back up.
If you are struggling with a dog pulling on the leash, or if you can’t find any piece of equipment to get through to your dog, please reach out. Your dog doesn’t need another device or piece of equipment. He need you to understand him and communicate with him in a way that makes sense to him. In my dog training method, I’ll help you do that.
Here’s to You and Your Dog!