Gear & Equipment
Choosing the right GEAR
Walk into any pet store and you'll see an array of collars, halters, harnesses and other gadgets that will make your head spin. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a dog that walks perfectly on a regular, flat collar, but if you need a little equipment support, this guide is for you.
It will likely take some trial and error to figure out what works for you and your dog. Most pet stores will let you try on collars or harnesses in the store, and have a good return policy if they don't work out. Below are some of the most common categories of equipment and notes on how they work:
We are big advocates of safety. When using a harness, we recommend not only clipping the leash to the harness - but also clipping the loop in the collar as well. This way, if your dog happens to wiggle out of their harness, they will still be clipped to their collar or vice versa. If you happen to have a fearful or nervous dog, it's incredibly important to ensure that their collar and harness are fitted properly.
Flat collars have a buckle or plastic snap closure and a ring for attaching identification tags and leash. A flat collar should fit comfortably around your dogs neck and should not be so tight that it chokes your dog or loose enough that they can slip out of it. A good rule of thumb when fitting a flat collar is that you should be able to fit three fingers comfortably underneath.
The martingale collar looks like a flat collar with an extra chain or fabric loop that can tighten if the dog puts tension on the leash. It will not reduce pulling on its own, but it is a good safety option, particularly for dogs with big necks or small heads! If the collar is fitted properly, the dog can’t easily slip out of it. It should dangle when there is slack on the leash, and should not choke the dog in any way if tightened to its smallest size. The martingale design is available at most pet stores in a variety of sizes and designs. These collars should be removed if the dog is left alone or is playing with other dogs, as there is a risk of the loop becoming caught on something and causing a choking hazard.
Pinch or 'choke' collars
Pinch or choke collars do exactly what their name suggests. When a dog pulls or the owner jerks or tugs at the leash, the collar tightens and chokes the dog by cutting off their air supply. These collars work by causing pain and discomfort, however, they can also cause injuries to your dog's throat. We do not recommend these collars.
The prong collar is metal and has spikes that dig into a dogs neck when they pull. They work similarly to the choke collars in that they cause pain when a dog pulls. These collars should be fitted properly as they can cause damage if they sit on the wrong part of the neck. While prong collars may not feel as painful on human skin, it's important to know that human skin is 2-3 times thicker than dogs. We do not recommend these collars.
Myth bust: "My dog loves his prong collar. Whenever I bring it out, he gets super excited!"
Dogs learn through associations. What has happened here is that your dog has learned that every time you take out their prong collar, that means they are going for a walk. They are excited to go for a walk, not to wear their collar. Remember, if the collar didn't cause pain or discomfort - it wouldn't work.
Shock, electronic or 'E' collars
Shock, electronic or o 'E' collars all work similarly by delivering an electric shock to a dogs neck. The settings can be adjusted to deliver shocks of different intensity. These kinds of collars are inhumane and cruel. Scientific studies have proven that the use of these collars cause an increase of behavioural issues including aggression and fear-related behaviour. There is absolutely no justification to use pain to train your dog. We do not recommend these collars.
Myth bust: "I tried the shock collar on my own neck and it didn't hurt"
This is one of the arguments often made about shock collars not causing pain. However, a human's skin is 2-3 times thicker than a dogs is. These collars have proven to cause more behavioural issues than they fix including an increase in aggression, anxiety and fear-related behaviour. To learn more about why we don't support these outdated methods of training, the SPCA has provided some helpful information here.
This is a good option for small dogs, mellow dogs, or those who can’t tolerate pressure on the neck from a collar. A standard body harness will have the leash attachment at the back, and this will not reduce pulling. Because it distributes weight around the body, it may actually increase the urge to pull.
There are a variety of designs out there at different price points! Shop around to find a design that doesn't chafe or restrict your dog's gait.
Pulling on leash is one of the most common training challenges! If this is causing stress to you and your dog, we recommend consulting a trainer for some loose-leash walking tips.
A front-clip harness can reduce the urge to pull by turning the front of the body towards you when the dog pulls forward. There are many brands available and you may find that you have a preference for a particular style or fit. We have had a lot of success with the Freedom Harness - it is adjustable to fit a variety of dog body types, has a back clip and a front clip (you can use either or both), and has a velvety strap across the belly to minimize chafing.
The front-clip should ideally be used along with positive reinforcement training methods to encourage loose leash walking. Over time, the constant tension of the harness across the chest may affect their gait.
Back clip harnesses are the other very common kind of harness available. However, for some dogs this kind of harness encourages pulling especially in working breeds. Also, if happen to have a strong dog, attaching your leash to the back of the harness allows your dog to use their entire body to pull whereas a front clip harness does not.
Some dogs pull through a front-clip harness or may have injuries that are exacerbated by its use. A head halter may be an appropriate alternative. When you have control of the dog’s head, it is difficult for them to pull with the same force, and you can help direct their focus back to you.
Again, we recommend that you use this in conjunction with behaviour modification training to encourage loose-leash walking skills, and pay close attention to any potential for injury. If the dog is extremely reactive, for example, holding them back by a head halter may cause injury to the head or neck.
Leashes are mandatory in most places, most of the time, so invest in a good one! Look for canvas, leather, or another sturdy material that is comfortable for you to hold for long amounts of time, in all kinds of weather conditions. A length of 4-6 feet is ideal, and some leashes come with features like padded handles or an additional "traffic handle" for extra control.
Remember that being off-leash is a privilege and not a right! Keep your off-leash activities to a designated area, and ensure you have control over your dog before letting him/her off-leash.
If your dog is not ready for off-leash play, seek out fenced areas or try a long line. You can make your own or purchase them at various lengths at a pet store. A long line allows the dog some freedom to run, play, or chase a ball, but you can easily grab or step on the line to guide them back to you if lose their focus.
If you happen to have a strong dog, using a waist leash can be a life savor! Waist leashes allow you to use your core strength AND your hands which can be a great advantage. You can also choose to attach a second leash to your dog as well. If you choose to use a waist leash, it's important to always pay attention to what your dog is doing and to your surroundings since there is the potential that you could get pulled.
Slip leads are composed of a single line strung through a ring at one end, to make a continuously tightening loop that goes around your dog's neck. Slip leads adjust to the size of any dog's neck and make it impossible for dogs to back out of them. We don't recommend using these as a dogs primary leash, however, they are a good secondary tool to use if your dog is fearful or a flight risk.
While we don't recommend using a retractable leash, we understand at certain times they can be convenient. However, as a daily leash, they provide little to no control especially if you have a medium to large sized dog. If you are wanting to keep your dog on leash but allow them the freedom to have more slack, try using a long line. These kinds of leashes come in a variety of different materials and lengths and can be great if your dog doesn't have a great recall.
If there is a risk that your dog might bite a person or other dog, a muzzle might be a great solution. It keeps your dog safe and may allow you to relax knowing that even in a surprise scenario, no one will be hurt. Certain jurisdictions may have breed-specific legislations requiring certain dogs to be muzzled, no matter what their individual risk to the public. In any case, don't be deterred by a muzzle! If you introduce it in a positive light and the dog comes to associate it with walks and good times, many wear them happily.
What kind of muzzle should I use?
It's imperative to use a basket muzzle on walks to ensure the dog can pant or breathe - fabric grooming muzzles that force the mouth shut should never be used for more than a few minutes at a time. When a dog wears a muzzle, they should be able to open their mouth almost completely and be able to pant. Check out Why Muzzles Are Marvellous (blog post) and the Muzzle Up! Project for some information and inspiration.
We know keeping treats in your pocket can get messy, so having a training pouch that clips to your pocket or sits around your waist is a really great tool. It's always a great idea to have high value treats on hand during walks. Whether you are working on obedience training, strengthening your bond with your dog, or improving behavioural issues it's better to be prepared.
Now go walk!
A daily walk is more than just exercise! It's bonding between you and your dog, and an enormous amount of mental enrichment as the dog explores his or her world. The right equipment is essential but won't function as a “band-aid” for problem behaviours. If your dog is having challenges with his or her leash manners or having other problems on walks, contact us for a referral to a qualified, positive reinforcement trainer in your area!