There is no one size fits all option for leashing your dog. We will give you some guidelines, but no matter what you choose, you should make sure you introduce any equipment in a way that will help your pup feel comfortable when wearing it. Also consider that most equipment should be removed when your dog does not actively need it or is not directly supervised. We often take for granted that collars are a choking hazard. Please see The Naked Dog Project for more information on collar safety.
Keep in mind, there is no equipment that will teach a dog not to pull on the leash, most dogs need some training to learn this skill. You may also choose different equipment for different contexts. Seeking the opinion of a behavior professional to find the best option for you may save you from collecting a pile of things you tried and didn't like.
Collars, head collars, slip leads or harnesses that cause a dog pain or discomfort should be avoided. These include harnesses that close down on the dog when they pull, collars that shock, spray, choke, or pinch/prong the dog. There are many euphemisms for these pieces of equipment: training collars, tens unit, e-collars. These may reduce pulling or other unwanted behavior for some dogs. They increase the risk for injury in all dogs: burns, collapsed trachea, neck injuries as a result of use. When used ‘correctly’ they use pain and discomfort to communicate. Dogs may develop fearful or aggressive behaviors as a result of using this type of equipment.
Equipment worn on the neck puts a dog at risk for neck and spine injuries when they pull. Flat collars and martingale (limited choke) can be used safely when dogs do not pull. Flat collars can be used to carry ID tags. They should be removed when unsupervised – both martingale and flat collars pose strangulation risk when left on during play and when unsupervised. A poorly fitted martingale can catch a pup's leg or jaw, never leave a dog wearing a martingale unsupervised.
Harnesses with a front clip can be useful in handling a dog that pulls, but training to teach the dog not to pull should be used to prevent shoulder and back injury from being pulled to the side. Dogs lunging into a front clip harness may also be flipped off their feet. They often change the ability of the dog to move their legs forward normally – avoid using a harness that you must attach to a front clip when a dog is going to be moving faster than a walk.
Retractable leashes can be dangerous to the dog, handler and other people (burns, cuts when tangled or grabbed). They can break unexpectedly. These leashes also will chase the dog if accidentally dropped, causing most dogs to run away. They do not allow you to easily control your dog to keep them out of danger. They force your dog to pull to gain freedom, teaching your dog to apply pressure to the leash to move forward.
Head collars can be helpful for handling larger dogs, and dogs that pull. Most dogs will not enjoy wearing this piece of equipment without training to help them feel comfortable wearing something on their face. This takes some time, but if you prefer to use this type of equipment, needs to be done for the dog to be comfortable. Dogs that pull into a head collar all of the time, or lunge while wearing it can still cause injury to their neck. Some dogs will rub their noses raw or develop skin irritations from the band.
Fixed length leashes made of material that is comfortable for the handler and allows the dog to walk on loose leash are the best choice. Most dogs will be easiest to handle on a 6 to 8 foot leash. A longer leash can be held shorter when needed, and when walking will reduce pulling by allowing your dog just a little more space. Handlers can learn to safely manage longer leashes (15 to 30ft) to allow more freedom – giving you the benefits of a retractable without the dangers.
Body harnesses with a back attachment are usually the best choice for most dogs and handlers. Dogs that pull can be handled more easily while working on loose leash training with two points of contact (front clip to steer when needed and back clip for brakes). The best choices will be easy to put on, where the dog can learn to put their head through/load feet in. There are harnesses that do not require lifting the feet or putting the harness over the head. They will allow the dog to walk or run normally and feel comfortable, avoiding restricting the forward movement of the shoulder or rubbing in the armpits.
OTHER EQUIPMENT TO CONSIDER
A treat pouch that you take along each time you walk will allow you to reward your dog for polite behavior. Treats tossed in the face of a friendly loose dog can be effective in stopping them from rushing into your dog's space.
A waist leash can be helpful if you are concerned about your dog pulling their leash away from you.
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