It seems pretty simple: you just want to take your dog for a walk, but what kind of collar should she wear? Or should she use a harness? What about leashes—does she need a regular leash or a retractable one?
As is the case with picking out shoes, potato chips or electronic s, there are plenty of choices. Luckily, there are ways to break down the options and select the perfect collar, harness or leash to suit your dog’s personality and needs. When outfitting your puppy or adult dog with a new collar, leash or harness, it’s a good idea to take her shopping with you to make sure you get a proper fit.
Every dog needs a collar for attaching her tags. There are many different types of collars available—including every day, training, reflective, martingale, flat, breakaway and flea. All come in a variety of colors, patterns and styles—but the most important factors are size, weight and fit.
Two main types are flat collars and martingale collars. Flat collars with buckles are one of the most commonly seen. Typically made of nylon, they’re inexpensive and effective for most dogs. Nylon collars are ideal for growing puppies because they typically cost less. Flat collars also come in leather, which tends to be stronger and more durable. If you have a long-haired dog, consider buying a rolled leather collar to keep her hair from matting or getting caught.
Martingale collars (sometimes called “Greyhound” or “limited slip” collars) were originally designed for use in breeds like sighthounds, since their neck widths are often equal to or wider than their heads. It can be quite easy for these breeds to slip out of a flat collar, but a martingale collar prevents this by means of an extra loop that can softly tighten and stay snug against the neck if the dog tries to pull away. The use of martingale dog collars has gained popularity in other breeds for training purposes or for dogs that have a habit of trying to slip out of a flat collar.
Your dog’s collar should ride high on her neck, not loose so that it slides down to her shoulder blades. For her safety, the collar should not be loose enough to slip over her head. It should be snug, but with enough room to easily fit two fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck. Collars should never be so tight that they restrict breathing or cause coughing. Cut off any excess strap that your dog may chew on. Also, choose a collar width designed for the overall size of your dog—one that’s not too heavy and not too light. Big, strong dogs require a heavier and wider collar than smaller dogs.
Harnesses are an excellent choice for puppies or dogs with delicate throats that may be irritated by the use of a regular flat collar. They are placed around the dog’s chest and ribcage, and therefore eliminate the potential for choking. Harnesses are also effective for preventing dogs from slipping out of their collars on a walk.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests that harnesses may reduce issues of pulling in some dogs. But for other dogs, the opposite may be true, and certain harnesses also have the potential to increase a dog’s desire to pull, as she will no longer find it uncomfortable to do so. To keep this from happening, consider using a front-clip harness or a no-pull harness, rather than one with a buckle on the back.
To choose a correctly fitting dog harness, you’ll need to know your dog’s general weight range, and possibly a few measurements. Again, it helps to take your dog shopping with you to ensure a proper fit. Make sure the harness doesn’t pinch your dog anywhere. You may want to choose a padded mesh harness for a more comfortable fit.
Should you choose a regular (flat) leash or a retractable leash? Standard flat leashes are usually about 4–6 feet long and made of washable nylon or leather. They come in a variety of lengths, thicknesses and colors to match your dog’s collar. The advantage of a flat leash is that it allows you to maintain direct, constant control over your dog, which is an important safety factor, especially if you have a puppy or you walk your dog in busy areas.
Retractable leashes can extend a great distance (15–20 feet or more) and allow your dog some freedom to explore on walks. Retractable leashes are best suited for dogs that have been well-trained to walk on a leash since they have the ability to wander far away from you. Retractable leashes are best used when your dog is walking in controlled, open areas. Always practice safety precautions when using a retractable leash in order to avoid injury to you or your pet, and replace the leash immediately if it breaks or malfunctions.
The thickness and strength of the leash should be suitable for your dog. Start a puppy with a shorter leash for maximum control. Nylon leashes often work better for puppies because they’re lighter and more expandable. The stitching or braiding near the handle and the metal clasp that attaches to the collar look should be solid and durable. When your dog reaches her full size, you might want to switch to a leather leash, which lasts longer and is easier on your hands.
There are also plenty of specialty collars, harnesses and leashes available. Some have reflective features for added visibility during nighttime walks and some have accessories like waste pick-up bags or travel bowls attached to them. You can find personalized products or themed sets. No matter what you choose for your dog, make sure it fits properly and is the right size and weight. To learn more about walking your dog on a loose leash, consider enrolling in a local dog training class.