There is SO much choice out there with regards to what ‘tools’ to put on our dogs. Essentially, whatever we put on our dog is a tool of some sort, be it a collar, a harness or a head collar. However we NEED these tools to live in our society, our dogs have to be under control. A collar is, traditionally, our first go to piece of equipment. We normally buy our pup a collar before anything else in fact! Largely, this is for identification purposes, for the ID tag. However what is the best ‘tool’ to use once you start taking your pup out? Collar? Harness? Here, we will have a look at the pros and cons of each.
If you go into a pet shop you will surely be spoilt for choice with regards to collars. SO much variety. We have flat collars, half-check collars, choke chains, martingale collars, padded collars, oh my goodness so many. Obviously, when you bring your pup home he is not going on walks, so largely we buy a regular flat nylon collar and this suits us just fine. But, what when we start going out with our pups? Not ALL puppies pull on the lead, but pulling is something many owners do struggle with during those early months.
Dogs actually have incredibly sensitive necks. It really is one of the most vulnerable areas on a dogs body, so it is essential that it is treated with care. If a puppy/dog is pulling into a collar on a regular basis this can, long term, cause issues such as eye problems (caused by Intraocular eye pressure), or tracheal damage (ie. collapsed trachea). It could possibly worsen thyroid issues or cause problems for sensitive throats (such as after Kennel Cough for example). If your pup or dog is coughing when walking or starting to ‘huff and puff’ due to the strain on the neck, it’s pretty much certain you need to address this. I am not suggesting ALL dogs who pull on the lead will suffer ill effects later on, however, we want to be as sure as we can that we DON’T cause problems, don’t we?
A dogs neck contains the trachea, oesophagus, lymph nodes, thyroid glands, spinal column and more! It is hugely vulnerable to injury. Imagine, when your dog pulls suddenly to the end of the lead, that sudden ‘jolt’ they make, if that was on OUR necks we would usually get checked for whiplash wouldn’t we?? And likely will take such good care of ourselves that we ensure it doesn’t happen again. But, with our dogs, we allow this to happen again and again and again. A study including 400 dogs showed that “91% of dogs with neck injuries had been exposed to pulling hard on a lead for long periods”, also “there was a clear correlation between cervical (neck) damage and ‘jerk and pull’” (Hallgren, 1992). Additionally, it has been stated that “ear/eye issues are often related to pulling on the lead when in a collar, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head” (Dobias). There are MORE studies like this out there, if you are interested feel free to look some up.
Of the 400 dogs studied by Hallgren:
- 79% of aggressive dogs had back problems
- 21% had none
- Of the more shy dogs, 69% had back problems
- 31% had none
So, collars, perfect if you don’t have a lunger or puller, not so perfect and can cause damage if you do. I won’t discuss slip leads (only should be used for gundog work where a lead needs to be whipped on and off in seconds), choke chains (if they worked, you should only need to use them once, and people don’t, so clearly they don’t work), prong collars (are they even still legal?!), none of which should be used on a puppy.
It is commonly said that walking a dog in a harness will somehow make your dog pull more. This is a myth you may well have heard. A harness may well make it easier for a dog to pull, he can put more weight INTO a harness, and indeed make it harder for you to pull him back, but certainly YOU allowing your dog to pull, will make your dog pull. No equipment is responsible for a pulling dog. Harnesses, like collars, are a HUGE market and there are so many different types out there. A harness which sits high on the chest, with a back clip, will likely still elicit the same ‘coughing’ or ‘chocking’ from a dog that pulling into a collar will. Often back clip harnesses are not the optimal design. A ‘front clip harness’ often works the best. You can far more easily guide a dogs attention back to you in a front clip harness, rather than a back clip one. A harness will help to evenly distribute weight, and can be far kinder as long as it is a well fitting one.
Of course, for adult dogs, there is head collars, yet another tool! So many tools out there. I won’t discuss these too much as I am focusing on puppy training, and there should really be no need to consider a head collar for a puppy. However, if you have a large breed, you may want to consider habituating your pup to a head collar early on, in case it is needed at some point later down the line.
So, does your pup pull, lunge, or is it a breed prone to health issues related to the neck ie. tiny breeds or brachycephalics? Train it to walk well on a lead, or consider a harness until you have. Remember when training your pup, any pulling at all, anywhere, ever, is being reinforced, so it WILL be repeated. A flat collar and lead is perfectly sufficient if you don’t have a ‘puller’.
I honestly do believe, whatever ‘tool’ you choose, it will not ‘cure’ your pups pulling on the lead. There is no 100% humane tool out there which will ‘solve’ your dogs pulling in a flash. Many tools may ‘claim’ to do this, but be cautious. There is only one thing that will show your dog how to walk next to you, and that is you. Whether you have a collar, a harness, or something else, it is essential to know the things that can go wrong with the tools you use, but also remember that whatever your dog is wearing it is down to YOU to show him how to walk well.
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