You may be surprised.
Pet supply stores carry a wide range of walking aids for dogs. Often I receive questions from my client’s owners regarding what type of lead is best- using a leash attached to a collar, front lead harness, back lead harness, chain collar, prong collar- the list goes on. There are so many options, and the perfect lead for you may not be the perfect lead for your pet.
Many new dog owners will enroll their pets in training, which I highly recommend. A good dog trainer will point you in the right direction for aids and teach you and your dog the skills you need to succeed both on leash and off.
In training my three large, mixed breed rescue dogs I have tried all of the lead options. Here are a list of my pros and cons to the most popular choices. Remember, this is personal opinion based on my use as a canine and equine massage therapist and what I see as a result in my clients. All opinions are entirely my own.
Standard Collar and Leash
The most traditional approach with the least amount of effort on the owner’s part. Simply snap on the leash and leave the house. What could be easier?
This is arguably the most common walk aid for dogs. There are a wide variety of collars that come in many different fabrics and styles, including the martingale style that tightens when your pet pulls. You won’t have trouble sourcing this at your local pet store, or even grocery store.
I refuse to give up my 6-foot Kong leash that has an additional loop for a heel so they can walk beside me rather than out front. They come in a variety of colors, are sturdy, and have not shredded or faded at all in the years I’ve had them. They are durable and high quality. This has been extremely useful with my reactive dog, Beau, as we approach other dogs, because he does need a bit more control.
Unfortunately, collars slip off very easily with little resistance. Often I will see neighboring dogs so excited that they have learned to move in just the right way as to slip their collar and run for my dogs, the street, or me. Always with love, thank goodness. However, extremely dangerous for that dog and for others.
Additionally, if your dog is not trained on a loose leash then the collar puts unnecessary strain on your dog’s neck, especially on one side because the owner usually prefers to walk their animal on the same side of their body each time, creating imbalance in pull and muscle tone from always using the same muscles. Many dogs can throw their necks out or have slipped disks because of pulling or yanking at the collar. While canine massage can help prevent and speed healing of these issues, it is recommended that collars not be relied on in the first place.
Recommendation: Use it if you have a well-trained dog that doesn’t pull. A strong dog that pulls can result in crushing of the trachea and severe damage to the muscles and misalignment of the vertebrae, especially if they fight it and jerk.
The Gentle Leader’s that put pressure on the nose and mouth is something that has become more popular over recent years. In theory they would prevent pulling because of where they put pressure on…hint: it’s extremely delicate and sensitive.
Recommendation: None. Because of the sensitivity, I would never recommend for my clients or use myself.
Most dog trainers will recommend that you use a harness, especially for a young dog. It provides maximum control for the owner with very little ability to slip out despite some Houdini’s out there that have managed it, like my Gonzo. He’s a smart fellow. Fit is very important, so that it is not too tight causing rubs and not too loose where they can get tangled or slip it. There are two main types of harnesses available, which I note below.
The front lead harness allows the leash to connect to the front of the dog, on it’s chest. Many people choose this option for dogs that pull badly on lead. I walk two large breed dogs and having front leads is rather awkward for me.
That being said this is a very popular option for many people. I suggest that you take turns walking your dog from your left and right as often these leads can lead to a slight muscle imbalance. If they pull at all they start walking a bit sideways, putting pressure on one side over the other. This may not be the choice for you if you prefer to always walk your dog on a single side.
The back lead harness allows the leash to connect on the back of your dog.
Pros: The back lead harness is easy to put on. In addition, you have more control as you are able to support the chest and dog evenly while walking. As a bonus, it’s perfect for car rides as you can click your pet safety belt to the back of the harness. Eh voila! Your dogs muscles stay balanced in this type of harness and do not put pressure on the neck or a single side. Much better for muscle tension.
Cons: Some dogs are very strong. This harness may not allow you to have as much control as you need to, especially if the dog is aggressive. This will also not deter pulling on leash unless you incorporate positive training methods.
Recommendation: Never. Harnesses are designed for working dogs to pull sleds. The owner has limited control unless you want your dog to take you on a ride. In fact, there is so much pressure on the chest and sternum that often it becomes overdeveloped, tight and the hind legs atrophy and result in mobility issues as they age.
Chain Collars or Martingale Collars
Chain collars are not meant to be worn all day every day while martingale colors, those that are cloth and tighten with pressure on the D ring, can be worn as long as you check the crates to make sure there is nothing it can get hung up on. How they work: the chain and cloth collars are adjustable. Both types tighten when your pet pulls and slowly choke your dog, added tension to their trachea and neck to remind them to stop pulling.
Pros: Slip on easily and only has to be worn for walks. I love my martingale collar for them to wear in the house, but I don’t prefer to walk the dogs in them, especially when I have all three by myself.
Cons: They are not an effective deterrent for pulling on leash (your dog can ignore them easily) and can cause severe discomfort, pain, and damage to the neck and jugular. I am not of the opinion that my dog needs to be choked to listen to me. More, because they tighten and release, they are also not effective at stopping your dog from slipping out and running off.
Recommended only if your pet is well-trained and you are using part-time.
Like chain collars, prong collars are more aggressive and should only be worn on walks. These should NOT be worn all day, during play, or unsupervised. Also similar to chain collars, they are adjustable and are meant to fit comfortably but fitted. Guess what? Most people use them incorrectly.
Pros: The most control for your pet that I have found. If used properly, it serves as a reminder not to pull and most dogs obey very quickly. Despite what most people believe, they do not hurt your pet if you are trained in the use. Proper placement isn’t around the neck, but just behind the ears.
Cons: These are often used incorrectly or as discipline measure. I do not believe in negative reinforcement or punishment. A mark should NEVER be left on your dogs body nor should you use it to jerk them as this will cause damage regardless of which collar you use on your walks.
I do often recommend these collars for dogs that need a little reminder or are large and can pull their owner down, causing them damage. Owners should receive training by a professional before using and when your dog is trained on its use, they often don’t need any reminders at all.
So what walking aid do I use?
When taking my dogs in the car, to the vet, or walking one-on-one I like to use a martingale or prong collar, depending on the scenario. My dogs have had extensive training and I am able to walk all three together without issue, despite my being only 5 feet tall. However, if my elderly father were to walk the dogs by himself I would recommend the prong collar for his safety and because they know when it’s on, they shouldn’t pull him down.
My dogs are not afraid of the prong collar nor have ever been injured with any marks left. All walk beautifully by my side 99% of the time. However, Gonzo is one of those Houdini dogs that has slipped collars and harnesses and done a runner. Further, Beau is reactive and more prone to lunging at another dog, I need that prong collar to keep everyone else safe. Beau’s reactivity is slowly reducing with training, desensitization, and CBD treats but he is still a work in progress.
More, as an animal bodyworker I have seen inflammation, rubbing, overdeveloped muscles, underdeveloped muscles and compression using all the above equipment with the exception of the prong collar. Why use equipment that negatively impacts your pet?