When it comes to leash training equipment, there are many options available including flexi-leashes, Martingale collars, harnesses, choke chains, electronic collars, and the head-halti.
Each option has its own strengths and weaknesses. To effectively leash train our dog, we want to pick the most appropriate tools based on his unique temperament, energy level, size, and style. Using inappropriate equipment may complicate training, worsen our dog’s behavior, and sometimes even cause physical harm.
After getting a new piece of equipment, I always read all the instructions carefully. Incorrect use of leash training tools, may also inadvertently hurt our dog.
Note that collars and leashes are just one aspect of leash training. Consistency, patience, and technique, are also very important to teach our dog to walk without pulling.
Leash Training Equipment 1
Collar and Leash
While leash training my dog, I use a flat, thick (1 inch), Martingale or buckle collar. The thicker collar will distribute the force when our dog pulls, so he is less likely to choke himself. Unlike plastic snap-on collars, Martingale and buckle collars are strong, and less likely to slip or break when under strain.
I also use a regular 6 foot leash. I like the leather leashes best, because they are easy on my hands, and have very little give when my dog pulls. Cotton leashes easily stretches when force is applied, which gives me less control over my dog. Nylon leashes are a good alternative to leather, but they are a bit more abrasive on the hands.
Do not use a flexi-leash until we are extremely confident that our dog will walk close to us, and will not bolt at the sight of cats, squirrels, dogs, or other environmental triggers. The flexi-leash gives our dog a lot of freedom to roam, but provides us with very little control over his movements.
Flexi-leashes should only be used as a reward for a leash-trained veteran, who is not reactive to the environment, and is very responsive to voice commands.
The flexi-leash can be a useful first-step, for teaching a dog how to walk off-leash. Only do this after he has mastered how to walk on-leash, using a regular 6 foot lead.
Leash Training Equipment 2
If we have a smaller dog that pulls a lot, and is constantly choking himself on the collar, it may be best to use a harness, especially for long walks.
Premier has an Easy Walk harness, where the leash is attached to the front (chest area), rather than back of the dog. This harness gives us slightly better control over pulling, compared to a step-in harness. However, the Easy Walk harness is also more difficult to put on a dog.
Most dogs will object to the harness initially. Therefore, make putting on the harness, be a positive experience that is paired with food and praise. Then, follow it up with an enjoyable dog walk. Remember to remove the harness at the end of the walk.
A harness may not be as appropriate for a larger dog that pulls, because it amplifies the pull force, and makes him even more difficult to control. For larger dogs, consider using a head halti.
Leash Training Equipment 3
The head halti is an effective tool to stop dogs from pulling, especially larger dogs.
It allows us to control a dog’s head, with very little force, in the same way that horses are controlled. When a dog pulls, his head is automatically directed back to us. By controlling his head, we can stop him from pulling, obsessing over squirrels and cats, as well as lunging after other dogs.
The problem with the head halti is that it does not really help with leash training our dog.
Once we take it off, our dog will likely start pulling again. I use the head collar, when I take in-training dogs for long walks at the park. In this way, I have good control over them, and do not have to worry about them pulling, or taking off to chase after squirrels.
However, I also keep up with regular, halti-free leash training sessions, during shorter neighborhood walks.
Another weakness of the head collar is that it has straps across the dog’s face and muzzle. Since these areas are more sensitive to touch, the friction and force caused by the collar may generate a fair amount of discomfort for the dog. Initially, most dogs will dislike wearing the head halti, and some may refuse to walk when they have it on. By pairing it with positive rewards and experiences, we can train some dogs to get accustomed to wearing it.
Do not use the head collar with a flexi-leash. The high force jerk that occurs when a dog hits the end of a flexi, may cause significant harm to the dog. For safe use, make sure to read the instructions very carefully, and fit the collar properly on our dog’s head.
Leash Training Equipment 4
Prong Collar and Choke Chain
Prong collars and choke collars (also called choke chains, slip collars, or slip chains) are used to implement stronger leash corrections.
Only use a prong collar as a last resort, and under proper supervision by a professional trainer.
Choke chains apply a more extreme pain stimulus to the dog than even prong collars, and may cause injury even when fitted properly. For these reasons, I do not use choke chains on any of my dogs.
Here is another article by Paddy Driscoll on the dangers of using choke collars.
Note – Because of the risks associated with choke chains, they are often given other fancy names, for example the Illusion collar. Be careful to do research on the collars we use, to make sure that they are not a renamed version of choke collars.
Leash Training Equipment 5
Shock Collar or Electronic Collar
Shock collars or electronic collars are often used to train working dogs that must herd livestock, or perform other tasks from a distance, and with great accuracy. They can be easily be misused, and are unnecessary for house dogs.
Do not use a shock collar unless we have good prior experience in training dogs, and only use it under the direction of a professional trainer, for very specialized work tasks.
Shock collars are risky and generally not recommended for modifying or stopping bad dog behaviors. Scientific studies show that these collars increase stress, lower general quality of life, may worsen our dog’s behavior, and may even encourage extreme aggression.
Dog Leash Training Equipment
Training equipment including choke chains, prong collars, Martingale collars, the head halti, and harnesses, should only be used during supervised training sessions. I use them during walks, and remove them as soon as I get home. Training collars and leashes can easily catch on furniture, or other objects around the house, and cause our dog physical harm and emotional distress.
The only collar I leave on my dog for the long term, is a properly fitted flat collar. When I leave a flat collar on a puppy, I make sure to readjust it regularly to accommodate the puppy’s rapid growth rate. Some flat collars may also slip with use, and become loose. Thus, they may need regular adjustment even for adult dogs.