Collars and Harnesses Explained

I’m sure every dog owner can agree that there is an abundance of dog collars and especially harnesses available and it isn’t always easy to decide which one to choose for your dog. Pet shops often have either too many or too few to choose from, resulting in the wrong training aids being purchased and then incorrectly used.

Collars and harnesses are no quick fix to stop unwanted dog behaviour like pulling on the leash, jumping, or biting/tugging the leash, they are training aids, a tool to help you train your dog. As a dog trainer I see a lot of misuse of collars and harnesses which isn’t going to help the dog learn the behaviour we would like him to have and it isn’t going to help owners handle their dogs.

Let’s face it, most dog owners have a dog that pulls when walking on the leash, so what collar or harness should you invest in and how will it help you train your dog loose-leash walking? Firstly, collars or harnesses are no substitute for positive, reward-based training. Secondly, correct usage of an appropriate collar or harness can help you immensely to teach your dog loose-leash walking. Thirdly, no harness or collar should be left on a dog unattended (except a plain fabric collar with ID tags of course) because of the risk of getting caught and the dog injuring himself.

Collars are the most used equipment dog owners use to walk their dog. While this is great for dogs that don’t pull on leash, it isn’t always ideal as collars have a high risk of injury if used incorrectly. I will try and keep this fairly simple with collars and only differentiate between metal collars (check/choke chain, prong collar) and fabric collars (nylon, leather etc).


  • Check/choke chains and prong collars
    These are clearly outdated and with the scientific knowledge behind dog training nowadays shouldn’t be used anymore. Prong collars are animal cruelty; how would you feel if this was pocking in your neck?! Usage of prong collars doesn’t result in training your dog, but results in punishment, pain, fear, and injury. Please don’t use these and keep on reading for more appropriate training aids. Check/choke chains shouldn’t be used by a dog owner with no or little training experience. Check chains are not meant to choke your dog, they are meant to do a quick “pop-release” only. As with every dog training method, timing is the most important factor and if used incorrectly, a check collar can lead to unnecessary pain, punishment, and fear. Put simple, why put your dog in agony if there are better and more humane ways to train?!


  • Better alternatives are martingale collars, which are fabric collars with a short metal chain (or flexible fabric) that tightens as the dog pulls on the leash. About 90% of the dog’s neck should be covered by the fabric part of the collar and only the rest with the chain. Martingale collars can achieve training results if used correctly and in combination with reward based training and correct usage needs to be explained by a dog trainer. Slip leads are similar to martingale collars, both work on a pressure/release technique.


  • Fabric collars
    Most have a very similar design, whether they are made out of nylon, leather or other fabrics. They are the simplest and most common way to walk your dog and to attach name and council tags for identification.



Body and head harnesses can be a great tool to help you train your dog to walk on a loose leash but certainly aren’t a quick fix.

  • Back-attaching harnesses
    Back-attaching harnesses are probably the first thing dog owners turn to when trying to stop their dog from pulling on the leash. Here’s the catch, they don’t help with leash pulling at all! Pet shops are absolutely overflowing with these harnesses but they are not helpful in minimizing leash pulling. These harnesses attach at the strongest parts of the dog’s body and basically increase the strength and intensity of the pull. What I hear a lot is “Well, at least I don’t choke the dog”. Yes that is true, back-attaching harnesses are a much more dog-friendly way to walk your dog and ideally collars should never be used to attach a leash as the risk of injury to the neck is quite high. Now if these don’t help though, what other body harnesses are there?


  • Front-attaching harnesses
    These are my absolute favourite tool in helping dogs stop pulling on the leash and I will explain why. They also fit around the dogs chest and shoulders, but instead of attaching the leash on their back, the leash gets attached on the front of the chest. When a dog starts to pull this basically turns the dog sideways left or right (depending on where the leash goes) and redirects his attention back to the owner/walker and doesn’t let the dog go where he wants to go. In combination with the correct training, front-attaching harnesses can achieve great results in a short time.


  • Head harnesses
    Head collars like the Gentle Leader head harness and the Halti can be great tools for some dogs. They are designed to gently redirect the dog’s head towards you and/or where you want him to go. Absolutely under no circumstance jerk back hard on head collars when your dog starts pulling as this can result in injury. All dogs need to be slowly desensitized to head collars as it takes some time for dogs to get used to them. The success of head collars greatly depends on the individual dog, for some dogs these work wonderful in helping to stop leash pulling, for some others these don’t work at all. Head collars are definitely worth a try if other ways of stopping leash pulling haven’t worked, but they wouldn’t be my first option.


I hope this article helps you decide what collar or harness to buy for your dog. Please remember that none of these are quick fixes but only training aids to help you teach and train your dog the appropriate behaviour. Ideally, with the correct training, you will be able to loose-leash walk your dog in no time. Should you have further questions about collars, harnesses or dog training please get in touch and we can discuss options for your individual dog.