Collar Concerns: What’s the Right Choice for My Dog?

The owner of a new puppy emailed me this week concerned about choosing the right equipment for training class. This was in response to my letter to clients suggesting they have a front-attaching harness or even a head harness for dogs that pulled strongly on leash, and that they bring their dogs in a martingale collar rather than a plain flat collar.

Is a martingale collar essentially a choke collar?  The answer is that if a martingale is used and fitted correctly, no, it is not a choke collar. Martingale collars, which are commonly used on dogs such as greyhounds with slender necks and heads, tighten only enough when properly adjusted to ensure that the dog cannot back out of his collar and get loose. They are made of two loops, the first which sits on your dog’s neck like a traditional collar, and the second one that clips to the leash and pulls the first loop snugly (but not too tightly) around the neck so the collar won’t slip over the ears and head.


This style is especially useful for dogs that are new to training and those young slippery puppies that like to twist and pull backwards when on the leash. In a class setting, or even out on walks, it can be very dangerous for your dog to squirm out of his collar and run around with nothing on to catch him. A martingale is the humane choice over a choke or pinch collar. It should never be jerked or pulled tightly as a training method- loose leash walking should be achieved through exercises utilizing positive reinforcement.  Just like a harness, a martingale should not be left on when the dog is unsupervised, as it is more likely to get caught on a paw, gate or furniture.

I own about a dozen different styles of collars and harnesses for my two dogs, but my

Bauer wears a Freedom No-Pull harness attached to his regular collar for added security on walks

primary choice for walking them or almost any other dog I work with is a combination of a martingale collar and a front-attaching harness.  The harness gives me control, because when the dog pulls against it, the pressure gets applied to his chest, gently turning his entire body back toward me. It makes for more pleasant walks knowing that even if there are pulling episodes, the dog isn’t strangling himself or damaging his neck. Often I will attach the leash of a really big or excitable dog to both the harness and the collar, giving me a lot of leverage and peace of mind that he isn’t going to wiggle out of anything and get into trouble.

There is an insane amount of choice out there when it comes to front attaching harnesses, and different styles work better for different dogs, but the bottom line is to make sure it fits well and that when you apply leash pressure, the harness doesn’t just sag to the side, rendering the whole concept useless and usually tripping your dog, or making it easy for him to work his front legs through and escape.  And don’t worry- they all come in cute patterns and colors just like any other dog apparel so that your pup can strut in style.