About Collars, Halters and Harnesses for Dogs

by Ragtimelil

Are you trying to decide which collar, halter or harness to put on your dog? Here's some useful information to help you make an informed decision.

Collars or halters are necessary for dogs as they are for most animals. They keep them under control and keep them safe. Some help with training. The collar or halter itself is simply a tool. There is nothing bad about any one device, but some are easier to use than others. A dog can be traumatized or hurt wearing no collar at all by a bad handler. By the same token, a dog can be happy and successful with what some think of as the most severe collar. It’s all in how it is used.

Here’s what I’ve learned about training aids in my decades of training dogs and owners

All photos by Lana Pettey

Flat Collar

Flat or Rolled, Buckle or Non-slip

When I use the term flat collar, I mean a flat, buckle collar, or non-slip collar or even a rolled buckle collar. These are the everyday wear for most dogs. They are comfortable, generally safe but I don’t consider them to be training collars. 

Young puppies should only wear a flat buckle collar as should any dog who may need to be tied. That said, any dog could be wearing a flat collar while training with clickers or during off-leash work.

This collar may restrain a dog but does little to aid in training. This is the only collar that tags or identification should be attached to. I've had the plastic, snap type of buckle break with a strong dog. I am cautious to only use this type of buckle with a small dog or one that doesn't pull.

Choke Collar

Chain or Nylon

This collar is a short piece of chain with a ring at each end. The chain is dropped through one ring to form an adjustable loop. The advantage of this collar is that some dogs are very sound sensitive. The sound of the links sliding over the ring is enough to get the dog’s attention.There are also nylon choke collars that don't make any sound. They're useful for a dog who objects to the metallic sound near their ears.

A choke collar is one that I might use if I want to be sure my dog doesn’t slip the collar off his head and get loose.  The collar should be fitted so that the chain extends only about 1 to 1½ inches when the collar is taut.

The disadvantages of this collar are that to really use it as a training device involves using negative training, that is, jerking the dog by the neck when he’s not doing what we ask. It takes excellent timing to be effective and can actually injure a dog’s neck in the process. It’s an old method that does work but newer, more positive methods work just as well or better and don’t involve punishing the dog. They are also extremely dangerous to leave on an unattended dog or one that is swimming or playing with other dogs. The risk of strangling is very real.

Be sure to get a good quality chain if you use a choke collar. The cheaper ones have bumps and ridges and don't slide well. They can bind and not release when you want them to.

Border Collie with a choke chain collar

Choke Collars

Herm Sprenger Steel Dog Training Collar, 20-Inch, Fine 2.0 Millimeter

For professional training or every day use, the quality of Herm Sprenger chain products is unsurpassed.

$13.99  $13.98
Hamilton 828 PU 5/16-Inch by 18-Inch Round Braided Choke Nylon Dog Collar, Purple

Hamilton 5/16-inch by 18-inch Round Braided Nylon Choke Dog Collar, Purple, 828 PU

Only $9.05

Those Wicked Pronged Collars

The pinch or pronged collar is a collar, with blunt prongs that is excellent for a strong dog who could actually injure the person holding the leash by pulling them down. Many of my students were amazed at the change when we put this collar on a dog who had been dragging its handler around by the leash. Dogs simply will not pull against these collars. The handler didn’t need to have good timing since he didn’t need to jerk the dog on the leash at all. There is no punishment involved, just a deterrent for pulling on the leash. The dog is not at risk of injury.

To be effective, the collar should be the smallest that is practical for that dog. Links can be added or removed to size it properly. The rings at the end of the links should not touch when the collar is taut. It’s not a collar that should be left on the dog since it could become caught by the links.

The disadvantage of this collar is that many people think it is too harsh and resist using it. Onlookers may think the handler is being cruel when actually the dog is not in any discomfort as long as the collar is slack.

Basic Pinch Collar

Herm Sprenger Pinch Dog Collar with Q...
$34.64  $37.99

Head Halters

Halti, Gentle Leader and Others

 This is a relatively newer device that fits over the dog’s head like a halter on a horse. As with horses, the dog will follow where his head goes. Some halters will tighten around the dog’s muzzle when pulled and give the handler the option to control the direction of the dog’s attention. They are usually made of flat nylon and don’t cause the dog any discomfort. The dog can open his mouth to pant, eat a treat or drink water. The dog can’t pull on the leash because it would cause his head to turn. 

The disadvantages are that the dog has to become accustomed to wearing the halter and that takes some time and training. Some people on the street might think the dog is wearing a muzzle because he is vicious and react fearfully. This is happening less as people are learning about this device. Another issue with some of these halters that attach under the dog's chin is that if the dog runs and hits the end of the leash, it could snap his head around and cause injury. The handler needs to be careful in the beginning especially that the dog doesn’t get hurt. I’ve seen some collars now that attach by the back of the halter, behind the dog’s ears. That would eliminate that problem, but I’ve never used one and don't know how they work so I can’t really comment on it. It might be worth checking into.Doc modeling a head halter

Remote Trainers

Electronic Collars

An electronic collar is a very specialized device that can be the best and the worst for the dog. It gives the dog a charge when the button is pushed. The best collars have adjustable levels, and only the lowest level that the dog responds to should be used. The better ones also have a warning beep that gives the dog a chance to obey before getting to the point of receiving an actual charge. This puts the dog in control and makes it easier to phase out the device altogether. In fact, it should only be used so that the dog has the chance to obey and so learns by positive methods rather than negative.

It’s often used with dogs who are working at a great distance from their trainers. The best advantage of this collar is that the dog doesn’t associate the charge with the handler. If the handler had to run across a field yelling at a dog who was misbehaving, the dog could easily become afraid of his handler and not associate his anger with the act that caused the punishment.

There are serious disadvantages of this device if it is used incorrectly. Used as punishment, it can destroy a dog’s self confidence. Punishment is the least effective method of using this collar. If the trainer does not have correct timing, and gives the dog a jolt when he is actually obeying, it would confuse the dog and undo any previous training. This is one device that I would recommend only using with the guidance of an experienced trainer, and one who you feel is working in the dog’s best interest.

Read more about these collars HERE.

Remote Training

I've only used Tri-Tronics remote trainers and can recommend them. Innoteck makes a less expensive model.
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Innotek Basic Remote Trainer


I’ve always taught that harnesses were designed to make it easier for a dog to pull. If you look at harnesses made for dog sledding, weight pulling or carting, you’ll see that is true. Walking a husky with a dog harness seemed the height of folly to me.

My dogsled team

But recently, there have been some new devices that actually keep a dog from pulling or jumping. Some attach by the front and some have extra straps that restrain a dog from jumping up. I have to admit that I haven’t used any of these, not needing them on any of my dogs, so far. I can’t really comment on them, only to say if I thought I needed them, I would check them out.

Updated: 11/19/2012, Ragtimelil
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Collar Comments

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Ragtimelil on 06/21/2012

Yeah, those limited slip collars really work. Greyhounds have big necks and narrow heads too.

katiem2 on 06/21/2012

It's great to know the proper way to use the best collar for your particular dog. I have two dogs and both with very different neck sizes. My pugs neck is so wide, almost the same dimensions as his head. This makes for difficult collar fit. Great information on dog collars, much appreciated. :) K

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