Best dog leads, collars, and harnesses for training and basic use

Welcome to My name is Melissa Hoover, Accredited Dog Trainer with an educational background (BS) in Animal Behavior. I’ve dedicated my life to fuzzy furry critters. They are family first and foremost. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Subscribe to the page, share and promote. Above all, I hope you can learn something new about your furry pal, or in the very least, find an adorable new gift for someone pretty deserving of your constant attention.

Best dog collar and leash types online

Dog leashes, collars, and leads can seem pretty simple and easy, right? Well… I need to let you in a on a secret, collars and leashes (or leads as they are sometimes called) do more than function as an ID holder, and strap to safeguard your pet. Let’s get into some of the complexities…

What kinds of collars and leads can I expect to find at a local pet store?

Leads                                                                                           Collars

Retractable leads Easy walk harness Decorative collars
20-, 50-foot lead Tough dogs harness Reflecting collars
2-, 4-, 6-foot leads Reflecting harness Matching collar and leash
Slip lead No-pull harness Holiday collars
Chew proof lead Gentle leader Chew-proof
Reflecting lead Collars with metal clips

Keep in mind this list is not even close to comprehensible. I used to work for a national name brand pet store as an accredited dog trainer; and so, when compiling this list of leads and collars, I simply closed my eyes and imagined I was rearranging leads and collars in the aisle.

The above list is a small sampling of what I can remember with my eyes closed… okay? That’s telling you the large scope of products available for collars and leashes. Don’t even get me started on the brand name collars and leads, or material differences in collars and leads (leather versus nylon), what about size differences?!? I’m losing it over here.

Lead versus leash and the difference in the meaning

Let’s delve into the basics of what you want to look for when shopping for a leash and or collar. Bear in mind, when I say lead I am using this interchangeably with leash, which is a big no-no. “Lead” and “Leash” are fairly simple, with a lead you lead the dog, with a leash the dog leads you. Now, why do I use them interchangeably? Well, as a dog trainer, I am “technically training the dog” (but in reality, I am training the owner). Dogs are brilliant, it’s the human who’s stuck in their minds with preconceived notions on terms and knowledge they bring to my class.

To an owner with a first-time dog, a 6-foot lead that I insist on using for class when learning loose-leash training isn’t different from a retractable leash (in the mind of the owner). Forget about me for a moment, but the difference is huge to your dog!

Imagine, you’re observing the slight nuances of the amount of distance you can walk away from your owner? Now, imagine, that distance is never consistent. How can you ever expect a dog to quickly pick up a level of comfort and security in how far they can walk away from you without feeling tension on the line? Oh… not to mention that term ‘tension.’ When you use a retractable leash, 9-times-out-of-10 you do not have it locked on a fixed length. The dog constantly feels tension. This can drive them batty, not to mention to put your dog at risk for leash-aggressive behaviors… But, I’m losing the point here.

When I discuss products, specifically lead and leash, I will use them interchangeably because to the owner they are the same. Do you see my point? I’m not here to teach you the basics of a training class, I’ll do my best to offer tips, advice, and particularities on the subject, but I would need your attention for a good 35-40 minutes for at least 4-6 weeks. Repetition is key here to cement knowledge. So, for the sake of this piece, lead and leash = same.

(Just know they aren’t if you ever begin a training course with your dog. Example, you can have a 2-foot lead for training your dog to “heel” and walk at your side, but you’ll never find a 2-foot leash which allows your dog the freedom to part from your side to, say, pee.)

Dog leads, collars, and harnesses, which one is better?

The lead is the connection from human to dog, so let’s get that guy out of the picture. You really ought to ask, collars versus harness, which one should I pick? There isn’t too much debate on this issue or general concern from most of you owners on this topic, but I’ll go into it nonetheless. Typically, most of you guys are concerned with pressure you’re applying to the dog, and rightly so; this is great to be concerned about. Let me explain.

Warning, before you begin to get into the discussions on collars and body harnesses!…

When you’re working and training with your dog, it’s important never to be the one to apply the pressure to your dog’s body, no matter the body part. I’m really big on stressing this importance. If you’re looking for choke chains, pinch collars, this is not the site for you. I advocate for positive reinforcement and positive training techniques. If you’re deeply concerned about your dog and training, if you have tried and exhausted methods of positive reinforcement techniques, go to a behaviorist with a PhD or 10-years of accredited experience. This is important. He or She must be recognized as a behaviorist by an accredited academic institution. This means they’ve dedicated years of psychological studies to the nuances of the dog’s mental state and can offer the best advice on training technique in a humane and scientifically-proven (meaning, tested) manner.

Differences between dog collars, dog harnesses, and the Gentle Leader versus the Easy Walk Harness

The collar serves the function for loose-leash walking (not training), as well as an ID and rabies tags holder. When beginning your training methods with new dogs and walking calmly on a lead, you want to try one-of-two products as your first go.

Click on the images for the Gentle Leader with Training DVD for use and fitting, as well as, the Easy Walk body harness, both with size and color accommodations.

These two products are very easy, fun, and really save a lot of the stress on your end and the dog’s end. It removes pressure, tension, and reduces the risk of learning misbehaviors. The Gentle Leader wraps around your dog’s rostrum, and base of the cranium, the occipital (this is the bumpy bone protruding at the base of your head, behind the lower jaw bone, high up on the neck). Along your dog’s jaw line the two connecting straps form a V-shape as demonstrated in videos and images on the product.

The way the Gentle Leader works is that, when your dog begins to take the lead on you and apply pressure to the lead, his or her head will be forced to drop down. The dog cannot look up but has to look at the ground. The lead or leash is connected to a joint string at the base of the V-shape under his or her jaw. When pressure applies because the dog sees a squirrel, he or she immediately looks at the ground.

Now, it’s important to redirect your dog’s attention when this happens. You want to make sure they look at you for a reward for not running towards the squirrel. This Gentle Leader merely functions as annoying to your dog, and eventually, with repeated practice and irritation as constantly seeing the ground when wanting to rush off, the dog learns not to tug at the lead’s limit.

Most annoying con with a Gentle Leader while leash-training your dog

One of the worst things I have noticed when working with new and eager puppies and beginner level dogs, was that they definitely want to rub at their rostrum (their muzzle, a.k.a. nose). And this rubs away at their fur at times. I had one Labrador and she had a small patch of fur thinning on her nose from this product… that’s when it’s time to think of something else or at least make sure you’re not applying the product too tightly on your dog’s nose.

Best alternative to the Gentle Leader in dog training is the Easy Walk Harness

One the best pros about the Easy Walk Harness, it hugs your dog when they tug on the leash. Because dogs’ visual senses are not impaired by their pulling behavior, and if coupled with improper loose-leash training techniques, the dog can become habituated to this harness. It thus loses its ability to effectively work against pulling. This is one of the drawbacks of the harness.

However, if your dog hasn’t undergone any antagonistic training techniques (pretty much new to the game of training), this harness will do its job. The way it works: The harness has 3 straps, one for the back which crosses over the shoulders, one for the chest which crosses over the front-facing shoulders, and one across the lower-chest cavity behind the front legs (think of this as just above the belly area). Now, you’re going to open the package and think, how the heck do I know which strap to cross over which part of the body, and why the heck did I even buy this contraption?!? Well, chill out and let me give you the one answer nobody ever tells you with this product:

The odd colored strap of the three  will cross the lower-chest cavity beneath the legs, while the chain connecting to the lead or leash will cross over the front-facing chest cavity. I think of this as a necklace. The flashy jewelry (i.e. the metal loop which allows the lead to connect to the harness) lies at the base of the neck facing front. As long as you practice connecting and disconnecting this harness by the ‘stomach’ strap, you’ll be fine to slip the necklace-like Easy Walk harness over your fluff ball’s head and off you go for your walk.

How does an Easy Walk Harness work in dog training?

If you have the harness on your dog properly, every time your dog pulls, the harness tightens across the dog’s shoulder blades acting like a hugging mechanism. I would always tell dog parents, imagine someone comes up behind you and bear hugs you from behind. And they don’t let go. It’s kind of awkward to continue walking, right? Exactly. This is what your dog feels when the harness hugs them. It’s awkward to continue so they usually stop or loosen the pressure.

Here’s the biggest most important dog training tip I could ever tell anyone on the planet working with a dog: Let your dog be the one to apply pressure or tension to his or her leash, and never let yourself be the one to apply pressure or tension to his or her leash. Why? Because you want your dog to know they are in control of tension and pressure being applied to their bodies! Tension and pressure is uncomfortable. When it is removed, you can relax. We want to love our pups, not cause unnecessary stressors.

How to size a dog collar properly: Dog collar fitting guide

One of the best rules of thumb is not to use your thumb, but your index and middle fingers. Adjust the collar around the top of the neck loosely. Gradually begin to tighten and stop when you can fit two fingers (index and middle finger) and two fingers only underneath the collar. Then, gently tug the collar upwards to see if the collar will or will not slip over your dog’s ears. If the collar slips over, carefully tighten just a notch more secure and do the finger test again. Never compromise the finger test for slippage. If you keep tightening because the collar keeps slipping over the dog’s ears, switch to a body harness for walking and only use the two-finger approved collar for ID and rabies tags (never leash attachment).

How to select the right fitting body harness for my dog?

Most harnesses slip on like a bra. You have two straps that hug over the shoulders, and a latch on the back which allows a connection to the leash. That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Go play with a bra until you figure it out.

Which type of collar is best for my dog?

Maybe you have a dog who likes to bite leash while walking, or you’re looking for the best dog collars for sensitive skin, or even better a chew proof dog collar, well, the sky’s the limit. If your dog has sensitive skin, consult your veterinarian first before purchasing and testing a new collar. Maybe it’s just a matter of switching dog shampoos or learning to use a conditioner during grooming, or even simpler, switching to a new food… just go to your vet and ask which product would be best in this case. For all others, it’s a bit easier to help you do your shopping.

Chew-proof and durable collars for tough dogs and dogs who like to chew

Most owners would complain their dogs like to chew on everything. Including their own collar. This behavior is rightly so. When dogs become bored, they begin to chew, incessantly. One of the best mechanisms to deter destructive behavior is to distract with novelty or high reward items. Once distraction mechanisms are working for maintenance, don’t rely on them to be a fix, begin switching over to training methods for permanent fixing of that destructive behavior.

Metal clasps on your collars are generally a good rule of thumb for tougher dogs. Plastic clasps tend to break, they’re easier to chew on, and they can even become stuck. Regular nylon works in most cases, do not assume because the product is leather it will be more durable. Usually this is the case, but nothing is ever full-proof. If you tend to buy your dog leather padded toys (which are used to encourage chewing behavior) it is probably best to buy the essentials and non-chewables in a different material…

I personally find adjustable collars the easiest and best collars, however, I know some of you will prefer to go with a peg and notch style collar. To each their own. There remains very little difference in the efficacy of these two collar styles. The only downside you might ever run into is size accommodating. When doing your two-finger test for collar fit, you can’t exactly get it down to a perfect fit with the peg and notch. I would recommend these style collars for dogs properly trained to walk comfortably on a loose leash with very little to no pulling.

Now, when shopping for a boxer things can be tricky in the collar department. Now, you may ask, about dog’s with a challenging look… i.e. Boxers. You may never find the best dog collars for a Boxer. Can you fathom a guess as to why? It’s those tiny heads and thick bully necks. In this case, I would, again, recommend the collar only as an ID and rabies tags holder. Use a Gentle Leader or body harness during walks with Boxers. If you begin to think your dog’s physical form does not work with a collar, then trust your judgment and look at body harnesses.

Maybe you’re a hobbyist, i.e. you like to run, you’re going to be well off if you bring your dog in on this activity. To help your dog become a good dog for running you need to make sure you’re using the right lead. Usually this is all in the size. Let’s talk about size differences in leads.

Dog leads and collars, let’s talk size

Generally, you’ll find many accommodating sizes for your dog leads. We have 20- and 50-foot leads which are generally used to help your dog exercise. (By the way, good dog parks will allow for plenty of space when exercising your dog. You can even come into these parks with a lead, in most cases, to work on training techniques in high-distraction environments.) The longer leads will generally allow your dog the freedom and comfort of moving away from you for their own sense of independence. These are great confidence boosters for your dog, and will help him or her become more secure with themselves around other humans and other animals.

Shorter leads, like the 2-foot and 4-foot are typically used when training for heel-like behavior. I personally like the leashes which come with a 6-foot leash for loose leash walking, and nearer the clip, have a 2-foot lead handle for heel behaviors. (It’s a 2-in-1 approach and it works very well in saving money and in saving from clutter.)

Your 6-foot leads/leashes are the most common in the market. When you go shopping for a leash, generally, you’re going to go for this one first. It is the best thing for loose leash training, to go for walks in the city, hiking on trails in parks, and passing pedestrians, baby strollers, and bikers on a narrow walk way.

If you’re lucky, you might find the occasional (and less common) 8-foot lead. Now, I wouldn’t push training methods farther than this. Eight feet is quite a distance; and in an emergency, you want to be close to your dog.

Remember, the purpose of the dog leash:

  1. Safeguard from distracting situations
  2. Preventing an emergency from occurring
  3. Guiding your dog on a walk
  4. Directing behavioral cues (i.e. watch me or look at me, heel, let’s go, etc.)

Slip leads, what are they, and how do they work?

A slip lead is only to be used in emergency situations, and by trained professionals. The reason I caution this is that slip leads, generally speaking, do not come with a stopper. They can and will cut off air from the trachea (i.e. windpipe, breathing). You could cause your dog to asphyxiate (become unable to breathe). When in use, you want to keep them high up on the neck, at the base of the cranium. This will prevent asphyxiation from occurring. Most owners forget to move the lead up along the neck and due to gravity, movement, distraction, the lead slips lower. In a distracting situation, you can guess what happens. (Gag!)

Why do people use slip leads on dogs?

Most commonly, you’ll see slip leads used in grooming offices. They prevent the dog from moving off the table, guide the head, prevent biting, and allow the human more control over the dog. You may find yourself using them at the veterinarian’s office, or even at the pet store. It is policy, in places which allow dogs, to have the animal on a leash (no matter how well they are trained!). If you forget your leash, you may need to use it. Ask for assistance if and when this occurs.

Dog leads, collars, and harness extras for the shoppers guide

Reflective dog collars and dog leashes, for biking and running late at night with your dog

These reflective surfaces are great for dogs accompanying their owner on runs, walks, when visibility and lighting is limited or low. They also help when you have an awkward or unusual silhouette. Let me explain that last one.

Say, for example, you like to bike and have your dog run at your side. You’ll find leash attachments which extend from a bar protruding at the handlebars or a lower part of the frame. Now, most bicycles do not have this bar extension. This is an odd and rare shape for most people to see coming at them. Furthermore, assume the rest of the world knows zilch about dogs… how many people do you expect will assume you have a dog running, accompanied at your side? Very few is the answer. Get your dog a highly reflective collar and leash. You can even find reflective dog gloves, vests, wrist bands, etc. Just do some shopping and dig around. Last I saw of the color selection, you have orange and yellow reflectors. Safety is the big key here, not how cute the reflector looks. Got it?

Girly dog collars and leashes, the cute stuff, the decorative collars and matching leash and collar sets. Don’t forget your holiday gift sets…

There’s little to go on here. Check below for cute ideas on St. Patrick’s Day collars and leash set pairings, Easter colors… ohh, and the Christmas and Halloween dog collars and leashes… OMG, these are super cute. Now, I’ll see if I can find anything on Amazon to get an early start on fall holiday sets, but until then, grab some cute items for the approaching holidays.

I hope I’ve answered all of your basic questions and given you a good breakdown on what to expect when shopping for a dog collar, body harness, and/or lead. Until then, happy shopping and don’t forget, LetMeDogThisForYou!

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