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Which collar or harness is right for your dog?

Choosing the right collar or harness for your dog can be challenging. There are dozens of options available, but which is right for you and your dog?

Prong collars are metal collars with stiff prongs that tighten and press into the dog’s neck when pulled. While some see them as a quick fix for poor leash manners, prong collars can be harmful physically, behaviorally and emotionally. They are considered aversive training tools designed to inflict pain to stop unwanted behavior. A 2020 study found that dogs subjected to aversive training exhibited more stress-related behaviors and higher cortisol levels. This type of training can damage the human-dog relationship and increase anxiety and fear in dogs. Many organizations, including the La Plata County Humane Society, Best Friends, Dumb Friends League and The Humane Society of the United States, do not endorse prong collars. Prong collars have been outlawed in Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden.

Flat collars are suitable for dogs with good leash manners and recall. They have little training value and provide minimal feedback, often leading to chronic pulling if the dog is not properly trained. These collars are comfortable and safe for dogs to wear all the time with an ID tag, so it is clear your dog is owned.

Martingale collars resemble flat collars but have an additional loop that tightens when pulled. This provides pressure without pain, making them a good alternative to prong collars. They can be paired with a leash to create a DIY harness that provides better control, relieves neck pressure, and is inescapable. This is a great technique to use while working on leash manners. The martingale design prevents the collar from slipping over the dog’s head, so they are ideal for dogs who are a flight risk.

Harnesses are a popular choice among pet owners. Back clip harnesses distribute pressure across the dog’s chest, but can cause chest and forelimb strain over time if the dog is constantly pulling. Back clip harnesses are not recommended for reactive dogs as they comfortably support a lunging dog and can embolden a reactive dog. Front clip harnesses are better for managing reactive dogs by applying pressure to one shoulder when the dog pulls, forcing a change in posture and helping to interrupt and manage the dog. However, this can also strain the shoulder area over time if the dog pulls constantly. Ensuring a proper fit is essential to prevent the dog from slipping out. No-pull harnesses tighten like a martingale, offering feedback about leash manners and are harder to escape from. It is important to consider your dog’s body shape and behavior when choosing a harness.

All training methods and tools should be the least intrusive and minimally invasive. Positive reinforcement training is widely regarded as the most effective method by animal welfare organizations and trainers. Choose a collar or harness that supports positive reinforcement techniques and aligns with current research.

The La Plata County Humane Society encourages owners to move away from prong collars. We will host a prong-collar exchange from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 7 and 8 at LPCHS, 1111 South Camino del Rio. Bring your prong collar, and we will fit your dog with a free martingale, harness or flat collar in exchange.

Colleen Dunning is development manager at La Plata County Humane Society.