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Choosing the Best Dog Collar, Harness or Leash

By PetcoLori on Sep. 29, 2017

How do you choose the best dog collar, harness or leash for your puppy or adult dog? Here are a few tips.

It seems pretty simple: you just want to take your dog for a walk, but what kind of collar should she wear? Or should she use a harness? Or both? What about leashes—does she need a regular leash or a retractable one?


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As is the case with picking out what kind of food to feed your dog, there are plenty of choices, and they can often be overwhelming and confusing. Luckily, there are ways to break down the options and select the perfect collar, harness and leash to suit your dog's personality and specific needs. When outfitting your puppy or adult dog with a new collar, harness or leash, it's best to take her shopping with you to make sure you get a proper fit. Ask for help in choosing the ideal combination of products to ensure compatibility and safety, and always follow the manufacturers' instructions regarding fit and use.  

It is best practice to always have your dog wear a collar, displaying a rabies tag and an identification tag with your contact information, just in case you get separated. There are many different types of collars available—including training, reflective, martingale and flat. All come in a variety of colors, patterns and styles—but the most important factors are size, weight and fit. 

Two common types of collars are flat collars and martingale collars. Flat collars with buckles are the most common. Flat collars are effective for most dogs and come in a variety of materials, but are most commonly seen in nylon. Nylon collars are ideal for growing puppies because they typically cost less. Flat collars also come in leather, but nylon is significantly stronger. Leather collars also require frequent treatment to keep the leather soft, supple and strong to prevent cracking. If you have a long-haired dog, consider buying a rolled leather collar to keep her hair from matting.  

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Martingale collars (sometimes called "Greyhound" or "limited slip" collars) were originally designed for use in breeds like sight hounds, since their neck widths are often equal to or wider than their heads. It can be quite easy for these breeds to slip out of a flat collar, but a martingale collar prevents this by means of an extra loop that can softly tighten and stay snug against the neck if the dog tries to pull away. The use of martingale collars has gained popularity in other breeds for training purposes or for dogs that have a habit of trying to slip out of a flat collar. 

Your dog's collar should ride on her neck, but not be so loose that it slides down to her shoulder blades. For her safety, the collar should not be loose enough to slip over her head. It should be snug, but with enough room to easily fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck. If it's too loose, your dog could wiggle out. If it's too tight, it could rub against her skin and hurt her.  

Collars should never be so tight that they restrict breathing or cause coughing. After you find the right fit, you can trim excess material if your dog likes to chew on it. 

Choose a collar width designed for the overall size of your dog—one that's not too heavy and not too light. As a general guideline, use thinner, lighter collars on smaller dogs and wider, heavier collars on bigger dogs. 

Harnesses are an excellent choice for all dogs, but especially for puppies, small dogs or dogs with delicate throats that may be irritated by the use of a regular flat collar. They are placed around the dog's chest and rib cageand therefore have more points of contact. This provides fewer opportunities for escape than when the leash is secured to a collar. However, even when using a harness, it is important to keep the collar on with ID tags for identification purposes.  

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Harnesses may reduce issues of pulling in some dogs. But for other dogs, the opposite may be true, and certain harnesses also have the  potential to increase a dog's desire to pull, as she will no longer find it uncomfortable to do so. If this is the case for your dog, consider using a front-clip harness or a no-pull harness, rather than one with a buckle on the back. 

To choose a correctly fitting harness, you'll need to know your dog's general weight range, and possibly a few measurements. It always helps to take your dog shopping with you to ensure a proper fit. Make sure the harness doesn't pinch your dog anywhere. You may want to choose a padded mesh harness for a more comfortable fit. Place the harness on your dog and tighten any buckles to ensure that the fit is snug, but not tight. As with a collar, you should be able to fit two fingers under the harness at any point, which is very important when your dog is in a sitting position. There are different types of harnesses available for many different needs, such as the no-pull harnesses as mentioned before, or travel harnesses for transport in a car. Ask for help to find the harness that best meets the needs of you and your dog. 

When you fit a harness on your dog, keep in mind that the actual fitting can be an unsettling event as you may be handling your dog in ways that she is not used to. Keep a close eye on your dog and if it seems she's getting mildly stressed (by panting, yawning, or excessively licking her lips), take a break and give her some space. Also, have a friend hold your pet's leash while you fit the harness. Dropping the leash could result in your dog getting loose and possibly running off. 

If you want to take your dog out using a harness, leave the collar with the tags on your dog. If you have resorted to the use of a harness due to a pulling issue, as you work through and overcome the issue, you may want to revert back to eventually using just a collar. 

A collar and a harness can be used interchangeably depending on the activity that you have planned with your dog. For long hikes, a harness may be preferable as it may be more comfortable. For other activities, a harness may be in the way and your dog may become tangled. 

LeashesShould you choose a regular (flat) leash or a retractable leash? Standard flat leashes are usually 4-6 feet long and are made of washable nylon or leather. They come in a variety of materials, lengths, thicknesses and colors to match your dog's collar. The advantage of a flat leash is that it allows you to maintain direct, constant control over your dog, which is an important safety factor, especially if you have a puppy or if you walk your dog in busy areas.

Retractable leashes can extend a great distance (13–26 feet) and allow your dog more freedom to explore on walks. Retractable leashes are best suited for dogs that have been well-trained to walk on a leash since they have the ability to wander further away from you. Retractable leashes are best used when your dog is walking in controlled, open areas. Always practice safety precautions when using a retractable leash in order to avoid injury to you or your pet, and replace the leash immediately if it breaks or malfunctions. 


The thickness and strength of the leash should be suitable for you and your dog. Start a puppy with a lighter leash so she can get used to the extra weight of the hardware. For the first few tries, follow your puppy around while her leash is on, so that she gets used to the leash being attached. If good leash manners are established early on, less training will be required as your puppy ages. A six-foot leash is a standard starting leash for puppies or adult dogs. Nylon leashes often work better for puppies because they're lighter and more expendable. Nylon leashes are also stronger than their leather counterparts and may be a better choice for heavier/stronger dogs. The stitching or braiding near the handle and the metal clasp that attaches to the collar should be solid and durable and appropriate for the weight of your dog. Regardless of the type of leash you choose, remember to thoroughly inspect the clasp on your leash before each walk to ensure the safety of you and your dog. 

You want to be comfortable when you hold the leash in your hands. The leash and collar combination should never be too heavy for your dog. Try holding a few different leashes to make sure the one you choose is comfortable. 

Anytime you introduce a new collar, harness or leash to your dog, have treats or a new toy on hand. This will help your dog to associate it with good things and redirect your dog's attention away from the new accessory. 

There are even more products available to customize your walking experience. Head collars are another option for a dog that pulls and needs their attention redirected. In addition, there are plenty of specialty collars, harnesses and leashes available. Some have reflective features for added visibility during nighttime walks or accessories like waste pick-up bags or travel bowls attached to them. You can find personalized products or themed sets to match you or your pets' personality. No matter what you choose for your dog, make sure it fits properly and it is the right size and weight. To learn more about walking your dog on a loose leash, consider enrolling in an interactive dog training class with a certified professional dog trainer.

Shop for collars, leashes or harnesses.

Learn about starting an exercise routine with your dog!

by Ann Dempsey
‎06-08-2015 06:07 AM

excellent advice

excellent advice

Posted on Jun. 8, 2015
by Jolie
‎03-10-2017 01:41 AM

I was checking to see if you offer basic dog training through your store location or if you know of any trainers in the area that you would recommend as good but not overly expensive. I have a 10 month of German Shepherd and need to teach her basic behavior skills and on and off leash training. Thank you, Dolly Zabrdac

I was checking to see if you offer basic dog training through your store location or if you know of any trainers in the area that you would recommend as good but not overly expensive. I have a 10 month of German Shepherd and need to teach her basic behavior skills and on and off leash training. Thank you, Dolly Zabrdac

Posted on Mar. 10, 2017
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