Harnesses, Martingales, and Head Halters...What's Best For My Dog?

Finding the right fit for what your dog really needs for walks can take a lot of time, money, and frustration. Everyone has their own opinion about what works best, but we thought we would write a blog post that balances the pros and cons of everything, so you can know what works best for your dog.

All styles, regardless which you choose, should be double and triple checked to make sure it is the right size and is fitted properly, preferably by a professional trainer.

Harnesses - Front Clip

front clip harnessA popular option, front-clip harnesses offer the owner control over the direction the dog is moving and allows for the dog to be redirected to face the owner if needed. These are often used by trainers to lessen pulling. Front-clip harnesses also offer directional steering, in that a dog can be turned around if needed.

No one harness works best for every dog, due to different body shapes and designs. With some dogs, a particular harness’s connecting snap might end up right under his “arm pits”, which is very uncomfortable for him. In general, wider straps are more comfortable than thinner ones.

Although front-clip harnesses provide more control than most traditional collars or back-clip harnesses, dogs with serious behavior issues, such as aggression, may need a walking tool offering additional control, such as a head halter.

The leash on the front of the chest can tangle under the dog’s front legs if too much slack is given.
back clip harness

Harnesses - Back Clip

Another popular option, back clip harnesses also offer more control over a dog who pulls. They are easy to put on and comfortable for the dog to wear by removing the pressure put on the trachea by leashes. The leash won't tangle under the feet of the dog as with front-clip harnesses, and they are widely available in different sizes and styles.

 These work excellent for small dogs who pull. However, for large, strong dogs, sometimes the effect is similar to a dog pulling a sled... with the human as the unfortunate sled. They also offer little control for dogs who have behavioral issues such as jumping up or
displaying aggression.

Head Halters - Gentle Leaders, etc

head halterHead halters are more widely known than they used to be for dogs who pull. Like harnesses, they remove the pressure that is on the trachea from a collar, and offer more control over a dog who pulls. Sometimes owners who own dogs who pull use these in conjunction with a harness. Head halters are known for offering much better control over a dog who pulls.

However, sometimes head halters are mistaken for muzzles, with otherwise friendly dogs being shunned by people who are afraid of a dog who has an apparent muzzle over their jaws. There have also been some concerns over dogs who are notorious pullers straining their neck muscles.

Martingale Style Collar

Typically these style of walking collars are used by dogs who pull and have a thin head, which means they can slip their collar. This is why typically they are seen on dogs such as greyhounds, but they also work well with Golden Retrievers.

Martingales are now recommended by some trainers instead of choke collars.

martingale styleThey are made with two loops, as seen to the right. The larger loop is slipped onto the dogs neck and a leash is then clipped to the smaller loop. When the dog tries to pull, the tension on the leash pulls the small loop taut, which makes the large loop smaller and tighter on the neck, thus preventing escape. Properly fitted, the collar will be comfortably loose when not being pulled on.

Martingales should not be used on bull-necked dogs as they are less effective, and they should not be left on the dog outside of being on a leash. Because of the second loop, risk of the dog getting caught on something is increased.


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