Basic Dog Equipment
Leashes, Collars, Harnesses, and Head Halters
Though fairly basic, this equipment comes with a lot of variety and options you might not be familiar with if you're working with your first pup. Here's a short overview of the basics, as well as some tips and explanations for why we love what we love.
Table of Contents
Leashes are a very simple piece of equipment and a necessary part of daily life for most city dogs. There are several different types available, and a few things to point out for those trying to choose something new and who may be less familiar with the options.
First, a note about proper leash length. Keep in mind that many cities require dogs to be on a leash of 6 feet or shorter. We personally like a 4 foot leash for our regular walks in the city, and we grab a longer leash when we’re out with more room to roam.
Longer leashes may seam great, but they can create a few problems. These are even more problematic in a city environment.
A longer leash limits your ability to monitor your dog, which is more important on a busy sidewalk with danger just steps away. We often see people walking their dog on a longer leash who literally don’t even know where their dog is (other than that the dog is on the end of the leash, somewhere!).
A longer leash impairs your ability to quickly remove your dog from a dangerous situation. In a city, they they could come across food scraps or near active traffic.
A longer leash limits your ability to communicate with your dog, whether verbally, through leash feedback, or by direct contact.
While these may not be problems on most walks, it’s scary how quickly the situation can change in a busy city. Ultimately, keeping your dog close will help to keep them safer.
These come in either flat or rope styles of a fixed length, generally 4-10 feet.
A slip lead is effectively a leash and collar in one. The leash has a loop at the end that is slipped over the dog’s head that acts as a choke collar, so this may not be a good choice if your pup pulls a lot. These may also have a safety attachment to clip onto an attached collar or harness, just in case it slips off.
Some leashes now have some built in stretch to them, allowing them to stretch an additional foot or more. We’ve never been a big fan of these. The theory is that they provide some shock absorption for dogs who are heavy pullers, but in our experience, these are the dogs that will pull to the end of the leash and keep going to the end of the stretched length. The main downside is that it makes it more difficult to judge how far your dog can reach--you might think they can’t get to that chicken bone or step into the street, but they might have another foot of leash if they just pull hard enough.
Retractable leashes have a place, but they generally are not great choices in the city. If you’re out at a larger park or open area and can permit your dog to roam a bit more, a retractable leash might let them run more while still keeping them attached. When the leash is not locked, it’s impossible to tell by “feel” where your dog is. Be careful to lock the leash securely if you need to keep your dog closer, or you’ll turn around and realize they have gone 10 feet away from you, which is more than enough to get into danger in the city.
We put together a few of our favorite leashes here.
Guide to Collars
It happens way too often--a dog has slipped their collar and is running down the street, possibly coming into contact with traffic or other dangers. This is a scary situation, and they often don’t end well. If your dog is a flight risk, it’s extremely important to be certain your equipment is secure and properly fitted.
Finding the right collars
Fitting a collar properly is important to both prevent injury and to prevent your pup from slipping out. If your pup seems to slip out of a collar even if it's tight on them, you might want to consider a martingale collar or a harness.
You can measure your dog’s neck with a cloth tape measurer, and then add 1-2 inches for a proper fit. Most collars are adjustable, so you’ll have some room to adjust it. Keep in mind that nearly all adjustable collars will need to be readjusted regularly to ensure it is tight enough since they tend to loosen with regular use. You probably have heard something along the lines that a collar should be snug, but loose enough for you to fit two fingers under the collar--the “two finger rule.”
You also want to consider the width of the collar. Generally, the larger the collar, the wider it should also be. You don't want a large dog pulling against what, to the dog, is a very thin piece of material around their neck since it can cause more injury.
Martingale collars are a limited slip collar--meaning they only tighten to a certain point. They have a loop in the collar that the leash attaches to, and when it pulls it tightens. It’s easier to understand how that works by looking at the photo. For example, the collar might fit at 16 inches when loose, but when pulled it would tighten to around 14 inches (but not tighter). If fitted properly, the collar will tighten to a snug fit but it won’t choke your dog.
If you prefer your dog’s collar to fit looser, or if your pup has a smaller head, a Martingale Collar can be a great option. Originally designed for breeds like greyhounds (with small heads) so that the collar can be worn comfortably but will tighten when it needs to be tight. It should be tight enough to prevent your dog from slipping their collar.
Finding the right harness can feel a bit more confusing than at first. But once you get through the basic options, it’s really pretty simple. Whether your dog pulls and you need help, or you’re just looking for something cute for you pup, we have rounded up some of our favorites.
Harnesses For General Use
If you have a pup that is easy to walk and you don’t need to correct behavior or gain more control, then there are plenty of stylish, well-made harnesses to choose from. The most important consideration is usually fit--you just want to be sure your harness fits your dog well enough that they can’t escape if something goes wrong. Even if your pup is well behaved, if there’s a scuffle, a loud backfiring engine, or other commotion, any pup can slip a collar or harness. These usually are not great picks if your pup pulls hard on walks since they clip on the back--this acts as almost a sled-hookup, giving your dog even more leverage to pull.
A couple of the most popular styles (based on our client’s usage) are slip on harnesses or step-in harnesses. These are relatively easy to use (although getting them on can feel like an adventure sometimes) and comfortable for your pup.
Over the Head
The Puppia Soft Harness is one of the most popular styles we see. They tend to fit most dogs securely. The harness slips over the dog’s head and buckles around the belly. The only problem we see is that many pups don't like these to be slipped over their heads. To ease them into the harness, try placing a treat just through the head opening and allow them to make the choice to come through for it. Most dogs will eventually come forward for the treat, basically slipping into the harness without issue, and it tends to get easier over time. For others, harnessing them up can become a bit of a game. Other brands make similarly designed products too, so shop around and find the one that fits your style!
The next most popular style is a simple step in harness that clips on the back. Many of these have a clip on both ends of the buckle that acts as a safety backup. While they usually don't cause your dog to recoil from having it slipped on, they can be a bit of a hassle to get both legs through. Numerous brands make this style, so find one that works well for you. There are fabric styles like the Puppia Soft Harness C, or strap versions like the LupinePet Step In Harness. There are many more if these don’t fit your needs!
Harnesses To Help With Pulling
If your dog pulls on walks and you feel like you’re being dragged down the street, the right equipment may be able to help. If you’re having serious problems, we highly recommend that you consult with a local trainer. You’ll be amazed at how much a well qualified trainer can help.
One piece of equipment to turn to for help with pulling is a harness designed to redirect your dog. Some harnesses are designed to redirect your dog’s forward movement to one side by using a front attachment. This keeps your dog from digging in and continuing to pull. These work well for many dogs and are an easy option to have your dog adjust to.
There are plenty of misconceptions about choosing the right harness. The most common mistake we see is that people who find that their dog pulls hard on walks choose one that only makes the problem worse. It’s usually from good intentions--your dog is choking against their collar, so you put them in a comfortable, padded harness so they don’t hurt themselves when they pull. Unfortunately, this often is counterproductive since the fabric material in the front of the harness gives the dog more material to push against, and thus more leverage when trying to drag you down the street!
2 Hounds Freedom No-Pull Harness
Our all around favorite option for this is the 2 Hounds Freedom No-Pull Harness. These are highly adjustable and work well for most dogs. The adjustable straps also “lock” into place well so they are less likely to loosen over time.
This harness offers 2 attachment points--clips in front and on the back. Either of these clips can be used, or both can be used at the same time. The clip on the back is a martingale loop, so it will tighten when your pup pulls, providing some feedback. (View our article on Martingale Collars if you’re unfamiliar with them.)
When the harness is fitted properly, the front attachment helps to redirect your dog to the side when they pull. It prevents them from leaning in and pushing against the harness for leverage, since it automatically pulls their direction to one side. You can either clip solely into the front attachment, or use both the front and the back attachments. These work great, and usually are enough for most dogs to allow you to keep control without exhausting yourself or creating a dangerous situation. To use it effectively, you should keep the leash short and the dog next to you.
Easy Walk Harness
The easy walk harness is probably the most popular style of the front-attachment harnesses, and it works great too. We don’t love that the martingale loop is on the front, but it’s designed to provide more feedback when the dog pulls. If fitted properly, we think this works great too, and many of our clients have had success with these. These only have the front attachment, although if you’re having trouble with pulling it’s the one you’re likely to use anyway.
If you need more help to keep your pup from pulling or to guide their movement, another tool you can turn to is a head halter. These can be incredibly effective if used correctly, but they come with a bit more learning for both you and your pup. If you take the time to use them correctly, they can help correct even the most unruly of dogs! If you are having a lot of trouble on walks or have already tried harnesses, skip ahead to read about head halters.
If you need more control than a harness provides, we recommend a head halter.
Even the best harness wraps around the dog’s chest, giving them leverage to pull against, so they aren’t effective at helping all dogs from pulling. A head halter lets you guide your dog’s head--this gives you more influence over what they look at as well as the direction they are going. They are effective for horses and other large animals, and they’ll make managing a large, energetic pup easy.
Head halters are easier to use than you might think, but they take a bit of an adjustment from using a leash with a collar or harness. So take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with them and their use if you haven't used one before. You will need to acclimate your dog to it too, but once you do, these are highly effective. If you aren’t familiar with them, it might be best to start at your local, trusted pet shop. The staff there should be able to advise you on options and help you choose the right size/fit for your dog.
K9 Transitional Leash
Our personal favorite option is the K9 Transitional Leash (we aren’t even a marketer for them--we just really love this product!). The team at K9 have put together plenty of materials to help you properly use these, so visit their site: https://www.k9lifelinestore.com/. This slips over your pup’s neck, and you pull a loop of the leash around their muzzle. Since it’s all one piece of connected rope, when you pull the leash it tightens around the muzzle, providing immediate contact pressure for training purposes.
Other Head Halters
Other popular options are the Gentle Leader and Halti Dog Headcollar. Gentle Leader makes one of the most popular halters for dogs, and it’s likely the one you’re familiar with if you’ve seen them. While neither of these provide as much feedback to your pup as the Transitional Leash, it is a great choice for its ease of use and effectiveness.
We’ll have some additional tips for using head halters out soon. However, you may want to consult with a trainer if you’re having any problems getting your dog started with them.