What Collar, Harness, and Leash Combo Should You Use On Your Dog?

heel tools walking Apr 16, 2024
boykin spaniel looking at camera

Are you feeling overwhelmed with the choices you have for which collar, harness, and leash combo to purchase for your pup? We get it. There are so many different kinds of collars and harnesses on the market it can be daunting to learn what to buy, at what stage, and the why behind it. So we wanted to provide a little rundown of what we personally use, at which stage, and why we use each of our recommended tools.

First off, it's crucial to establish clear communication with your pup right from the start, and the tools we use for walking our dogs play a vital role in this process. Leashes, collars, and harnesses, while essential for safety, can often overwhelm puppies, leading to behaviors like biting, pulling, or refusal to walk.

The initial stage of puppy raising (these same tips and guidance are for older rescue dogs as well who may not be used to being walked in new environments) calls for allowing them more freedom on their walks to explore their surroundings and encounter new stimuli without feeling restrained. That's why we often opt for using a retractable leash or harness during these early adventures.

Our rule of thumb is if a dog is wearing a harness, they are allowed to pull. If a dog is wearing a collar of any kind, they need to be taught to yield to leash pressure versus pull against it.

A quick note to add is that a lot of puppies like to mouth at their leash or your legs, so to temporarily help with this we sometimes provide them with a small soft plush toy for them to hold onto so that their mouth is preoccupied and less likely to direct on the leash or you.

Now let’s look into the different types of leashes, collars, and harnesses we recommend and when we recommend using them.

Retractable Leash

Yes, we are huge advocates for this highly misunderstood and misused tool.

Retractable leashes (aka flexi leashes), when used appropriately, offer a balance of freedom and control, allowing dogs to venture further without feeling restricted. You can make a collar/leash combo out of a flexi by attaching it to itself, making a slip leash of sorts (this way your pup can’t put the brakes on and slip out like it could on a flat collar). It is a gateway to off leash freedom; providing pups with better walks and further explorations than a 6 foot leash can. It also allows your dog to venture towards or away from something in the environment they are uncertain about versus getting stuck and scared at the end of a 6 foot leash.

Flexi (which can be purchased on our recommended tools page) is our go to brand of choice. These leashes allow your play sessions to be more dynamic by providing more space for your dog to win, possess or trophy show off their reward. All while also providing clarity from your end to restart the game and bring the toy back.

Retractable leashes begin -R training from an early age in a fair and clear way.

These leashes also allow for potty breaks with a bit more privacy to your pup than a 6 foot leash provides.

When you shouldn’t use the flexi: in the Veterinarian office, if your dog is a puller, and if your children walk your dog.


Harnesses are a great tool to use on young pups to allow for them to pull and explore, while keeping their neck free of pressure so when we introduce -R via the leash we can use a light amount of pressure for teaching behaviors and yielding into the leash.

V-shaped harnesses are, in our opinion, the best suited harnesses for the development of your pup to pull in a way that will not cut off their natural mobility and range of motion.

Easy walk harnesses cut off your dog's natural mobility and can eventually lead to injury because of this. This is why we never recommend using this tool.

Flat Collar

A simple 1-inch thick flat collar is a great everyday collar that can be used to teach your dog to come into leash pressure, while also holding their identification tags. If you have a dog who is already conditioned to pull against their flat collar, it will take more time to work on them coming into this pressure. This is why it is important if you are starting off with a fresh slate to not attach a leash to a flat collar and potty your dog! The majority of people allow their puppy to pull to potty, which is a rewarding experience for them. This is teaching your dog from a young age that pulling against their collar is the correct behavior to do. This is why we opt for a retractable attached to itself for more space to potty or use a harness like we mentioned above.

Slip Leash

Mendota is our go to slip leash brand. We prefer to use the โ…œ” x 6’ as the smaller size is easier to handle than their larger counterpart. You can also purchase a smaller version when working on finessing positions or transitioning to off leash work. Our trainer Rachel Williams makes custom slip leads through her company Mutt Life & Co and you can also purchase similar slip leads through Klin.

Prong Collar

Prong collars, also known as pinch collars, work by applying pressure around a dog's neck when tension is applied to the leash. They consist of a series of metal links with blunt, rounded prongs on the inside. When the dog pulls or lunges, the prongs press into the dog's neck, simulating the bite pressure a mother dog might use to correct her puppies.

The pressure from the prongs is meant to mimic the sensation of a correction from another dog, encouraging the dog to stop pulling or lunging. Importantly, prong collars are designed to distribute pressure evenly around the neck to prevent injury on the trachea, which can happen on a flat collar. They are not intended to cause pain but rather to provide a clear and consistent communication tool for training.

Herm Sprenger makes the best quality prong collars on the market, and our go to size is the 2.25mm. If you have a dog with a thicker coat (i.e. Huskies, German Shepherds, Chows) you may need a thicker gauge as the 2.25mm will not be long enough to provide consistent contact.

Walking With Your Dog

For companion dogs, we find it preferable to teach a heel position where the dog walks nose to knee or slightly behind, not passing the left leg. When taught this way, the left leg acts as a barrier that the dog should not pass, and the dog learns that pressure occurs only if and when they pass that barrier. 

We always begin with teaching dogs the heel position via a food lure. Once we get plenty of reps in and the dog has an understanding of the position (they are mentally mature), then we add in leash pressure and begin to implement a pressure on/pressure off tactic.

When heeling with your dog, you will say the command then use leash guidance to get them into the heel position (nose behind knee) and then begin heeling, taking off with your left foot first. If your dog goes slightly ahead, stop, wait a second and then help by pulling them back gently with leash guidance. Do not reward if you need to use the leash to get them back in position. If they stop on their own, definitely reward this behavior! You are teaching them that the heel position is a pressure free zone and that they get good rewards there. Win-win!

Here are a few training videos to help get you started teaching a nice heel command:

Puppy Training Foundation Work: Month 3

The "Broken Arm" Technique

Stop Leash Pulling!

We recommend also teaching a loose leash “let’s go” walk. Allowing your dog freedom is important! As long as the dog isn’t pulling against pressure, they can be ahead of you or off to the side. If they hit the end of the leash, stop walking and do a quick pop back and release with the leash, then begin walking forward again. Read more on why we recommend teaching both a heel and a let's go walk.

If your dog gets aroused around other people and dogs, we recommend switching to the heel command if you see a distraction approaching from a distance. This will help keep their focus on you and your walk versus the distraction ahead.

Lastly, we believe all owners should teach their dog a switch command, which is the mirror image of the heel on the right side of your body. When enjoying greenways and walking paths, you will likely encounter dogs that are out of control. In these situations, having your dog stay in the heel position on your left side will put them in a vulnerable position. Over time, they may lose their trust in you as their leader. By switching them behind your back to the right side, your body will act as a barrier between the two dogs and prevent a bad experience from happening to your dog.

We hope that this blog has helped clarify the many different training tools we use on our personal dogs and dogs we have in training, and when to use each one. If you need further one-on-one coaching, you can check out our various packages and online courses to help you take your communication skills to the next level!



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