How to Choose the Right Leash, Collar or Harness for Your Dog

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Once upon a time, choosing a collar and leash for your pooch was a straightforward endeavor. Leash and collar designs were pretty standard, and options were limited. Today, while it might be an exaggeration to say there are as many leash and collar options as there are different kinds of dogs, it's not much of one — the choices can be overwhelming. Use this guide to help you sort through the different types of dog collars, leashes and harnesses that best fit your pup's needs.

What Type of Leash or Collar Is Best for My Dog?

Woman standing next to a beagle in red collar on a leash in the park.There are different types of dog collars, leashes and harnesses for a wide variety of needs. While a standard leash and collar combination works great for walking a well-behaved, medium-sized dog with low-to-moderate energy levels, other dogs may do better with more specialized gear.

Small Dogs

Small and toy breed dogs tend to be delicate, and standard collars run the risk of crushing their trachea or injuring their necks. For your little pooch, it's best to use a shoulder harness that doesn't place pressure on the neck or throat. Harnesses have the added advantage of being difficult for tiny pups to slip out of, says Daily Puppy. Look for a harness that fits snugly enough that your dog can't wiggle out of it without it being uncomfortably tight.

A lightweight retractable leash will provide you with the most options, allowing your little pupper to safely venture a little further away from you while giving you a way to gently reel them back in without jerking them or having them get tangled up in the leash.

Large Dogs

On the other hand, large and giant breed dogs generally do well with thick, heavy-duty collars that can be easily put on and removed and that won't break easily. Look for a durable material like leather or woven nylon that fits tightly enough so that your dog's head can't slip out. You should still be able to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck to make sure it's not too tight. Be sure to inspect the collar regularly for wear and tear and replace it when it starts to wear out to prevent a break and a surprise escape.

Like their collars, big dogs need heavy-duty leashes. A thick, durable standard leash made of leather or woven nylon (or a chain leash if your big pup tends to chew) is a good match for your dog's size or strength. Go for a longer lead for walks in the park or country, and a shorter one for busy city streets. An adjustable-length leash can provide you with more versatility and prevent you from having to buy different leashes for different occasions.

Jack Russell terrier in collar running down a paved path.

Dogs that Pull

For anxious, easily distracted or high-energy dogs who try to pull you around with them, a front-clip harness works well to contain this impulse. Standard harnesses are based on the same design used by sled dogs and actually encourage pulling, says Petful. Harnesses that allow you to clip the leash to the front apply extra pressure to the chest, which provides a cue for your pup to slow down.

Both of the above harnesses work well with a standard leash suited to the size and weight of your pooch. Avoid using a retractable leash, which tends to encourage pulling rather than discourage it. The right leash will also help in training them not to pull.

Adventurous Dogs

For hiking or going on off-road adventures with your pup, a harness or vest with a handle on the back will make it easier to help your dog out of sticky situations, such as helping them climb a steep embankment or lifting them onto a large rock. Harnesses made for outdoor adventures often include pockets that let your dog carry their own gear — just be sure to acclimate your pooch to the extra weight before starting out on your adventure.

Use a rugged leash on the shorter side to keep your pup from venturing too far into unknown territory or charging off after the local wildlife. Clipping the leash to your belt with a carabiner will free your hands for balance on rugged terrain while preventing your dog from getting separated or lost.

Dogs in Training

A slip lead is leash and collar in one. One end of the leash is designed to pull through the other end to form a loop that slips over the dog's head. If the dog pulls, or if you give a quick tug on the leash, the loop will tighten in the same manner as a choke collar. This is a helpful tool for getting your dog's attention during training sessions, but it should be used under the supervision of a dog trainer and isn't recommended for everyday use.

Dogs Who Get Walked at Night

A lighted collar with built-in LED lights will provide the best visibility for your dog after dark. You can also purchase clip-on lights that attach to your dog's collar, as well as collars made of material that will reflect the light of passing headlights and help drivers spot your dog.

Lighted leashes are also available. Pairing this type of leash with a lighted collar will increase visibility for both you and your dog, making nighttime walks safer for you both.

Dogs with Special Needs

Greyhound wearing a red harness stands in the grass.What type of leash is best for dogs with special needs? While your dog might fit one of the profiles above, they might also have special circumstances or conditions that need to be considered. Different types of dog collars, leashes and harnesses can be versatile enough to suit your pup's special requirements.

Generally, dogs with elongated necks, such as greyhounds, and those that suffer from tracheal collapse should use a harness instead of a neck collar to prevent neck injury or pressure on the trachea. Dogs with shortened or flattened faces, like pugs or boxers, tend to have breathing problems that can be exacerbated by a neck collar, and do better with a harness as well. For dogs with mobility problems, a lift harness, which extends to wrap around the belly with a handle on the back, can make it easier to assist them in getting around.

Comparing all of the different types of dog collars, leashes and harnesses out there can be confusing. But knowing your dog and knowing what you'll be using the leash and harness for, can help you find the best fit for your pooch. When in doubt, feel free to enlist your veterinarian or a local dog trainer's advice. They have extensive knowledge of dogs and can provide a good recommendation based on your dog's specific needs.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet lover, freelance writer and novelist. She currently lives in the Ozarks with her husband and their gaggle of four-footed dependents, where she enjoys watching a wide array of wild animals in her back yard while drinking her morning coffee.