Keeping your dog under control is a walk in the park

Kayla being pulled by Tarni.

Kayla being pulled by Tarni.

On any given day in the main street of Dayboro, you’ll see lots of dogs and owners out for a walk.  Some dogs will be walking politely next to the owner, while others will be right out in front, pulling furiously and zig-zagging into the path of the owner.  The other difference you’ll notice amongst the passing parade is the range of different ‘restraint devices’ used on the dog, which typically include choker chains, flat collars and harnesses or halters.

While all these options are easy to purchase either online or in stores, most don’t come with usage instructions and some are misused so terribly that the health of the pooch may be compromised. We investigate the most popular choices here:


Flat Collars

By far the most common collar is the flat collar that fastens with a plastic clip or a buckle.  These collars are the most convenient to slip on and off and are handy because they can hold your dog’s identification and registration tags.  Even though this type of collar retains its size, the collar can become a hazard.  Dogs playing roughly and in a mouthy manner can get their mouth caught in the collar of another dog, causing panic in one or both dogs.  As they struggle to get loose, the collar can tighten and dogs have suffocated as a result of this type of play.  A second downside to this type of collar is that according to a recent study, the pressure generated when dogs pull in a flat collar raises the pressure in the eye.  As a result, it may worsen the clinical signs or disease progression in dogs with glaucoma, thin corneas, and other eye conditions where the pressure in the eye is an issue. So dogs who have or are prone to any of these conditions should either be trained via a non-force-based method to walk on loose leash or they should wear a harness or halter type of collar.  We love the Rogz brand of flat collars for their long-wearing materials and simple-to-use design.


Martingale collars are like flat collars but they tighten when the dog pulls.  Even though they tighten, they are generally not used for giving a correction the way a choke chain is. Rather, they are used because they are less likely to slip over the dog’s head when adjusted correctly than a flat collar is. These collars should be adjusted so that even at their tightest they cannot accidentally strangle the dog.

Choke Chains

The intended way these chains are used, by professional trainers under controlled circumstances, is to give a sharp jerk – strong enough to make the dog stop what it’s doing and do something else.  The idea is that this device is used only during intense, focussed training sessions, and never for just going for a walk.  Once these training sessions are completed, the theory is that the dog can receive a gentle jerk in a flat collar and will return to the desired behaviour, for fear of the strong jerk it received with the choke chain.

Choke chains should only be used when fitted correctly by experienced persons during short periods of training.  The RSPCA condemns the use of choke chains by anyone, and are lobbying for them to be made illegal.

Prong Collar

The prong collar is a very old concept, which looks (and feels!) like a torture device.  We do not recommend the use of prong collars, as it does not teach the pet to do anything but fear walking with you.  It is only a matter of time until these collars are declared illegal in Australia.


One of the most common alternatives to a collar is a harness. We recommend in very specific situations that some dogs, such as pugs and poodles, wear harnesses for health reasons. Choosing the correct harness is very important though.  We steer clear of the harnesses that attach to the leash on the back of the dog unless you are specifically training your dog to pull a sled.  These harnesses actually help train your dog to ignore you because when you pull on the leash to try to gain some control, it directs the dog’s attention in the opposite direction to you – FORWARDS!  Front-attaching harnesses are more successful in that they pull the dog’s attention back to you, and breaks the dog’s stride when it tries to get in front.

Retractable leashes

There are few items more dangerous for your dog, and passers-by, than a retractable leash.  These are thin textile leashes which retract inside a plastic casing via a flimsy spring arrangement.  The hardware used in these leashes come with maximum weight restrictions which must be taken into account with the force of the dog pulling in mind.  A 10kg dog creates a lot more than 10kgs of force when he spots a cat across the road!  Hence a 10kg limited retractable leash is vastly insufficient for the job.  The holding mechanisms frequently break during times of force, allowing the dog to travel many metres before any control can be regained.  There is enough space and time for a dog to run on to a road and be hit by a car, or to make contact with passing people or animals, resulting in trauma and injuries.  By far the most common dog attack scenarios we deal with is dogs that have been attached to retractable leashes.

Head Halters

We recommend head halters for those owners who want to speed up training and need help keeping their dog’s attention when out walking (and let’s face it – who doesn’t want that!?).  We specifically choose head halters that help you guide the dog’s attention towards you rather than those that just keep the dog from extending the head forward.  As with horses, the body tends to go where the head is pointing, plus dogs best pay attention to owners when they are physically looking at them.

The down-side of the head halter is that you often need to train dogs to enjoy wearing them, though most owners who start their dogs correctly on a head halter find that the relatively small time investment getting the dogs used to the collar is well worth it.  Simple association with treats or fun activities is often enough to show your dog that the Head Halter means good things for them!

The other important point in training dogs to wear a head halter is to train them that when they reach the end of the leash they are going nowhere.  That means the owner must hold perfectly still and avoid taking a step or even moving the leash-holding hand.  Once the dog figures out that pulling harder does not work and instead steps back or turns to the owner such that the leash is hanging loose, then the owner can resume walking.  We particularly love the Gentle Leader & Black Dog Infin8 head halters for ease of use & the technology behind them.


It’s fair to say that of all the collars available, there isn’t one single answer that will be perfect for every dog.  They are all just tools of training.  But some are more likely to cause problems in your pet or may just provide a less than ideal match for your needs.  In case you’re wondering – we use head halters for walking our dogs and leave flat collars on them with their identification tags.

From the team at Old Mill Animal Hospital.

Phone 3425 2222 ALL HOURS.*


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