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Posted on Thu, Aug 4, 2011 : 1:20 p.m.

Walking your dog on a leash properly takes the right tools

By Julia Levitt

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Nylon leashes in action

Julia Levitt/Contributor

Even though July has come to a close, I wanted to include a special feature to round out dog training month.

A topic that I'm most frequently asked about is equipment. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t wear scuba diving gear for weeding the garden, so let’s look at picking the best tool to use when training your dog — primarily when walking on leash.

I am referring to dog training paraphernalia. Like anything, I see a ton — okay, a half a ton — of equipment used on dogs to instill good behavior.

But no matter what collar or leash I see used, the results are the same. Here are the most commonly used tools.

Retractable leashes

The retractable leash, like all great inventions, began with a purpose. It was designed for tracking dogs — how practical. When dogs are tracking, they go way out in front of their human. Using a retractable keeps the leash from getting tangled and twisted on branches like a conventional long long leash.

Fast forward to today: the majority of dogs that I see are walked on retractable leashes. They aren’t tracking a scent. They are pulling or dragging a person behind them.


Harnesses are great tools used for dogs tracking. You want the dog to have the most freedom while it is doing its job — with no restraints of a collar.

Prong or pinch collars

Yikes — just these words get people a little twitchy! Like any tool, a prong collar used correctly is in valuable. But — oh no, not that nasty word again — I have never seen a prong collar used correctly. I do see a lot of people being dragged by dogs on a retractable leash with a prong collar around their necks.

Remember the old saying: "You wouldn’t use a 2x4 to swat a mosquito!"

Head collars

These devices that go around the muzzle of a dog are not training tools. When the head collar is removed the pulling returns.

"Why?" you might ask. "They work so well when I am using one..."

Head collars are a misused tool, just like the prong/pinch collar. People get a false sense of security that their dog is under control but the head collar does not control the dog. The dog can spin and pull, and you have no way to correct or teach the dog this is undesirable behavior. The device is designed to assist if the dog is aggressive.

It does prevent the dog from biting, but the underlying problem is never addressed.


When a dog bites and the owner does not correct the problem, a muzzle is a necessity. It does not train the dog not to bite, but it keeps you, the vet, the dog groomer and anyone who enters your home from getting bitten.

Choke collars

Poorly named!

When not in use, this collar lays flat on the dog's neck. When a correction is administered, the collar gives a reminder to the dog that a certain behavior is not desired. These collars come in nylon and chain.

Make sure that, whichever you use, the collar fits properly and is removed after exercise. It is not to be worn as a regular collar. Do not attach dog tags to it. This a training tool. Reserve a plain buckle collar to keep tags attached.

More suggestions

"What equipment do you use Miss Harmony?"

I use a plain leather leash. No nylon, though these work just as well. Leather, if the dog pulls, does not burn the hand, and this material holds up longer.

I often make a slip collar out of the leash. It works on the same principal as the choke collar; it lays dormant until used for correction. I make my own nylon leashes: nylon bought at the hardware store for a dollar.

Even though July is over, please help yourself and your dog . Enjoy the summer and try to involve your canine companion in as many activities as you can.

When you look for a training device, please, please have a professional advise you — you can do your dog a big favor by getting the best tool that meets your needs and theirs.

No 2x4s please!

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707.



Fri, Aug 5, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

Do you ever walk by the "end your pet" girl in the hallways, and is it awkward?


Fri, Aug 5, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

Aspen makes a great harness for dogs. You get it at Petco. You use this to keep a dog under control and it is also used for car restraint. Been using them for years. Our dogs hate having the leash being used on their collar. I also find this rather barbaric to me to use a leash and collar system. Ours have no problems with the leash using this system. Interesting article.

Julia Levitt

Sat, Aug 6, 2011 : 12:32 a.m.

I am gald you found a tool thta works for you-Julia


Fri, Aug 5, 2011 : 3:14 a.m.

I found the "Halti" or "Gentle Leader" style to work the best for training my 80 lb Lab. Are those that you consider a 'head collar'? It was not for aggressiveness and, at least in these two products, the dog could still bite, eat dinner, chew a rawhide, etc. And the dogs DO learn and then the device can be removed. In fact, just like the box said, it took my dog exactly 3 days to understand the concept and it was all smooth sailing after that!

Julia Levitt

Sat, Aug 6, 2011 : 12:31 a.m.

I am glad you found success-Julia


Fri, Aug 5, 2011 : 12:35 a.m.

TV shows on dog 'leash' training often advise against the use of choke collars. Some advise that only the buckle-type (nylon or leather collar your dog wears at all times) is best for training. I've heard others advise that using a spiked collar is the more safe and humane. It's nice to hear due credit given to the 'choke' collar. When used correctly, this tool is most effective in leash training. Like any other tool, the choke collar is only effective, and safe, in the hands of those who know how to use it. Fortunately, proper use of a choke collar, as either a training devise or regular use for daily walks, is really easy to learn. I began using the choke collar at age 12 on a St. Bernard I trained for obedience in 4-H. Since that time (40+ years) I've used the choke collar on all my dogs, every size & temperament, to train proper leash etiquette. It's a tool that's successful each & every time. But as effective as the choke collar may be for training, unless the user has gained the respect of the dog and learned to be the leader, the tool will be useless.

Julia Levitt

Sat, Aug 6, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

Good for you-keep up the good work! Julia


Thu, Aug 4, 2011 : 6:38 p.m.

THANK YOU! Finally something to help the dog owner community, rather than bash it. Very refreshing.

Julia Levitt

Sat, Aug 6, 2011 : 12:29 a.m.

than you very much ! Julia