Conditioning Collars and Harnesses for an Older Puppy

As your puppy matures and your lessons begin, you may want to switch from a nylon collar or harness to a conditioning or training collar, which discourages lunging, pulling, and overall reactivity, and to a sturdier leash. Use positive reinforcement to encourage your puppy’s focus.

Conditioning collars encourage your puppy to walk near you through a system of guiding, not jerking or pulling. These user-friendly collars require little to no strength to control and allow you to focus on positive reinforcement to encourage your puppy’s focus and cooperation. The two types of conditioning collars are no-pull harnesses and head collars.

Stick to buckle collars and conditioning collars for young puppies (under 4 months old). Other types of collars restrict your puppy’s breathing and teach her that walking near you is uncomfortable.

Easy-walking, no-pull harness

Some no-pull harness designs are very effective in encouraging good following skills in puppies. A harness, which loops around the front of the puppy’s body, is also an ideal system for small or giant-size breeds and can be used safely if a puppy’s neck is simply too fragile to bear the resistance of a neck collar. It prevents pulling by limiting the extent of your puppy’s gait.

Following are the two basic kinds of no-pull harness:

  • Front-attached easy-walking harness: This harness (shown in the following figure) braces your puppy across her chest. The leash clips in front of your dog’s chest and restrains her forward momentum as you lead her forward. Some puppies get distracted by the leash and grab for the strap incessantly, but most pups learn to accept the restraint in a couple of walks.

  • Shoulder attachment: These harnesses loop under your puppy’s front legs and secure behind the shoulder. Be sure to look for one that’s labeled no-pull harness, because other brands of similar design encourage pulling.

    A front-attached easy-walking conditioning harness. [Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake]
    Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake
    A front-attached easy-walking conditioning harness.

Head collar

A head collar is like a horse halter for dogs. It can be used with puppies as young as 8 weeks old. It’s a nonconfrontational conditioning tool that encourages cooperation and good following skills. Left on during play, the pressure on the nose discourages rowdiness and mouthing.

You may think this collar looks like a muzzle when you first see it (refer to the following figure), but it’s not. Puppies can eat, chew, and play happily while sporting their head collar; it simply eliminates internal or external pressure around the neck.

By placing a short lead on your puppy when you’re expecting company, you can effectively curb jumping habits. Barking frenzies are drastically reduced, and training is made simple as you guide your puppy from one exercise to the next. Another plus is that leading by the chin demands minimal physical strength, so nearly everyone can use it — kids too.

After your puppy is used to a nose strap, you’ll be able to guide her like a horse on a halte
Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake
After your puppy is used to a nose strap, you’ll be able to guide her like a horse on a halter.

How often you should leave the head collar on is a question best answered by your puppy. If yours is relatively well behaved, you can use it exclusively during walks and lessons. If she’s the mouthing, jumping, or barking type, leave the collar on whenever you’re around. Remove it at night or when you’re out.

The head collar must fit properly around your puppy’s neck. If it’s too loose, your puppy can pull it off and perhaps chew it. You want the neck strap to fit snuggly, with one finger’s worth of space between the neck and the strap.

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