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Dog Equipment Choices (Part 1) - by Ruth Kellogg

A new owner confronted with the vast variety of collars, halters, leads, and harnesses will be challenged to make a safe and appropriate selection of equipment for his dog. Knowledge of the various pieces of equipment, the pros and cons, and the correct and incorrect usages will empower an owner to make appropriate choices. “Seasoned” dog handlers, who usually have strong personal equipment preferences, should still be aware of the various types of equipment available to guide less experienced handlers.

I, like many “seasoned” handlers, have my own preferences of equipment. I shall, however, endeavor to be as objective as possible. Having said that, I will emphasize that anything we attach to our dog’s body in some way has the potential to be caught and/or twisted around a body part (including the neck) which can lead to injury and/or death. This includes all collars, halters, leads, and harnesses. Some pieces of equipment have a greater “risk factor” than others when used incorrectly or become caught/twisted. Our dog’s safety depends upon our management and usage of whatever equipment we choose to use.

Handlers should all be aware of a dog’s instinctive reaction when it is caught or feeling trapped. The dog will twist, turn, and thrash its body which usually ends up with whatever is trapping it to be tightened even more. This in turn causes the dog’s panic to increase which again causes more thrashing etc. A vicious cycle. I have personally seen this when a dog has become tangled in a leash, harness, and during the adjustment phase to halter work. If a dog twists and turns as a person is hanging onto a collar, broken fingers can easily and very quickly result. (I can personally attest to that!)

To emphasize again, all pieces of equipment have their positives and negatives. With knowledge, awareness, and correct usage, even the more “risky” pieces of equipment can be useful tools.


Collars essentially are in three groups: buckle (tongue-style or plastic squeeze style), sled/semi-slip, and choke/slip collars. Buckle and sled dog collars are usually made of leather or nylon. Slip collars are usually made of nylon or chain. Why the collar is needed is paramount in determining which collar to use.

Buckle collars

These are considered the safest collar to use if they are correctly and snugly applied. I believe that no more than two fingers should be able to be slipped under a correctly fitted buckle collar. Looser fitting buckle collars make it very easy for the dog to slip out of and/or be caught accidentally on an object or by another dog’s jaw. Uses: for dogs who must wear ID tags, puppy collars, obedience competition.

Sled/semi-slip collars

These collars were designed by mushers who wanted an easy to slip on collar that the dog couldn’t get out of when hitched yet did not choke them while working. The sled dog collars I use have a 4” difference between the dog’s neck and the lead attachment ring. A correctly fitted collar tightens only to the dog’s neck measurement. These collars can easily be caught on objects or another dog can either pull it off or get caught in the collar. For this reason, none of my dogs who play roughly or are kenneled with another dog wear a collar (of any kind). I also have scissors that can cut nylon readily available both inside and outside. A positive aspect to a correctly fitted sled dog collar is that the dog cannot slip out of it when tightened. When I take my country bumpkin dogs to town, I know they can’t slip out of their collars, which gives me peace of mind. For dogs going to shows, the looser fit (when not tightened) will float over the dog’s coat, yet when the collar is tightened, the dog is secure. This collar is not advised to use as an “every day” collar due to the greater risk factor. Uses: in harness work and in situations where safe and moderate control is needed.

Choke/slip collars

These collars are called choke collars for a reason. Many dogs have been injured or killed when the collar tightened and didn’t release. Tracheal and neck (muscle and vertebral) are also common injuries. If the collar is put on incorrectly, it will not loosen when the lead pressure is released. These collars should never be left on an unattended dog. They were designed as a training tool, which, when used correctly, is a very effective negative reinforcer. It is important to note that the wider the collar (i.e. heavier nylon or larger chain links), the weaker the effect. Thus, the super fine choke collar has a very strong effect. Uses: obedience and conformation work.


Halters are a training tool which should only be used under direct supervision. Basically, they work by the principle of “control the head, control the rest of the body.” For Malamutes, who are hard wired to pull when they feel tension/pressure on their necks, halters are a marvelous aid for teaching leash manners. One negative aspect to halters is the adjustment period that the dog must go through when the halter is introduced. I have found that the adjustment period almost disappears when the halter is introduced using clicker training. I must emphasize that incorrect/rough handling of haltered dogs can result in neck injuries. Halters must never be jerked. Fortunately for dogs, the halters are becoming “known” to the general public as a different type of collar and not a muzzle. I classify halters in the following three categories.


This popular halter was the first to be mass produced and marketed in Europe and North America. The Halti’s action is to tighten the muzzle loop when the lead is tightened. This, in turn, closes the dog’s mouth which makes the Halti the halter of choice with dominant and/or aggressive dogs.

Promise and/or Gentle Leader

The construction of these halters is similar to the Halti but with a clip that limits the size of the muzzle loop. This leaves a “tab” that extends from the muzzle loop to the lead. The muzzle loop does not change in diameter with lead tension.

Inharmony’s Magic Halter

The “figure 8” halter, which predates the Halti and other styles, was the inspiration for this halter design. Inharmony’s Magic Halter is a simple design with two loops — a buckle collar and a muzzle loop that connect to a ring directly under the dog’s chin. Attaching the leash directly under the chin gives a more finite control of the dog’s head. For a dog who is accustomed to a halter, the Magic Halter has the advantage of allowing the muzzle loop to slip off enabling the dog to pant, drink, and/or eat comfortably during, for instance, a break in an activity. It is also useful in weaning the dog from the halter to working only with a collar. But unlike all the other halters, when the muzzle loop comes off the nose, the dog is still securely held by a buckle collar. This can also be a disadvantage for some clever dogs who quickly figure out how to slip the loop off during the adjustment phases.

Uses for all halters: obedience, pleasure walks, breeding, biking, vet examinations and other activities that require a high level of control of the dog. The second portion of this article covering leads and harnesses will appear in the next issue of the Malamute Review.

Copyright © 2003 Ruth Kellogg. All rights reserved.

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