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Some of the most important gear we need need for our dogs is the stuff we use to take them out in the world with us: collars, harnesses, leashes, and other critical training gear. Whether our walks together are just around the block for pottying or high-mileage adventure hikes, it’s important that the gear we use to secure their identification tags and direct their behavior is strong and well-made, comfortable, and well-fitting.
As critical as this gear is, it’s disappointing to discover that the quality and variety of many of the products sold in national chain pet supply stores is often poor – or at the very least, uninspired. In our experience, the best sources for well-made and innovative dog gear are independent pet supply stores, dog-sport catalogs or internet shops, and the makers of the products themselves. Unless you are immersed in the dog world – going to dog shows and dog sports competitions, where product manufacturers sell their wares in booths – or have a terrific independent pet supply store close to you – you may not ever find the best products in any given category of dog training.
That’s where we come in! We’re sharing information about the products that we like best, so you don’t have to waste money on the junky stuff found in most chain stores.
Best flat Collars
We’re not fans of fancy frills. Our favorite leash-attachment appliance is still the plain old flat collar. We do recommend and use front-clip control harnesses for training purposes (and we’ll give recommendations for those below) – but since they can’t be left on the dog all the time, there’s still the need for a regular collar as a place to hang ID tags, if nothing else.
The main qualities we look for in a collar are strength; quality stitching and materials (especially buckles and leash-rings); comfort for the dog (soft, to minimize chafing); and ease of adjustment.
We have a preference for collars with “quick-release” buckles, as the old-fashioned pin buckle (also called a watch buckle, a tang buckle, or a tongue buckle) can be difficult to remove quickly in case of emergency, as when a dog gets the collar caught on something and is being strangled. However, owners of giant or very strong breeds usually prefer collars with metal pin buckles, as these are nearly impossible to come apart under even extreme pressure.
Here are some of our favorite suppliers of flat collars:
- Earthdog. These comfy, attractive, and washable hemp collars get softer with each washing. Four sizes, fitting dogs with necks from 7″ to 26″.
- Ruffwear. This company sells a number of specialty collars, but we like the basic Flat Out Collar, which has a separate, small ring for your dog’s tags, and a large, rounded aluminum V-shaped ring that’s easy to find and snap a leash onto. Three sizes, for dogs with necks from 11″ to 26″.
- White Pine Outfitters. Wonderfully soft flat nylon collars in varying widths, from 1/2″ (for small dogs, with necks from 6″ to 16″) to 1″ for dogs with necks from 12″ to 30″.
There are a few types of specialty collar that can be very helpful for training and walking certain dogs. These are our favorites:
- Break-away collars. These are a great idea if you have dogs who do a lot of neck-grabbing play. We like the Keep-Safe Breakaway Collar, which can be safely left on your dog in “breakaway mode” when you are not present, or used as a regular walking collar when a leash is clipped onto two rings, overriding the breakaway feature.
- Collars with a martingale loop. Martingale or “limited-slip” collars prevent clever dogs from backing out of (slipping off) their collars. These are also helpful for dogs whose necks are thicker than their heads (such as Bulldogs or Pugs) and for dogs whose heads are super slender (like Greyhounds and Salukis; martingale collars for these breeds are often made in 2-inch-wide fabrics).
For a huge selection of martingale collar widths, patterns, and materials, check out 2 Hounds Design. Their website claims they have 248 different martingale collars – and they’re all gorgeous and well-made.
We remember when old-school trainers allowed only leather leashes in class, claiming that leather was softer on the hands – you know, with all that jerking on the choke chains.
It’s still true that leather is easier on the hands than a hard nylon leash; even though we’re no longer yanking on the leash, some dogs do pull hard. But there are some wonderfully soft nylon and hemp leashes available now – and some wonderfully grippy Biothane, too.
In our opinion, six feet is the perfect leash length for normal activities; it’s long enough to give your dog a reasonable “loose leash zone,” but short enough so that you can keep him out of trouble.
- Earthdog. This company makes soft and attractive 1″-wide hemp leashes that come in 2′, 4′, or 6′ lengths.
- J&J Dog Supplies. Best variety of leather leashes: flat, rolled, or braided, short or long, and in six widths, from ¼” to 1″. We love the 6′ Oiled Leather Leash (in just one width, ⅝”).
- Trailblazing Tails. This is our favorite maker of Biothane leashes. They come in either ½” or ⅝” widths and in any length you like. We love all their products, but their buttery-soft “Premium” material, which comes in a grippy, flat style or a bumpy one, is even easier on the hands.
Best Long Lines
A light line or long line is a great tool to have in your supply closet for those times when you want to give your dog more freedom but you’re not ready to let him off leash. (We don’t approve of retractables, ever!)
A light line is a thin cord; we’d likely only use one for a small dog. Long lines are generally slightly narrower than a normal leash, and may be anywhere from 10′ to as much as 60′ long. These extra-long “leashes” permit dogs to get a lot of exercise in an open field – without risking a high-speed (and high stakes) pursuit after a dog who just spotted a turkey or a cat and can’t resist chasing it.
Long lines can be used to practice long-distance recalls, too; if you have a partner hold the end of the long line about half-way between you and a dog who has been asked to stay, you can double the distance of the dog’s recall.
Our favorite suppliers:
- Genuine Dog Gear. Perhaps best known for their wide variety of nylon collars, Genuine Dog Gear sells paracord light lines in 10′, 20′, and 30′ lengths. These are most useful for small dogs.
- Trailblazing Tails. Our favorite maker of Biothane gear offers long lines as long as 50′ and in two widths (1/2″ or ⅝”). It doesn’t matter if the grass is wet or if you want to use the long line to allow your dog to swim; these don’t absorb water and get heavy or stiff like fabric long lines do.
- White Pine Outfitters. This company uses the softest washable nylon and high-quality hardware in their silky but strong long lines. Offered in two widths and lengths from 10′ to 50′.
Try a Tab
A tab is a very short (4″ or 6″) leash that can be left attached to your dog’s collar at home or when off leash. Tabs are especially helpful for dogs who don’t like their collars grabbed, and for any time you might need an unobtrusive “handle” for your dog. You can purchase these – or you can make one by cutting an old leash to the appropriate length. Our favorite:
- White Pine Outfitters. makes a 6″-long leather “heeling tab” with a nice, small, brass snap. The leather itself is just ¼” wide, making the tab very light.
We strongly prefer for owners to learn how to teach their dogs not to pull – but we’re also cognizant that unless an owner feels secure in her ability to control the dog, she will tend to avoid taking the dog out on walks for training. In our experience, front-clip dog harnesses provide the least harmful way to give owners the window of opportunity to reinforce – and thereby train – polite leash walking.
We look for products that have a yoke design around the neck (rather than ones where the straps come across the shoulder) and other features that prioritize the dog’s comfort. These are our favorites:
- In.Line Harness (Baumutt). This front-clip harness offers a unique feature: a cleverly designed front connection point that tightens slightly if the dog pulls; it also helps prevent the harness from sliding out of position with tension on the leash. The harness also has a second D-ring leash attachment on its padded back.
There’s one more nice feature that helps the owners of long-haired dogs: The receptacles for the girth strap buckles are positioned on top of the back pad and made with a plastic shield that prevents the dog’s hair from getting caught in the buckles as you are trying to fasten them.
- Balance Harness (Blue-9 Pet Products). We like this well-designed, well-made harness a lot. It offers two nice, large rings as attachment points (front and back), and adjusts in six places. A side-release buckle on one shoulder means you don’t have to pull it over the dog’s head to put it on (some dogs fear or hate that). Available in five sizes, including one for dogs with girths as small as 13.5 inches.
- Front Range Harness (Ruffwear). The padded Front Range Harness is attractive and well made, with heavy-duty hardware and double stitching throughout. It offers two leash-attachments points (front and back) and adjusts in four locations. Note, however, that of the four harnesses we are mentioning here, each size of this product adjusts less than the others, making it even more important to buy the right size for your dog.
- Perfect Fit Modular Fleece-Lined Harness from Clean Run. Each of the three sections (two for tiny dogs) of this harness can be purchased individually, so if you have a particularly long, short, thin, or (ahem) stocky dog, you can still be assured of a perfect fit. This harness is lined with fleece and offers two nice, large rings as attachment points (one in the front and one on the back). Here is a link to the second of three harness parts; here is the link to the third.
Smart dog people always have treats with them – but if we keep treats in our pockets and we’re not attentive to emptying said pockets before leaving those clothes laying around, we risk having jackets and pants with the pockets chewed out! Using treat pouches to carry treats with us is a far better solution – and one that doesn’t result in grease stains on our clothing, either. These are the things we look for in a treat pouch:
An adequate capacity for the amount of treats you carry on walks (when walking more than one dog, we need more room!).
- Durability and washability.
- A secure way to carry it (clip-on bags tend to fall off; we like belted bags better).
- Ease of treat retrieval (can we get our hands inside quickly?).
- Quick closure (to prevent dogs from helping themselves).
- Terry Ryan Treat Pouch (Karen Pryor Clicker Training). A roomy pocket for treats, a smaller pocket (for keys, poop bags, or a clicker), and a belt fastener are prerequisites, but what we love most about this bag is the French spring closure, that pops the main compartment of the bag securely closed with just a tap.
- Rapid Rewards Dog Training Pouch (Doggone Good). This treat pouch has a very large main compartment (perfect for walking more than one dog), several small pockets, and a magnetic closure with a handy pull-cord for easy opening. Fastens to a belt or pants waist with a clip, or can be used with a waist belt (sold separately). Best price from jjdog.com
The clicker is now a well-established staple in the field of dog training gear. These are small and simple devices that make a discrete “clicking” noise that can be used to “mark” the moment that a dog performs a behavior that you will reward with a reinforcer (usually a food treat). Using a clicker as a reward marker allows for more precise training, as the noise it produces is utterly consistent.
You have lots of choices. Qualities to consider when selecting a clicker include your personal preference for size, shape, comfort in your hand, type (button or box clicker), and sharpness of sound (some dogs benefit from a louder reward marker, while others startle from all but the most subtle click).
Clickers are inexpensive; we suggest buying a variety and seeing which ones your dog responds to the best! Here are some good sources for these essential training tools:
- Clickers from Chewy.com. Chewy offers a number of different clickers, often packaged and sold in multiples at a low cost.
- Clickers from The Doggone Good Clicker Company. Whether you like box or button clickers; tear drops or ovals; or solid or translucent models in a wide variety of colors, The Doggone Good Clicker Company has you covered.
- Clix Multi Clicker. The volume of the click produced by this unique tool can be adjusted for sound-sensitive dogs. It’s widely available for around $8 (including from Amazon).
Now Gear Up!
While this is by no means a complete list of all the useful dog-walking gear available, it should give you a good start on being the fully prepared, fully equipped dog owner that you aspire to be. Remember that you are your dog’s advocate, so be sure to select high-quality, well-fitting equipment for your dog to wear on your journeys together.