Thursday, May 17, 2012

Harnesses, Martingales, Gentle Leaders, Oh My!

As a dog trainer, I feel compelled to try all the various no pull harnesses and collars on the market so that I can give an educated or (at least a first-hand opinion about how they compare). Owning two Akitas, I am fortunate enough to have dogs that are powerful and have a natural tendency to pull so they have been my guinea pigs so to speak. Here is the rundown and review of what harnesses I have tried and my personal opinion on the pros and cons of each:

Freedom Harness by Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers

This harness may be my favorite. I was introduced to this harness by Fabienne Lawrence at Bam Bam and Friends who carries this harness (I have not seen it anywhere else in Los Angeles). It is also a front-clipping harness like the easy walk but slightly different construction.

Here is Kiku wearing the Freedom Harness. The leash that comes with the harness makes it a versatile piece of equipment.

Pros: Works well on most dogs and cuts down on pulling. Like the Easy Walk, there is no breaking in period because the dog is more likely to accept this harness. The body strap is made out of velvet and softer than the Easy Walk. It comes with a lead that has a double clip and it can clip to D-rings in the front and on the back. The lead is adjustable from a 3-foot traffic lead to a 6-foot lead. The chest strap fits better than the Easy Walk (at least on my dogs).

Cons: pricier than the Easy Walk. Hard to find at pet stores (in Culver City at Bam Bam & Friends or online at Wags, Wiggles & Whiskers ).

Easy Walk Harness

Tis harness ranks high on my list of no-pull equipment.

Pros: Works well on most dogs and cuts down on pulling. No breaking in period as most dogs take to them readily, easy to use and effective on most dogs. It is easy to find at most pet stores and not that expensive.

Like the Freedom Harness, I use Easy Walks on some of the rescues I work with because of the ease of use and acceptance by the dog.

Cons: the chest strap does not fit well on dogs that do not have broad or protruding chest. In such cases, I clip the front d-ring to the neck collar with a carabiner to keep the front strap from dropping too low. The Freedom Harness tends to be a better fit with most dogs especially ones with narrow chests.

Here is Kiku wearing an Easy Walk harness which is attached to the neck collar with a carabiner to help hold it up.

Sporn Halter (with sheepskin covers)

Pros: cuts down on pulling surprisingly well (at least with my dog), no break-in period.

Cons: cumbersome to put on and take off, too many clips and moving parts (not good for furry dogs because hair can get caught), sheepskin covers slip and move too easily. Less control for reactive dogs.

Here is Kiku sporting a Sporn harness on a hike at Will Rogers State Park.

Sporn Simple Control Harness

Pros: Easier to put and take off than the Sporn halter, no break-in period.

Cons: Experienced more pull than with other harnesses.

Sporn Mesh Control Harness

Pros: Seems easier to put on and take off than the Sporn Halter. Decent job at reducing pull. No break-in period.

Cons: the mesh panel in the front did not fit well (on my dogs).

Gentle Leader

Gentle Leaders are not my first “go to” piece of equipment. But there are times when it may work better on certain dogs and for certain owners. I recently recommended a Gentle Leader for a client that had limited mobility due to a recent knee surgery and who had a very large dog. In this case, I felt the better control the Gentle Leader provided was warranted given the size of the dog and recent surgery. Sometimes, I also use this harness on a more reactive dog.

Pros: significantly cuts down on pulling, good control over the dog’s movements, a good option for reactive dogs or for people who are not that strong.

Cons: requires an adjustment period for many dogs, many dogs do not like the sensation of something over their mouth. People think the dog is wearing a muzzle and their fear of the dog will be expressed through body language and facial expressions.

However, one of the reasons, that I do not use the Gentle Leader very often, which is leading me to the “oh my” part of this piece is that, despite the fact that this product has been on the market for nearly two decades, people still mistake the nose loop for a muzzle. This causes people to recoil from the dog (especially when the dog is a large breed dog that has prick ears and looks like a wolf). When you see a golden retriever wearing a gentle leader that is one thing, but an Akita wearing a Gentle Leader causes people to side-step the poor dog and treat the dog like a pariah. For a young dog that needs to be socialized, this is not the reaction you want the dog to get from people the dog is trying to be friendly with. When my white Akita is wearing her Freedom harness, she receives smiles and requests from people to pet her. When she is wearing a GL, she receives sideways glances and people trying to avoid her. Because of this reaction, she rarely wears a GL because socialization is a high priority for this breed. So, there is a trade-off between control and managing reactivity and socialization with strangers.

Martingale collar

This is a nylon collar with a limited constriction on the neck. My Shiba Inu, who is an escape artist wears one. She does not pull so there is little pressure applied to her neck and I never jerk on her collar. This collar is better than a choke collar because the amount the collar tightens is limited and does not choke the dog if fitted properly. It is also good for dogs that have narrow heads like greyhounds or whippets.

Pros: prevents accidental slippage for dogs with narrow heads or who are escape artists.

Cons: does not necessarily cut down on pulling.

Choke chains/training collars/prong collars

Although I have used choke collars many years ago on dogs that have long since passed on, I don’t use them currently. Most people do not know how to use them properly and because of this, the risk of injury on the dog is too great. Moreover, dogs tend to pull more when pressure is applied to the neck, so I find the no-pull harnesses to be a safer and more effective way to discourage pulling. More importantly, why train dogs by putting pressure on their necks or choking them when you can use positive methods to teach them to walk on a leash. For these reasons, many trainers, including me, discourage the use of choke chains. See APDT UK's Brochure on choke collars here.

Los Angeles Dog Training



  1. WE've been using the Easy Walk and had same problem you note -- too loose on the chest. And then when our dog sort of grew into it, the rings would slip when we walked, so even if it started fitting, it was saggy by the middle of our walk. I finally tightened it up, and wrapped rubber bands around the metal rings to keep it from slipping. Seems to work so far!

  2. Try buying a carabiner from A-16 or REI and fasten the two rings. It will be easier to take on and off.

    The other thing you may want to try is the Freedom Harness. The Easy Walk does not fit so well on my Female Akita but the Freedom Harness fits much better. The straps are less slippery also so you do not have slippage after adjusting them.

    The Freedom Harness also comes with a nice leash. They are available at Bam Bam & Friends in Culver City (

  3. finally.. someone is barking my language! My akita looks very much like yours:).. but she's a reactive 100+ lb one. after years of training & using the GL (which i luv the control, except it sometimes rubs under her eye causing a sore) i think we're ready to transition out of the GL at least some of the time. Thanks for your review of the various products out there. i bought the easy walk b/c the sense-ible harness has an awkward fitting. now i'm wondering if the freedom harness might workout the best.

    thanks again for the info!
    dee & TULA

  4. My briard has found a way to angle his body to counteract the effect of the halti collar, and he is still pulling. I have to walk two large dogs at the same time, and at 5'3", wearing a size 8, it can become quite an ordeal!

    My lab doesn't pull when walked alone, and the briard is not so bad alone either, but together, they're are very hard to manage. They both want to lead the walk!

    I have tried the Easy Walk harness on my briard, and the pulling is not so bad. However, it irritates his skin and the fur gets all matted in his "armpits".

    Any suggestion?

  5. I prefer the Freedom Harness to the Easy Walk harness because the straps are made out of velvet so it is softer and less chafing and it has an overall better fit. Please see my post above for the link to the company.

    I also prefer the Gentle Leader to the Halti as I feel there is better control with the Gentle Leader.

  6. Great article.

    I love the Gentle Leader, and interestingly enough, I prefer that people keep away from my dog because it forces them to ask if they can pet her even though she's a well-adjusted, happy, social dog. I absolutely abhor when people come right up & approach my dog without asking. It is up to my dog to determine when she wants to socialize, not strangers. Regardless, I don't find the Gentle Leader to be a permanent tool - I believe that it should be a management tool while training and once your dog can walk politely, it's use should be faded out.

    What is not mentioned in this article is the Walk n Sync harness which is a wonderful tool as well, easy to use, well-designed, prevents chafing & simple to put on & remove. The NewTrix head collar is also not mentioned and works similarly to the Gentle Leader yet is controlled from behind the head. While it is padded, it annoys my dog more than the GL because of the Halti-like side straps, but it seems to be better for her neck than being controlled under her chin. One more thing that's important to mention is that if you choose a GL, it is imperative that you either use the leash or a separate clip to attach it to the dog's regular collar. I have had a client go to grab their dog & accidentally unclipped the head collar, to which the leash was attached. Uh oh, loose dog.

    Finally, the link to the UK brochure on choke collars is not working. For anyone interested in sharing that document, please remove the second "http" in the URL.

  7. Thanks for your tips. I also fixed the link to the UK article. Funny enough, I recently got a sample of the New Trix head collar and I have been testing it out on my Akita the last few days.

  8. I have two 30lbs min Aussies that are horrible pullers. I usually walk them in a bifurcated leash attachment. Now that I also have a new baby, trying to control them and a stroller is a nightmare. How would I be able to walk two dogs on the harnesses? Can I still use my bifurcated lead attachment? In your opinion which would be better for two dogs, the harness or the head collar? I know they'll hate the head collar so I'm apprehensive.

  9. The harnesses decrease pulling but there is no substition for training the dogs not to pull. My recommendation is to work with a trainer to teach your dogs not to pull before taking them out with the stroller and baby. Once you train the dogs not to pull then it would be safer to take the dogs with the baby in the stroller. Because I am not there to evaluate how hard your dogs pull, I recommend that you work with someone in your area who emphasizes positive reinforcemet and reward-based training. A trainer will evaluate whether a harness or head collar is appropriate in your situation. In addition, a trainer will also help show you how to use a head collar properly (if one is needed) and show you how to acclimate your dogs to wearing one. It is something you need to introduce to your dogs gradually using positive reinforcement. Here are some resources on where to find a trainer in your area: