Joan Merriam: Leashes and collars: 
The good, the bad and the ugly |

Joan Merriam: Leashes and collars: 
The good, the bad and the ugly

A leash is a leash and a collar is a collar, right? Not by a long shot. There are good leashes and collars, and bad ones … and some of the bad ones can be downright dangerous.


The first things to keep in mind when choosing a leash are your dog’s size, weight and strength, plus any specific needs you or your dog may have. For instance, if you have two dogs, do you want to use two separate leashes or a double-leash? If your dog is an inveterate puller, what kind of leash is best?

The Good

The most well-known leash is the flat leash, which is simply a length of double-layered nylon with a metal clip on one end to attach to the collar, and a handle or loop on the other. Widths vary from 3/8 of an inch to one inch, and lengths can range from three to six feet. Very small dogs need a thinner leash, and larger ones or ones that pull need the strength of a wider one.

Other types of leashes include leather (either flat or round) and rope: sometimes rope leads are slip-type, when the leash itself functions as a collar by pulling it through a metal ring and looping it around the dog’s neck. If you use a slip leash, just make sure you never leave the dog alone, as strangulation is a real possibility.

The Bad

Chain leashes were popular in the 1980s, but are rarely used today because they’re heavy, awkward, and have the potential to injure your dog.

The Ugly

The truly ugly is the retractable leash. Almost every dog trainer and professional recommends against retractable leashes for a number of reasons. First, because retractable leashes can extend 20 feet or more, dogs can easily rush into the street or get face-to-face with another dog in seconds, leaving you no time to engage the catch and get him back to your side.

Second, if a dog takes off on a run while the wire is unretracted, the sudden jerk than happens at the end has the potential of doing very serious damage.

Third, there’s the danger posed by the wire itself, which can snap or become tangled around the dog or your own feet, leading to a dangerous fall by either one you.

Finally, the handles of retractable leashes are bulky and heavy, making them prone to being accidentally dropped, the dog being startled by the sound, and running off in terror of this “thing” that’s bouncing along the road behind him.


Like leashes, the standard flat collar comes in a variety of forms, in widths that vary from 3/4 of an inch to one inch. Many flat collars have a breakaway buckle for safety: if it gets dangerously hooked on something, the buckle will actually pull apart.

Martingale collars are popular because they’re designed not to choke your dog, yet tighten slightly when he starts to pull and loosens the moment he stops pulling.

Head collars or halters look a bit like muzzles, but they’re actually more like harnesses for the head. While many dogs find them uncomfortable, they can work very well in training them to walk on a leash.

A harness functions like a collar except that it’s strapped around the dog’s torso instead of its neck, with a metal D-ring at the top to attach a leash.

The Bad

Unless you’re a professional trainer, don’t use a chain slip collar — also known as a choke chain — as they can can easily injure your dog’s neck. They should never be left on an unattended dog, as they pose a danger of strangulation.

The Ugly

Probably the worst collar in this category is the prong collar. Made of metal, it has prongs on one side that sit directly on your dog’s neck. When a dog wearing a prong collar pulls, the prongs drive into your dog’s skin and neck, causing pain. This is one of the worst force-based training tools, as it not only comes with significant risk of injury, but can also create behavior problems and even aggression.

Then there’s the shock collar. Some people may try to convince you that the application of an electrical “stimulation” doesn’t really hurt, but it does. This is another tool that’s based on intimidation, not training, and often results in the dog developing even worse behavior, or completely shutting down.

Other types of collars that deserve the “ugly” moniker are Citronella spray collars, which spray an upward burst of citronella or other strong-smelling liquid to correct a specific behavior like barking. Aside from causing your dog discomfort, this type of negative reinforcement rarely works in the long run.

Leashes and collars are an important part of keeping your dog safe, but it’s up to you to do your research first so you can choose ones that will be the best and safest for both you and your special dog.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue

The first things to keep in mind when choosing a leash are your dog’s size, weight and strength, plus any specific needs you or your dog may have.
Provided photo

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