bitty on leash

looking up

wearing a harness

Bitty tracking

Collars, Leashes, and Harnesses

In today's world, collars, leaches and harnesses for dogs are a common sight, because most urban areas have by-laws requiring dogs to be under control in public spaces. Collars are used as a common training tool, as a fashion statement, and to hold identification and medical tags. The manufacturers of dog items have made the most of our need by offering equipment in a vast array of materials, colours, styles and specials designs for specific uses. So, which collar does what, and which ones are most effective for use with a Westie?

Buckle Collars
Buckle collars are generally made of flat woven nylon and come in many colours and patterns. Buckle collars can also be made of leather which come either flat or rolled and can be obtained at specialty shops and big pet supply stores. However, they run two to three times the price of nylon. Nylon generally outlasts leather unless the leather is top quality. The buckles on the nylon collars have quick snaps made generally in plastic. The leather ones usually have a metal buckle. The collars varying in width from 5/8" to 1" are Westie size except for young pups, then it would be 3/8" wide. A collar should be long enough to allow adjustment as the dog grows, and when fitted correctly, one should be able to get two fingers between the collar and the dog's neck. Buckle collars are preferred over other designs as they put less strain on the dog's throat. Nylon collars are washable and easily decorated using coloured studs or even diamonds. Woven or embroidered designs can be used to enhance fashion. Some people like the dog's name and phone number embroidered on the collar to help with easy identification.

Chain Collars
Chain collars, also called 'choke' collars came into common use in dog training clubs many years ago, and were considered, at that time, to be the greatest training tool ever. They are still in common use, but more advanced methods of training have proved more effective, and easier for both dog and handler. These collars are made up of a length of chain with a ring on each end. The links range in size from 2.0 mm to 4.0 mm. So called 'fur-saving' chains have links up to 4 cm.

Chain or choke collars are just that - they are used as a training tool by way of a snap noose action to choke the dog. Those who are considering such collars should always get someone who knows how to do it to show you the correct length and the correct way to put the collar on the dog so that it will release quickly. Also, get someone to show you the correct use of the leash when using a chain collar. Chain collars look simple, but when misused, they can cause irreparable damage to the dog's throat, as the chain puts severe pressure on the larynx. A chain collar should never be left on the dog when not in use, even for training, they can cause panic, and perhaps strangulation. As with people, some dogs are more sensitive than others, so when choke chains are used, even for training, they can cause high anxiety or the panic reaction. Such collars are not necessary for Westies.

Martingale and Prong Collars
These two collars seem to try to address the chain collar's problem of damage to the dog's throat. The martingale has a closing device that will tighten but not choke the dog. The 'prong' collar used wide links with two blunted-end spikes on the inside of each link. When the collar is tightened, the spikes dig into the dog's neck. Humane Societies etc. are not in favour of prong collars. Neither of the above two collars are necessary for Westies.

Electric Collars
The electric collar delivers an electric shock to the dog's neck by way of a box attached to the dog's collar. Some models have as many as eighteen levels of intensity as well as a button for emitting a sharp sound. They can also be set to deliver continuous electric current. Electric collars come in many models and are widely advertised as being the answer to all training problems, and being perfectly safe. Humane Societies and SPCAs do all they can to discourage people from using these devices and they are deemed painful to the dog to the point of cruelty.

Folks need to seriously think about why they would consider using electric shock to train an animal. Before buying, trying it on your own neck. Would you use it on a child - NEVER - so why use it on your pet? Dogs are easily trained and have been so for thousands of years without administration of electrical pain.

Electrical collars should not be confused with ones that look the same, but deliver a spray of citronella, which while being very annoying, will not physically hurt the dog. These are effective for discouraging abnormal barking. Westies are not usually abnormal barkers.

Leashes are usually made of nylon, and come in various colours and patterns to match the collars. The leash length varies from two to six feet, with six feet being the accepted best length for training or walking.

Retractable leashes extend to give up to about twenty-six feet with a 'hold' button if you don't want the dog to go that far. These also come in several colours. Westies use the small size. Retractable leashes are not designed to be training leashes, but for walks and exercise. They are a good device for a Westie.

Walking harnesses are more comfortable than a collar when the dog is taken for a walk. If the dog pulls, the pressure is on the chest, not the neck. There are some harness configurations that are designed to impede the dog's pulling. All harnesses must be fitted properly on the dog, to be snug enough, but never tight enough to rub as the dog walks. Westie size is about 18-20 inches, but always measure carefully, or try it on the dog before buying. There are specialized harnesses for hauling, carrying little packs, and tracking. Westies don't haul carts except ones built for their size, and when they have been trained for this 'party trick'. Westies do do tracking. Tracking is now one of the several dogs sports Westies can do and there are titled 'tracking Westies' in Canada and the U.S.A. The tracking harness allows the dog free movement of all limbs and it has a ring at the back for attachment of the long 'tracking' line.

Head Leads
Head leads, also known by their product names of 'Halti' or 'Gentle Leader' are made up of a light weight head harness with a leash attached under the chin. They are mostly used to clam and control large bouncy breeds. Small dogs do not need them. They do have the advantage of eliminating the risk of excess pressure on the throat. If you buy one, be sure you have someone who knows show you how it use it effectively and safely.

Any dog equipment must be used with safety in mind to prevent accidents. Children also should be trained in the proper use of collars, leashes and harnesses - how to put them on and off, and how to hold the leash, and how to guide the dog without yanking or dragging the dog. Young children should never be left in charge of a dog, particularly puppies, without supervision.

To Sum Up
Westies need the basic collar and six foot leash (either nylon or leather) and having a harness is a good and useful addition. This equipment can be used for either exercise walks or going to training classes. Having the equipment doesn't mean you automatically have a well behaved dog. There are many dog training clubs and you will need to check into their training methods before signing up. Visit the club if you can, to have a look for yourself. Note if the dogs' tails are wagging, are the handlers relaxed, does the trainer have patience with each dog and explain everything well? Is punishment and force used, or is there reward for good behaviour? Positive reinforcement training is used successfully to train dogs for police work, as service dogs and for dog sports, as well as for good manners. When training at home, used a safe quiet place and work off-leash. For best results with Westies, reward the good behaviour, ignore the mistakes.

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Author: Anne Matheson