More dogs are turned over to shelters and put to sleep for poor behavior than for any other reason. Poor behavior is nearly always caused by lack of training and socialization. Don't let your dog die because you failed to train her.
Having the right equipment can make all the difference in training your dog. The tough part is deciding what's right! Ask three obedience instructors or dog trainers about what kind of collar or leash is “best” and you'll probably get three opinions. Honestly, the best piece of equipment for your dog is the one that works best for you and the dog at a particular time for a particular purpose. You need at least one collar (possibly more, depending on your dog) and at least one leash. Let's look at what's available.
I use different collars on my dogs depending on the dog's age, level of training, individual personality, and type of activity. Several types of collars are commonly used for basic and more advanced training:
A choke chain that is put on wrong or fits poorly is ineffective as a training tool and potentially dangerous for your dog. When you stand with your dog on your left, both of you facing the same direction, the “live ring” (the ring that moves the chain through the other ring) should pull across the top of the dog's neck. If the live ring pulls the chain under the dog's neck, the collar is on backwards. A choke chain should fit your dog so that when you pull the live ring and chain through the “dead ring” (the one that the chain slides through), two to three inches of chain are free. (If your dog has a very large head, you may have to allow a little more chain for putting on and taking off the collar.)
- A flat collar is fastened with a buckle or a quick-release clasp. Flat collars come in leather, nylon, and fabric. This is the collar that should carry your dog's name, license, and rabies tags. A flat collar should be neither tight nor loose—you should be able to slide two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck. Flat collars don't provide much control, and an excited dog can slip out of one. A flat collar is the only collar that should be used on a young puppy.
- A martingale collar slips over your dog's head. If the martingale fits properly, when you pull against it with your leash the collar will tighten enough to keep your dog from slipping out of the collar but not enough to choke him. Martingales are commonly used in agility, flyball, and some other dog sports.
- The choke chain (also called a slip chain or slip collar) is usually made of metal chain, although they are also available in nylon and leather. Although many good dog trainers use choke chains without being cruel to their dogs, it is extremely easy to misuse a choke chain. Used improperly, a choke chain at best will be ineffective—many dogs learn to ignore the collar, and many people never learn to fit the collar to the dog or to put the collar on correctly. Either way, its value as a training tool is about zero. At its worst, a choke chain can cause permanent injury to your dog's throat and the organs it contains.
- The halter (also known as a head collar) looks rather like a horse halter. It gives you control of your dog's head on the principle that where the head leads, the body must follow. Halters are so effective as control devices that people often neglect to actually train their dogs. If you do that, you wind up with a dog that's under control with his halter on, but not obedient with it off.
- The prong collar (or pinch collar) might look like a medieval torture device, and many people are opposed to using them, but I feel that used properly the prong collar is an effective training tool for large, strong dogs and for many dogs that become overexcited. The prong collar works by applying pressure from the prongs to points around the dog's neck. You can adjust the collar so that it uses no prongs, only a few prongs, or all the prongs. Prong collars are less likely to cause damage to the dog's neck and throat than are choke chains, and they usually give better control with less force. Before using a prong collar on your dog, have a knowledgeable obedience instructor (not a salesperson in a pet supply store!) show you how to fit the collar and use it properly.
- Electronic collars (shock collars) are seen by some people as a quick and easy way to train a dog. Most people use shock collars to punish the dog for doing something rather than to teach him what to do. In the hands of a very experienced dog trainer, a shock collar may be effective and no more cruel than any other method of correction, but I do not recommend a shock collar for most dog owners or dogs. A shock collar can cause more problems than you started with. Shock collars should never be used on an aggressive dog.