How I Found the Right Collar for my Leash Reactive Pup

Disclaimer: This post definitely contains affiliate links and plenty of photos of my dog. Click them and enjoy.

My first child was unplanned. The irony in that is that she herself had unplanned babies 2 months into bringing her home. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I didn’t have a human baby that had 2 more human babies at 2 months of age. I’m clearly talking about my poodle, and yes, of course I consider her my child. Those of you who say dog moms need to stop, well so do you!

Todd and I pulled into a gas station parking lot nearly 2 years ago on a Saturday morning and met a little 13 pound ragamuffin who was timid, sweet and docile. At that time, she was 100% intended to be my roommate, Derek’s dog. Then, I cried holding her the entire car ride home because she was so perfect. It was at that moment, that we imprinted on each other ala Jacob Black and Renesmee Cullen and we both knew we couldn’t part. (Damn, that’s my second Twilight reference in this blog. I need to pull it together.)

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When Derek met his “new dog,” we settled on the name Lily. He was adamant that we give her a strong, Harry Potter-related name and I met him halfway because it was the closest I could get to Louise. And thus, Lily became our sweet, snuggly new roommate.

Then, 72 hours later, she got comfortable and everything changed.

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The Lilers was a street dog with a past. We’re not sure how long she led the street dog life before she showed up on her savior, Jamie’s doorstep. What I do know is it was long enough to get knocked up and poop out two lil puppers.

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Since entering my life, Lily has flabbergasted me with her energy, spirit and resilience, particularly with playing fetch. When she first came home, she exhibited classic signs of abuse and was particularly skittish around men. Now she adores them – some more than others. When she sees my dad or our friends, Chris and Jordan, she exudes a sound only akin to an Amber Alert on your iPhone, and displays the side effects of a what I’ve coined, “Small White Dog Syndrome.” To put what that means simply, it’s exited doggo meets small bladder. You do the math.

While she now likes men, there’s one issue that continues to plague the Lilers (and myself.) Leash anxiety. She’s fine on a leash indoors, she’s fine without a leash outdoors, but combining a leash with the outdoors? She becomes so unmanageable that I’m not surprised she became a street dog.

I’ve read a lot of articles about how to train a dog out of leash reactivity and avoiding triggers. Let me tell ya, attempting to do this in a large city has proven to be quite the challenge. I reached such a desperation that I strongly considered making a video to send to Cesar Millan. Something tells me he wouldn’t come to Chicago just to fix the Lilers, but a dog mom can dream. I still do.

In the meantime, I’ve worked through a laundry list of collars and harnesses with Lily in the last 2 years, and finally found the collar of least resistance for her. Below, I’ve shared my experiences with each one, which I always purchased from major pet stores at a large markup. I’ve included an Amazon link to the same/similar collars at a much friendlier price should you decide to go down one of these dog walking paths:

Kong Comfort Control Grip Harness

This was the first harness Derek got for Lily on her first day home. He did a decorous job picking out the color. Purple just so happens to be my favorite and is also a very nice looking color on an apricot poocher. It was with this harness that I discovered her reactivity on a leash outdoors. The second I opened the door to take her out for a stroll, I no longer existed. Instead, I was merely someone to grip on while she pulled and screamed at potential threats, from garbage in the wind to skateboarders to the greatest threat of all: other dogs.

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Click here to shop this harness.

What I don’t like about this harness is that it gives her the power. Since the leash is connected to her back, she gained a false sense of pack leader. I read that these kinds of harnesses tend to influence dogs to pull ahead, and Lily was a fine textbook example of this.

What I do like about this harness is that it’s tough, well fitted, and did I mention, purple. It also has a handle on the back for those moments when you really need to intervene. It’s maybe not the most functional inclusion, but helpful in some tight situations.

Final thoughts: Cute colors, but encourages dog to lead.

PetSafe Easy Walk Harness

At a moment of desperation, I went to a Facebook group and begged for guidance in what collar to use for my manic pup. I was led to the PetSafe Easy Walk Harness and put it on her right in the store at checkout.

The fact that the leash connects to the front is exactly what I was looking for. When Lily lunged or pulled, it immediately tightened her legs together and turned her towards me. This worked really well for about, 7 walks, then she realized she didn’t actually care about the discomfort and pulled anyway.

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Click here to shop this harness.

My main issue with the collar is that the combination of how it’s designed with a fluffy pup pulling means bald spots. The leash fulcrum grabs onto her fluff and rips it out at signs of sudden movement and puppy badger don’t care. It’s likely not an issue for short hair breeds, but Lily has been growing out her bald spots ever since.

Final thoughts: This will help the right dog refrain from pulling ahead. Too bad my dog isn’t right.

Remedy + Recovery E-Collar

I couldn’t not include this. On Lily’s #spayday2016, she was a pathetic LUMP who kept trying to get whatever body part she could to the scene of the crime: her incision.

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Click here to shop this cone of shame.

I invested in a cone of shame for her the first day, which turned into her managing remove it and me making it smaller and her giving me many druggy “don’t you DARE put that shit on me” warning bites. On day 2 of her recovery, I managed to make the e-collar a permanent fixture around her neck and duct taped socks around her back paws. Turns out her deer-length legs could reach the incision site otherwise, and all she wanted was to scratch her uterus back into her.

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When she was feeling well enough for a walk, I took her out, cone of shame, socks and all. She was a sight. I will never forget the child I heard as we passed him. He looked at Lily, then turned to his mom and asked her what she was. Dear random passerby child of Uptown, we’re all still waiting for the answer to that question.

Final thoughts: Probably get a donut of shame instead of cone. It will be easier to put on and your dog will still suffer from the same level of embarrassment.

Chicago Flag Collar

Every good Chicago dog needs two things: a Chicago flag collar and celery salt. The baby blue and red on a white floof looks cute and incredibly edible. When I’m in a bind, I simply attach the leash to her collar. Not preferable, but a statement collar is a necessity, especially in a dog-heavy city with an obsession with their flag.

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Click here to shop this collar.

Final thoughts: Lily looks naked without it.

PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar

I recently made a change to a head collar and it has been the answer to all that has plagued our walks. The best part is it was created with the reactive leash dog in mind and a training DVD is included with the purchase. Honestly, bless it’s existence. Lily spends so much time distracted by how much she hates it on her face that she forgets to freak out at her triggers.

Why am I so happy she hates it? It means that when her triggers do come around, she’s spending the whole time focusing on trying to get the collar off her head rather than being a protector. The leash connects to the front of her face so I have the ability to redirect her sooner and gain her focus more than I ever have before. It’s truly been a life changer.

Click here to shop this collar.

She walks like a nise pupper with this leash. Granted, she doesn’t love it and shakes her head like she’s a horse trying to remove its bridle but hey, we can walk and that’s the progress I’m looking for.

The only downside of this collar is that Lily’s head is predominantly fluff. The small is a little too big for her, so I had to get creative and safety pinned it to fit her. In the off chance that my creative reinforcements fail me, the leash also attaches to her collar. All in all, this is the best leash for the Lilers, and it comes with high recommendation by me as well.

Final thoughts: Finally, there’s hope! Wish I had tried this sooner. We are well on our way to being a nise walking team.

I know that ~97% of having a well behaved dog is being a good dog mother. I’m not perfect, but I do love the shit out of that wild and crazy creature. She lives a pretty good life.

If you have experience dealing with a high-strung doggle, what have you found that works? Fill me in on your trials in the comment section below.

3 thoughts on “How I Found the Right Collar for my Leash Reactive Pup

  1. Do you have a doggy stroller? If you don’t, I’m sure any of your many Village relatives could recommend one.You could seat belt Lily in, have total control and look real cute besides.

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