Your choice of equipment is incredibly important when it comes to large reactive dogs.
Any time we take our reactive dog out in public we’re exposing ourselves to a risk that a ‘normal’ (quoted, because there’s no such thing, but let’s deem that to mean “Socially acceptable” for the purposes of this blog) dog parent is not.
Any time out dog may choose fight over flight, or escalation over de-escalation we know that our dog represents a more significant risk. And the larger the dog? The more significant the risk, right? Bigger teeth, stronger dog, more likely to do more damage with a lot less work.
Note: This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train a small reactive dog, just that there are extra precautions to take when dealing with a large reactive dog in order to minimise risk.
Please note; this post may contain affiliate links! But these are all products I love and trust.
Optimising our equipment with a reactive dog is great for a number of reasons!
- We minimise risk
- We protect our dogs
- We protect others
- It keeps us confident and in control.
That’s why equipment is incredibly important, and with that? There are a few things to consider.
Consider local legislation!
From local leash laws to breed specific legislation and everything in between. We need to make sure we account for this within our system so that we are legally compliant.
Did you know, this is one of the Breed specific legislations that exists in Wheeling, West Virginia?
“Three types of dog are designated as vicious: American Bulldog or old country bulldog, canary dog or Perro de Presa Canario, and Pit Bull Terrier (Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, or American Staffordshire terrier). This includes mix breeds of any of these. Proof of pedigree excluding these breeds will exempt a dog. Vicious-designated dogs must be neutered, confined, leashed and muzzled off property, be permitted annually, and wear a tag. Owners must place signage and obtain liability insurance of $100,000.”
Sadly, local legal compliance isn’t something I can guide you on. That’s something you’ll have to have a search for – but the Wikipedia link above might be a great place to start. Typically though, you know if you have a restricted breed.
The Equipment Ethos of a Reactive Dog Parent
It’s really true.
And I’m hugely passionate about over built dog gear as a result.
I like knowing that the gear my dog is in? Has little to no risk of breaking. That it would take an unearthly event for it to break – so long as it’s properly maintained.
That way? I only have to worry about my dogs training.
It’s also good to note that the fewer moving parts your system has? The less likely it is to fail – but I’ll get to that more later.
What’s Important In Your Reactive Dog’s Gear System
There are 3 to 5 pieces of gear you need when you have a reactive dog.
- A Harness
- A Muzzle
- A Leash
- A Collar (optional)
- A Safety Strap
This combo is a strong combination that creates safety and redundancy.
For example, if a leash breaks? There’s a safety strap. If the harness breaks, the collar acts as back up. Then, if a dog runs up to your dog? Your dog cannot injure them.
It’s about safety.
Let’s Discuss Indie’s Gear.
First, Indie is a 40kg (90lbs) German shepherd cross akita, so, understandably, he has some serious power behind him when he wants. So when he’s reacting, a poor piece of gear, you can feel it yielding. It may not snap, or sheer, or break instantly, but it’s a sign that it’s not a solid piece of gear – and yes – I’ve had things break, and it’s taught me a lot.
And, that’s what I really want to share.
Indie’s Basic Reactive Dog Gear
This gear comes to around $150-200 total, and that’s pretty good for the quality of the gear that this represents, and when you’re talking about gear for a big dog? Adding this level of security with steel D-rings and extra safety of muzzles and safety straps, this gear set is just about as safe as you can get for the dollar value from my experience.
Indie’s Premium Reactive Dog Gear
Now, if you’ve got a little more budget, you may decide to start upgrading this gear, or if you’re truly worried about the strength of your dog and feel like your current gear just doesn’t cut it? Then this gear is for you.
The Best Harnesses For Reactive Dogs
There’s a lot of things you can consider for a harness and goodness only knows but there are hundreds on the market.
We tend to use harnesses to protect the trachea of your dog – and they are fantastic for this (particularly reactive dogs who put a lot of pressure into their equipment when barking and lunging) and I will always advocate a harness as the primary point of containment for a reactive dog.
What do you want to look for? These four main things.
✅ Well Fitted
✅ Two points
Then there are a couple of questions based on your dog & preferences.
1 – Are they an escape artist?
2 – Do you like handles?
The escape artist needs a longer body harness, one with a tummy strap!
And if you like handles? Then you want a very specific design. Personally? I don’t like handles. They are a hang-up risk, a tear risk, and to me? Just one I can mitigate by slipping my hand inside the shoulder strap of the harness.
Please note that some of these links ARE AFFILIATE links – This costs you nothing more but gives me a small amount for recommending it to you. Rest assured I would absolutely not be recommending any of these products if I hadn’t thoroughly tested them in these situations because I know that doing so is not only unethical but irresponsible!! Anything without a review linked in here? Is pending and will be linked as soon as it’s posted!
My Favourite Harnesses For Large Reactive Dogs
Perfect Fit Dog Harness
- Steel attachment points,
- Wide nylon webbing
- Two leash attachment points
This simple, yet hugely functional harness is not only strong, but it’s safe too. With steel attachment points, the Perfect fit is genuinely customisable to almost any dog, and is the most ‘adjustable’ harness on this list.
The perfect fit offers strength at an affordable rate, washes well and doesn’t take a ton of care, yet it can be relied upon.
Modern Icon – Tracking Harness
- Strongest option
- Heavy duty nylon
- Thick forged steel attachments
This one is seriously pricey, but if you can stretch to it? It will give you the peace of mind you need. I’ve used it when Indie’s had some issues, and gosh but it’s entirely fit for purpose.
Honestly, it’s secure, it doesn’t move, and it doesn’t yield an inch no matter how strong your dog, this will absolutely contain them.
- Tummy strap (extra security)
- Three attachment points
Whilst this harness is the ‘flimsiest’ of all of them, it’s also still really strong, and durable. The escape-proof-ness is a real, real bonus if you’ve got a dog who’s learned to slip their harness. The additional tummy strap means that for most dogs of proper weight, that they just cannot slip it because this harness sits behind the floating rib.
Best Collars For Large Reactive Dogs
Collars are another aspect of the system that you can assess for yourself as to whether it’s appropriate to wear. Personally? For a large reactive dog? A collar is usually quite handy to have.
The only time I would omit a collar from the system, is if you’re looking at a lot of equipment and it starts looking like it’s uncomfortable for your dog, and their reactivity is not that severe. It becomes a bit much sometimes (particularly on smaller dogs).
With a collar, for safety, we want to make sure they have a way of releasing the collar that doesn’t involve tightening the collar – aka a “pinch” release instead of a traditional buckle. The traditional buckle means that if they’re snagged, that you have to tighten the collar further before you can release it – which could be a problem.
The width of a collar is always important. The wider it is, not only does that mean it’s stronger but, the more even the distribution of it’s return force on your dogs neck. Afterall, newton’s third law says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So, if we increase the surface area, it spreads out that return force…
If I got a little too physics-nerd on you – think about the seatbelt when you’re in a car that breaks hard – now imagine if you halved the width of the seatbelt. It’ll hurt more!
My Favourite Collars For Large Reactive Dogs
Landshark Sport Collar 1.5″
- Cobra buckle
- High quality nylon
- Steel D-ring
This collar is simple, but super effective. It’s broader strap gives much better security for your dog. It’s even got double-ply nylon to make sure it’s the strongest it can be.
Bully Billows Martingale
This collar is not only strong, but when fitted properly, it’s a great collar that doesn’t need to constantly “Fit”.
It’s also a broader collar, meaning that pressure is spread over a wider surface, which a large, strong dog will need.
Flashy & Functional
Tactipup Extreme Collar
- Very customisable
This collar is definitely strong, featuring a robust cobra clip, the Tactipup extreme collar works very well.
Best Muzzles For Large Reactive Dogs
A good muzzle is really the icing on the cake for a reactive dog. It turns a safe system, into a super safe system.
With your advocacy and careful eyes, even the worst of events can happen and the muzzle will negate your dogs ability to do any damage should it get to that stage.
I’m a huge muzzle advocate, but your muzzle needs will depend on what your dog’s specific needs are – primarily in regard to their potential risk of biting someone or something.
Either way they should be well fitted and have plenty of space to open their mouth, breath, drink, vomit etc. If you need a more full guide on the proper fit of muzzles, this should work for you: full guide on muzzle fitting.
My Favourite Muzzles For Large Reactive Dogs
Bumas Biothane muzzle
Whilst this muzzle is not necessarily “biteproof”*, it’s also very appropriate for a reactive dog in training.
This muzzle is light, allows for panting, and is constructed in such a way that it won’t irritate and creates for comfortable long duration wear.
Best Entry Level
Ray Allen Wire Basket Muzzle
- Fantastic ventilation
If you’re looking for a muzzle that just works for all situations, but doesn’t break the bank? This one from Ray allen is the best entry step you’ll find. Yes, it looks a little scary – but this one is far more comfortable and far more customisable than many!
I do suggest you size up from Ray Allen’s recommendation! They tend to size quite small.
Jafco Vinyl Muzzle
The Jafco Vinyl muzzle is truly resilient. It’s a great, clear choice for those wanting to ensure a bite doesn’t happen. This one is a fantastic choice for veterinary appointments and groomers if your dog is a little nervous.
Best Leashes For Large Reactive Dogs
This is the part of the system that I’ve seen go wrong the most.
It’s kinda terrifying when it happens too. Some people even advocate a double leash system with a large reactive dog! Personally I don’t. There are leashes out there that can contain your dog if you structure things right.
At this stage we need to consider the leash, it’s strength and it’s construction.
When it comes to the construction of the leash, I’m a massive fan of “Simple is stronger” – the more moving parts you can remove from the system the fewer parts there are to fail. It’s the Keep It Simple, Stupid approach, right?
If you want to read more about the specifics of leashes, this will help Understanding Flat Leashes – Breaking Leashes Down By Their Components
Flexi-leads or retractable leashes are really not going to be recommended for reactivity, primarily because if they have the space? You don’t have the control you need in order to train your dog. In very specific highly monitored situations, with an incredibly reliable recall? Perhaps. But, overall? I truly would suggest avoiding these, and opting for a flat leash. Read more about Flexi-leads.
My Favourite Leashes For Large Reactive Dogs
Halti Training Leash
- Double ended
- Easy care
This double ended leash allows for flexibility in how you walk, how much space your dog gets, as well as maximising whatever harness you put your dog in. If you opt for a chest attachment point? You can split this between the front and back attachment points to give you more control, or you can shrink the leash down for tighter areas and closer control, or give them much more freedom if you walk in somewhere and it’s much quieter than you were anticipating.
The Halti training leash is incredibly affordable, but it is good to note that these snaphooks are not stress rated.
Tactipup Extreme Leash
- Kong Frog clip
Whilst this only offers a single clip, the kong frog clip hails from climbing gear, and is incredibly strong for what it is. It’s also got built in fail safes, because it naturally cannot fail if one part of the clip fails – which is wonderful.
This leash is also fabulously simple, it has less things to go wrong, so creates a stronger system.
Wilderdog Climbing rope leash
- Climbing grade carabiner
- Climbing grade rope
Whilst this can be a little tough on the hands, there’s no doubt in it’s strength or resiliency when put under pressure.
Best Long Lines For Reactive Dogs
Eventually, if everything progresses as it should, it’s really important that we start giving them a little more freedom.
A great way to do this is with a long line. Personally? I won’t advocate a horse lunge line (bad experiences!), but these are ones I have used without issue.
My Favourite Long Lines Fore Reactive Dogs
Best In Class
TBT Biothane Long Line
- Biothane (Easy care)
- Wonderfully soft
- Extra grippy handle
- Length options
- Colour options
- Highly visible
- Width Options
Downtown Pet Supply – Long Dog Leash
- Easy wash
Viper K9 Biothane Training Leash
- Biothane (easy care)
- Various lengths
- Various colours
- Brass hardware
Best Back Up
TbT Safety Strap
- Extra security
Carabiner Safety Strap
This is a seemingly really simple piece of kit. Designed to be attached from your leash (which is attached to your dogs harness) and your dogs collar. This way? If there is an issue with the leash, or the harness, there is an element of back up.
Now, it may look skinny, it may look like it won’t hold a large dog – and it wouldn’t – if it were the only thing you were using! But if a leash clip snaps, or if a harness breaks – that will absorb a sizeable portion of the breaking force, leaving only a small amount to travel through the safety strap.
Having been in that position? I’d strongly advise that this is a piece of equipment that is “Extra” but super useful!
Why Are There No Headcollars Recommended?
Well! That’s a wonderful question. Essentially? When a dog reacts with barking and lunging, it’s really not recommended to have them secured by the head? This can cause damage to the neck in terms of both muscular and skeletal structures.
They’re also just not built for the sorts of impacts that a reactive dog exerts on a piece of equipment.
Let’s be fair, I don’t recommend them with dogs generally – let alone with reactive dogs!
Read more about my stance on headcollars
I Don’t See Prong Collars On Here, How Come?
Now, prong collars are advocated by some. However. They’re not a tool I will use with a dog.
Why? Because you need to train your dog.
You need to understand your dog and not rely on a collar that punishes your dog to do the correct thing.
Not to mention that because a prong collar works in a basis of fear – that it will actually tell your dog that they are correct to be scared of the incoming scary thing. Treating fear by scaring them will not work. Prong collars mask behaviours, and even Herm Sprenger (the world’s leading manufacturer of prong collars) do not recommend their products are used for reactivity.
Read more about prong collars, and about fear and reactivity.
What About Flags, Bandanas etc? Do They Work?
In case you’ve never seen them, sometimes dogs will wear bandanas, hi-viz jackets or have “flags” on their leash that is made to raise awareness to other people and dog owners that the dog may have a certain need or fear. The idea being that alerting others will increase their consideration.
And I’ve tried it – but in all honesty? I am not sure they function as they may have been designed.
I find that a muzzle communicates the same thing to the same standard, and serves a purpose.
They look like they should work, but sadly people are not always the most considerate…
The Best, For The Best
This whole kit can be bought relatively cheaply. Which just makes this whole thing even better.
It should never cost a fortune to keep you, your dog and those around you safe. This is the “Perfect” system, but I have tried to give you some alternatives so that you can truly make this system perfect for you and your dog.
If you need more help with your reactive dog, why not sign up for Rebarkable Reactives? You’ll get me there with you, every step of the way as we get your dog through their reactivity.
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!