Harness Vs Collar: Educating Dog Owners On The Right Option
If you’re a dog owner, odds are you’ve had to ask yourself “what does my dog need: a collar, a harness, or both?” The debate over dog harness versus collar has been constant in dog circles for years. And as the market for dog accessories continues to grow, making a decision is even more difficult. Hundreds of options exist, so how do you pick the best choice for you and your dog?
Harness or Collar: How to Choose the Right Option.
There are a variety of factors that will influence what is the right choice for you and your pup:
The Importance of The Collar
Regardless of which choice is right for your dog for walking purposes, all dogs should wear a durable, well-fitted, comfortable collar with ID for identification purposes! No one likes to think about their dog getting lost but a collar and ID tag makes a reunion that much more likely. A study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association noted that pets wearing a collar and ID or license tags had “a higher likelihood of recovery” than pets without. Making sure your dog is outfitted with a collar and tag is an easy way to ensure you’ll always be at one another’s side!
Breed Specific Harness & Collar Safety
Whether you own a stylish purebred or a magnificent mutt how they’re built is the most important factor in choosing a collar or harness.
Many flat faced breeds of dog suffer from the condition Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome. This syndrome, resulting from their flat faced anatomy, makes it difficult for the dog to breath. For Brachycephalic dogs such as French Bulldogs, Pugs and Chihuahuas, a harness is a far safer and more comfortable option. For recommendations and advice on finding the right harness for your small brachycephalic dogs, see our specific guides below:
Another breed that requires a harness for safety reasons is the Dachshund. This long and low hound is prone to Intervertebral Disc Disease, a condition wherein the cushioning disks between vertebras deteriorates. This crippling disease affects up to 25% of Dachshunds and prevention is the best medicine. A harness is the safer option for long backed breeds like the Doxie. Check out our guide for the best picks for Dachshund harnesses.
Take away: If your dog is prone to breathing issues, choose a low-fitting harness that won’t put pressure on the neck.
Other small breeds such as Miniature Poodles and Yorkies also do best with a harness. Due to their tiny size, they are prone to a condition known as tracheal collapse where the tracheal becomes less rigid, making breathing more difficult. Walking these breeds on a properly fitted harness is best for safety and comfort.
Pro-Tip: Ask your vet about collar and harness options at Fido’s next physical. Your Veterinarian will have a better insight to your dog’s physical health, both inside and out, and may have recommendations to prevent future injury.
Many breeds of sighthound sport long slender heads and thick muscular necks. This combination makes for a sleek runner but makes fitting a traditional collar a pain. Because their heads are smaller than their necks, even the tightest fitting collars easily slip over their tapered heads. For dogs with this build, opting for a harness or martingale collar is a much safer and easier option.
Prevent Pulling: Collar Vs Harness
Walking your dog should be the highlight of yours and his day. But due to non-stop pulling, sometimes walkies become a pain for both of you! Collars of all types put pressure on a dog’s neck when pulled. At best this pressure is uncomfortable, at worse dangerous. Luckily, many options exist to help make your daily walk a walk in the park. But that said, are dog harnesses better than collars?
Frustrated dog owners often buy a harness hoping it will curtail their dogs pulling, only to find the opposite has happened. The truth is, all harnesses are not made equally! Harnesses can more or less be divided into four categories: back clip, front clip, dual clip, and compression.
Take away: To stop pulling use a front-clip or dual-clip harness paired with positive reinforcement.
Back-clip harnesses fit around the dog’s chest and the leash is attached on the dogs back. Contrary to popular belief, back-clip harnesses do not stop pulling; in fact, they make it easier! Look no further than a sled dog doing his job and you’ll see that back-clip harnesses make pulling a breeze. Back-Clip harnesses are best for dogs with good leash manners that do not pull.
Front-clip harnesses help curtail pulling by redirecting the dog if they pull too hard. Dual-clip harnesses offer both a front- and back-clip and can help when your dog is pulling as well.
Pro-Tip: The right collar or harness is just one part of the equation when it comes to stopping a determined puller. On your next walk bring your dog’s favorite treat. Encourage him to walk at your side with a loose leash and reward him when he does. With consistent work your dog will learn that not pulling on the leash is rewarding and fun.
Compression harnesses work by creating an uncomfortable sensation when a dog pulls too hard. Less aversive methods, such as front clip harnesses and positive training should always be attempted first.
Powerful dogs are the main offenders when it comes to pulling as their strength can cause some serious concern to their owners, this makes choosing the right harness more important than ever. Check out our powerful dog breed harness guides below:
Escape Artists: Dog Harness Versus Collar?
Unfortunately, most dog owners know the frustration of an escaped dog! Nothing makes you rethink naming your dog Dr. Fluffy Doodle like having to run through the park yelling it at the top of your lungs!
Pro-Tip: Every dog should come when called but we all know sometimes your dog has other ideas! Teaching a back-up command can come in handy when your dog decides he’s rather check out the pretty Poodle across the street Teach your dog a word, like “cookies” by saying the word and giving him his favorite snack. Never use the word for anything negative and soon your dog will learn that when he hears “cookies” it’s snack time! Next time your dog doesn’t listen to “come” try using his new favorite word!
For collars and harnesses, a proper fit is most important. With collars you should be able to just fit two fingers under the collar. For harnesses, it should be loose enough that the dog can move all limbs without restriction but not so loose that they can backout. Make sure to first test the fit of any new collar or harness in the safety of your home. Also, regularly check the fit before walks and outings. Even the most well-behaved dog can back out of an improperly fitted harness or collar when scared, so make sure the fit is right!
Take away: A properly fitted collar or harness should work for most dogs. For skilled escape artists a collar or harness that restricts with pressure, like a martingale collar or compression harness, should do the trick! See our list of the best escape proof harnesses to get started!
For dogs that still manage to pull a disappearing act, opt for a collar or harness that restricts when excess pressure is applied. A martingale collar or no-pull compression harness would be a great option for your four-legged Houdini.
Age Isn’t Just A Number: Harness Vs Collar for Puppies
Not every collar or harness is right for every life stage. You may wonder should I use a collar or harness for puppy training?
Pro-Tip: The fit of your dog’s collar and harness will change as he grows. Check the fit from time to time to make sure it is correct and make adjustments as needed.
Young dogs are still growing and owners need to take care that they do not put too much strain on their growing pup’s bodies. Most puppies like to pull and learning to walk nicely is easier and safer when done on a front- or dual clip harness. By pairing a proper harness with treats, positivity, and patience, your puppy will be walking like a pro in no time. For tips on training with positive reinforcement, check out our article on clicker training. Clicker training is a great way to work with dogs of all ages and make learning fun for everyone involved.
Take away: Puppies are growing, choose a harness that will put minimal strain on their bodies. Older dogs are often not as mobile and this should be considered when choosing a collar or harness.
Though most older dogs don’t tend to pull at the leash still make sure that they are wearing a collar or harness appropriate for their health.
Situational: A Collar and Harness for Every Occasion
When meeting new dogs or interacting in new environments, a sturdy harness allows you to better control and handle your dog. Additionally, if your dog pulls when excited or anxious, opting for a front- or dual-clip harness will help discourage pulling in these exciting situations.
But what about at the park? Should my dog wear a dog harness or collar when romping with his buddies? Many experts recommend that no collar or harness be worn in an off-leash play environment.
Pro-Tip: If your dog has multiple collars and harnesses consider purchasing a removable clip to hold their ID and licenses. Better yet, have your pet Microchipped to ensure he always has his information on him!
Robin Bennett and Susan Briggs, industry experts in the dog daycare field, warn that during play dogs jaws can become stuck in the collars of other dogs. They warn, “When this type of situation happens, the collar tightens so much that it is virtually impossible to get it off the dog, particularly since the dogs are in a panic.” They recommend that off-leash play be “naked” without collars or harnesses.
When relaxing at home all that is needed is a well-fitted collar with ID tags, no harness needed. In fact, prolonged wearing of harnesses can lead to unsightly and uncomfortable hair-loss or matting.
In training classes, dog trainers often require the use of a specific collar, usually a flat, choke, or pinch collar. Discuss with your trainer which option is best for your dog based on their age, health, and temperament.
For more adventurous walks and hikes look for hiking specific harnesses with built in packs so Fido can help you carry supplies!
Take away: Different situations call for different tools. Carefully evaluate what you and your dog will be doing before you get them ready to go.
We hope this article has helped clear up some of the confusion with the ongoing dog harness vs collar debate! Though the options may be overwhelming this guide will help you find the right option for your pooch.
Below are a few of the most important aspects to remember when picking a harness or collar:
- Purina ProClub. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.purinaproclub.com/resources/dog-articles/health/research-of-intervertebral-disk-disease-in-dachshunds-focuses-on-improving-recovery
- Brayley, KA, Ettinger, SJ. 1995. Disorders of the trachea. In EJ Ettinger and EC Feldman(eds.) Texbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, p. 754-766. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto
- Linda K. Lord, DVM, PhD; Thomas E. Wittum, PhD; Amy K. Ferketich, PhD; Julie A. Funk, DVM, PhD; Päivi J. Rajala-Schultz, DVM, PhD. (2007, January15). Retreived from https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.230.2.211?journalCode=javma
- E. Foley. (2013, June 12). Retrieved from https://yourdogsfriend.org/death-in-the-dog-park/
Vedrana Nikolić (B.A. in Cultural Anthropology) - Professional Writer.
Vedrana is a writer, anthropologist & dog lover. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Semiotics studying, among other things, the communication between animals and humans.
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