Dog Collar vs. Dog Harness

Oct 04, 2023


Collar vs. Harness


Choosing Best for Your Dog


I've had the privilege to work with countless dogs of various breeds, sizes, and temperaments over the years and I’m often asked, "Should I use a collar or a harness for my dog?". I wanted to jump into this and go over the health, comfort, and training aspects of each option.


The Anatomy of a Dog


Let’s start by looking briefly at a dog’s anatomy. A dog’s neck holds vital and often fragile structures, including the trachea, oesophagus, thyroid gland, and spinal column. Any undue pressure on these areas can cause injury.

Understanding this will make it easier to see the potential pros and cons associated with collars and harnesses.


Dog Collars


Health Implications


Pressure on the Throat


When a dog pulls on a collar, especially narrow or chain collars, it can put pressure on the trachea, potentially causing choking or coughing. For breeds prone to tracheal collapse, like Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, collars can increase the risk.


Increased Eye Pressure


Research suggests that collar pulling can increase intraocular pressure, posing a risk for dogs with eye conditions like glaucoma.


Potential for Neck Injury


Sudden “jerks”, “snaps” or “pops” or consistent pulling might lead to neck injuries or make existing conditions worse.


Comfort and Usability


Collars are usually easy to put on and are good for dogs that don’t like having something covering their back or chest. They also hold id tags, which can be vital in case the dog gets lost and a legal obligation in some countries.


Training Needs


Collars and harnesses serve different purposes when it comes to training. The type of equipment used can influence a dog's responsiveness and behaviour during sessions. The key is to understand the individual needs of your dog and to choose equipment that maximum comfort and positive responses during training.


Dog Harnesses


Health Implications


Distributed Pressure


Harnesses distribute the pressure across a larger area of the dog's body, reducing the risk of injury. Particularly helpful for brachycephalic breeds, like Bulldogs or Pugs, which are prone to respiratory issues.


Reduced Risk for Neck Injuries


Since the pressure is not on the neck, the risk of neck injuries (or making pre-existing conditions) is reduced.


Comfort and Usability


Harnesses come in various styles, including back-clip, front-clip, and dual-clip designs. Some dogs might not like them to begin with and feel uncomfortable or restricted, but most will get used to them. A well-fitted harness shouldn’t rub or cause rashes.


Training Needs


Front-clip harnesses, in particular, are popular and work by pulling by pulling the dog back towards the handler. This makes them a tool of choice for many trainers working with overly enthusiastic or reactive dogs.


Making the Right Choice


Consider the Dog's Health


If your dog has a medical condition that could be affected by your choice of tool, consult with your vet. For instance, as mentioned above, dogs with tracheal issues or eye conditions might benefit more from a harness.


Think About Your Training Needs


For dogs in training or those that pull excessively, a front-clip harness can be advantageous. If you're merely looking for an identification holder or for training without the risk of pulling, a collar might suffice.


Prioritise Comfort


No matter the choice, ensure the equipment fits well and your dog is happy wearing it. A misfitting collar or harness can cause discomfort or even injury.



Understanding Different Types of Collars


Flat Collars


The most common type, often made of nylon or leather. It's important to ensure two fingers can fit between the collar and the dog's neck for best fit.


Martingale Collars


Designed for dogs whose heads are narrower than their necks, like greyhounds. They tighten when tugged, but not as severely as choke chains. They should never tighten more than a normal flat collar but also not be loose enough to slip off their head.


Choke and Prong Collars


These are aversive training tools. Choke collars can cause significant physical harm when not used correctly. Prong collars, while debated, are seen by some trainers as more humane than choke chains as they pinch rather than choke, but they still can be harmful.


Head Collars


These resemble a muzzle but act as a harness for the head, you’ve maybe heard of the halti or canny brands (other brands ARE available). When the dog pulls, the head will turn, naturally redirecting them and reducing the pull. Some trainers find them effective for strong pullers, but they are a sticking plaster over a problem. They can be used to establish training for strong pullers but ideally only used long term if the owner can manage to control the dog due to their own health or strength issues.


Understanding Different Types of Harnesses


Back-Clip Harness


The lead attaches to halfway down the dogs back. Great for small dogs or those already trained not to pull.


Front-Clip Harness


The lead attaches to the front, on the dog's chest. It provides more control and is often used to pull the dog toward the walker.


Dual-Clip Harness


The lead attaches to the front and back of the harness, giving the handler a choice based on the situation they find themselves in.


Tightening Harness


Tightens slightly when the dog pulls, providing a gentle reminder for the dog without choking.



Potential Behavioural Implications


Harnesses and collars can have different effects on a dog’s behaviour. Some dogs wearing harnesses will display more relaxed behaviours compared to those in collars, however some dogs will indicate this relaxed behaviour in a collar. Understanding how your dog responds to each will help you make your choice.


Age and Physical Development Considerations


Puppies have soft pliable bones and are still growing, which makes them more susceptible to injuries from pulling or lunging on a collar, so a harness is usually recommended for puppies to prevent potential physical harm.

And for senior dogs, especially those with arthritis or mobility issues, harnesses provide support without putting extra strain on the neck.


Some Frequently Asked Questions on the topic


Can a dog wear both a collar and harness?

Yes. Many owners opt for this, using the collar for ID tags and the harness for walks.


What if my dog doesn't like the harness?

Introduce it gradually using rewards to reinforce the harness. Make the experience a good one with food and praise.


How often should I check the fit?

Monthly. Puppies might need more frequent checks due to rapid growth.



My Final Verdict


While each tool has its pros and cons, the welfare, safety and comfort of your dog should always come first. Regularly check for signs of damage, ensure it fist properly, and adjust as your dog grows or gains/loses weight.

If you’re unsure, then ask your vet of trainer. Sometimes a combination of professional opinions from vets and experienced trainers can help you make the right decision based on your dog's unique needs.




Closing Thoughts


The journey of dog ownership is filled with choices, ultimately, we are the ones who chose our dogs life and how they live it in every area. Whether you choose a collar, a harness, or both, make sure it is what’s in the best interest of your dog.

Remember, equipment is just a tool. Building a strong bond based on trust will always be the base on which to establish and grow a long-lasting relationship with your dog.