The Pros and Cons of a Dog Harness or Collar

Dogs on leash with harness and collars

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Many pet parents wonder whether a dog harness or collar is the right choice for their four-legged friend. Dog collars have been a mainstay of dog training equipment for decades, but in recent years, harnesses have become increasingly popular. 

What is a dog harness?

Similar to a dog collar, a harness is a type of wearable equipment that owners place on their dogs. Rather than wrapping in a circle around the dog's neck like a collar, a harness is fitted around the dog's torso with straps behind the front legs to distribute any tension to its chest.

There are pros and cons to both pieces of equipment, and it’s important to understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of a dog harness versus collar. In addition, some dog breeds or personality types may benefit from one option more than the other. 

Pros and Cons of Dog Collars

A dog collar is a common sight on pooches of all shapes and sizes, and for good reason. It’s the simplest way to identify that a dog has an owner, and most collars allow for easy attachment of identification tags. Should your dog ever become lost or escape the backyard, a collar can serve as an instant visual cue to others that your dog has a home. The attached identification tags can also help your dog get safely returned to you. 

While they’re indispensable for identification, a dog collar may not always be the right choice as a training tool or point of control on your dog. The collar can place significant pressure on some of your dog’s most delicate and vulnerable areas—like the trachea, esophagus, thyroid gland, cervical vertebrae, and more. A quick, hard tug on the leash or constant pulling from your pet can cause pain or even damage to these important areas. 

In addition, your dog might be more likely to slide out of a collar and escape. This is especially true in dog breeds where the width of the neck and the head are similar—Sighthounds, like Greyhounds and Whippets, frequently suffer from this issue. In such cases, a collar may not be the most effective way to keep your dog safe and by your side.  

Pros and Cons of Dog Harnesses

Harnesses for dogs come in many different styles, but the basic idea is the same—to distribute any force exerted on the leash across a larger area of the dog’s body rather than in a confined space around the neck. They’re popular as a first option with puppies, but have also been used by owners of dogs that like to pull on walks or that are large and harder to control. 

The biggest benefit of a dog harness is the shift in pressure from the neck to a larger area of the body. However, it’s very important to note that a poor-fitting harness can be just as detrimental to your dog’s well-being as a collar with too much pressure applied in the wrong area. It’s important to make sure that your dog’s natural range of movement isn’t hindered, particularly around the shoulders or in the extension of the front legs. 

A harness can also reduce walk time woes in a number of ways. It generally provides better control over large or strong dogs. It also doesn’t reinforce pulling behavior, since the forward action is halted by your continued pressure on the harness.

A well-fitting harness, especially a three-point style that fits around the body at multiple points, can be helpful for nervous dogs that can back out of a collar or a more simple harness style.

If your dog has very long fur, however, a harness may be more likely to cause tangles or mats, especially if worn for a prolonged period of time or for intensive activities.

Some dogs may also need to get used to wearing a harness. It is more tricky to put on and nervous dogs, may not like putting their head through it. In these instances, taking it slow and using treats to build a positive association is recommended.

When to Use a Dog Harness Rather Than Just a Collar

Every dog should wear a collar for identification purposes, but if you’re trying to decide on a harness versus collar for walking and training, take into account your dog’s breed and personality, as well as your experience and common scenarios you may encounter. 

Small dogs, those that have suffered from trachael collapse or breeds that are prone to this issue should use a harness. They are also commonly used on flat-faced, brachycephalic breeds, like French Bulldogs and Pugs, that can be prone to respiratory problems.

Any dog that pulls excessively, however, would benefit from wearing a harness to take the pressure off their neck and stop them from choking while you work on loose-leash walking skills.

If you are running with your dog or allowing some additional freedom on a long line, a harness is always recommended to avoid them hurting their neck if they build up momentum and reach the end of the leash while traveling at high speeds.

The bottom line is that no equipment is a substitute for good leash training. If you want a well-behaved dog capable of loose leash walking, you must be prepared to put in the time and effort to achieve the results you are looking for. However, by being informed of the pros and cons of dog collars versus harnesses, you can make the right choice for your pet.