The dog collar and harness section of any pet store in 2018 is an overwhelming cacophony of colors, patterns, buckles, snaps, and velcro.
There are lots of amazing dog collars and harnesses for training, but how do you decide whether you want a collar or a harness? Which is best for your dog? Is there such thing?
Spoiler alert: there’s no one definitive answer whether dog collars or harnesses are best. It really depends on what your goals are, what your dog’s body is shaped like, and personal preference.
Many professional trainers use and own both collars and harnesses. Overall, I prefer well-fit and comfortable harnesses for most uses. There’s no one right answer though, so instead let’s explore the reasons that a collar or harness might be better for you and your dog.
Your dog is sensitive to pressure on her sides or shoulder blades. Some dogs are really uncomfortable with the pressure of a harness or are fearful of the harness slipping over their head. While you can work on teaching your dog to be comfortable with the feeling of a harness, it might be easier to opt for a collar in this case.
Your dog has an extreme body shape, like a greyhound, and it’s hard to find the perfect fit harness. While harnesses like the SureFit Harness are highly customizable for oddly-shaped dogs, they can be difficult to fit properly at first and a collar might be more comfortable.
Your dog is well-trained and there’s no need for the extra comfort of a harness. A dog that does not pull on leash won’t harm herself with the pressure of a collar.
I prefer using a collar with Barley in training environments and a harness while running, hiking, or otherwise enjoying ourselves.
Your dog pulls on leash and might damage her trachea or larynx with collar pressure. While standard back-clip harness might make it easier for your dog to pull, it also keeps her throat safe from tracheal collapse. Get a front-clip harness like the Freedom Harness or head halter to use while you teach your dog to walk politely next to you.
Remember that no tool will teach your dog how to walk politely on leash. Only training can do that!
Your dog is an escape artist and can wiggle out of collars in no time. Some dogs back out of properly fitted collars, and this is a huge safety risk near roads or wilderness.
Check out martingale collars or the Ruffwear Webmaster harness for Houidini dogs. Martingale collars tighten to a predetermined amount when there’s pressure on them, making them harder to escape. The Ruffwear Webmaster has two straps behind the front legs, making it almost impossible to wriggle out of.
Your dog is on the smaller side. Tiny dogs can be quite fragile, and a harness is a safer option. Small dogs are at higher risk for tracheal collapse, and you might not notice their pulling as much as with a large dog who drags you down the street.
The Mesh Wrap N Go Harness is an extra-comfy and extra-secure option. Its velcro is incredibly strong, keeping your pup safe – but keep an eye out to ensure you don’t Velcro her hair into it!
Your dog has a short snout, like pugs, boxers, and bulldogs. These dogs are at extra risk for overheating and any air constriction from collar pressure can be dangerous. These dogs should always be walked on a nice, comfy harness that keeps pressure off of their necks.
You are doing some heavy activity or movement. Even when dogs can walk nicely on leash, it’s best to use a harness if you’re going for an on-leash run, hike, or other big adventure. A good harness that does not restrict shoulder movement will keep your dog comfortable while doing heavy activity. If you’re off-leash, go ahead and use a collar.
If your dog is pulling you at all, as in canicross or skijoring, ensure that you have a harness specifically made for this. Harnesses that are made for pulling are very different from your average walking harness.
In most cases, a good-fitting harness is a safe bet. The only time that I purposely avoid a harness with a dog is if the dog is afraid of the harness, we cannot find a harness that fits the dog properly, or the dog has an injury (like a rash on her stomach) that makes harnesses uncomfortable.
Otherwise, the benefits of harnesses often outweigh the benefits of collars in my book.
The bottom line is that choosing between a collar and a harness is a personal choice. Your preference may vary from day to day and depending on your activity. For example, my dog Barley wears his Ruffwear Front Range harness while we’re hiking, on casual walks, and in Nosework class.
However, we use his flat buckle collar when we’re in agility or obedience classes and working on leash training.
What do you think? What’s better – harnesses or collars?
Kayla Fratt is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC and works as a professional dog trainer through the use of positive reinforcement methods. She also has experience working as a Behavior Technician at Denver Dumb Friends League rehabilitating fearful and reactive dogs.