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When choosing accessories and equipment for your pup, you'll have to choose between dog collars vs. harnesses. Of course, there are pros and cons to each, and which is right for you and your dog will depend on several factors like the types of activities you engage in, comfort level, training, socialization, dog park behavior, and more. In addition, there are several collar and harness types for dogs, making the decision even more challenging. However, there is no right or wrong answer in the battle between harnesses vs. collars for dogs.
Some pet parents prefer harnesses because they reduce the risk of injury to dogs that pull on walks. Meanwhile, others prefer collars because they feel as though they have more control over their pets. So which is right for your pup—a harness or a collar? Let's look at both options to help you make the right choice.
- Dog Harnesses: Definition, Pros & Cons
- Dog Collars: Definition, Pros & Cons
- Is A Harness Or Collar Better For Training A Puppy?
- Do Collars Make Dogs Calmer?
- Do Harnesses Make Dogs Calmer?
- 3 Things To Consider When Choosing Between A Harness or Collar
- Final Notes
Dog Harnesses: Definition, Pros & Cons
Dog harnesses have straps clipped around your dog's body, usually under their arms and around the chest. However, there are several different harness types for dogs; some have more straps that wrap around the stomach, while others dogs can step into instead of it going over their heads.
The right harness for your dog depends on several factors, including size, comfort, and walking obedience. However, common options include the following:
- Back clip harnesses
- Front clip harnesses
- Dual clip harnesses
- Step-in harnesses
A head halter, which loops around a dog’s neck and snout, is also a popular type of harness. It’s primarily used as a behavioral tool, allowing pet owners to gently guide their dog’s heads and redirect them. While any dog can wear a head harness, it’s especially beneficial for larger breeds since it eliminates pulling by giving owners full control of their pet’s head.
The main benefit of harnesses is that they protect your dog's neck and throat, making them safer for dogs that tend to pull or lunge on walks. In addition, they're much harder to escape from and can help avoid injuries and prevent your dog from being able to pull you with force.
Unfortunately, harnesses aren't perfect. Even though they can be useful for preventing tracheal collapse brought on by collars, they're more challenging to put on and take off. In addition, they don't offer you as much control over your dog because they give your dog more leverage, allowing them to pull you more without being able to redirect their neck or head to look back at you.1
Additionally, you must get your dog the right-sized harness, or else they can easily slip out of it. Meanwhile, harnesses that are too small can be incredibly uncomfortable, even deterring some dogs from getting in them and going for walks.
Dog Collars: Definition, Pros & Cons
Dog collars are much smaller than harnesses and only go around your dog's neck. You likely already have a dog collar because it holds your dog's ID tags in case they're lost on a walk. Most dogs wear collars 24/7, even around the home, because they're comfortable when properly sized.
Of course, there are many types of dog collars available, including:
- Flat collars: These are the basic dog collars most dogs wear daily. They're made from soft materials like leather or cloth and can be personalized with your dog's name or personal contact information. They come with loops to hook your dog's ID tags on, and most dogs don't mind wearing them.
- Choke collars: Choke collars are used for walks and training purposes. They slip around the dog's neck and tighten when the dog starts to pull. Choke collars can be pronged, placing even more pressure on the neck. Most trainers don't recommend these collars anymore because they can be dangerous for dogs, and punishment is not the most effective method for quality training.2
- Martingale collars: Martingale collars are a safer alternative to choke collars. They tighten around the dog's neck when there's a tug on the leash, causing discomfort but not pain, to prevent the dog from easily slipping out of the collar while on walks or in public. These collars also give pet parents more control over their dogs by allowing them to move their dog's head to change their direction.2
There are many pros to collars, which is why they're a pet essential. All dogs should have a collar and wear their ID tags while on walks or even in the home if they're escape artists. Of course, there are many different collars with many different uses. For example, flat collars can help dogs learn how to walk on a leash, while slip collars can prevent dogs from slipping out of their collars.
The main benefit of collars is that they give you more control over your dog because you can change the direction of their neck and head. Therefore, they require less strength than a harness, which may be ideal for dogs that pull on walks.
Unfortunately, some dogs may find collars uncomfortable, which can be dangerous. For example, dogs who pull on walks are more likely to experience tracheal collapse from pulling too hard and choking themselves on walks.
In addition, your dog's collar must fit just right to prevent them from escaping or being choked. How tight should a dog collar be? There should be enough space to fit two fingers between the collar and your dog's neck to prevent choking and discomfort. However, some dogs can easily slip through their collars, so you should invest in obedience training to prevent unwanted behavior on walks.
Is A Harness Or Collar Better For Training A Puppy?
Puppies have to learn a lot in a short amount of time. When your dog is young, you'll need to work on obedience, leash, and kennel training, to help them learn how to be comfortable in all types of environments. When training a puppy how to walk on a leash, most experts agree that you should use a harness because it will give you more control over the puppy while allowing you to train them not to pull to prevent injury when they wear a collar.2 Since puppies are still learning, they're more likely to pull on walks, and a collar can cause neck and throat injury if they pull too hard or too frequently. However, if you plan on using a collar once your puppy grows into an adult, you should get them used to walking with both.
In addition, your puppy should wear their collar all the time anyway since it will display their ID tags, so they should get used to wearing it even while on walks. Of course, some people find that harnesses make them lose control over their dogs. While a harness is more secure than a collar, your dog can put more force behind pulling if they're not properly trained to walk on a leash, so they generally require more strength for you to control them. Therefore, while a harness is a great tool for helping your puppy learn to walk on a leash, what's most important is teaching them how to behave while on walks.
In addition, you should socialize your puppy early on to prevent unwanted behaviors, such as reactivity, barking, lunging, and pulling, while on walks.
Do Collars Make Dogs Calmer?
Neither harnesses nor collars will make your dog calmer on a walk, especially if they experience reactivity or fear-based aggression towards other pets, animals, or people. Of course, there are special collars designed to help dogs stay calm, but these collars aren't used for walks or holding your dog's ID tags. Instead, calming collars are worn around your dog's neck and emit pheromones to calm your dog. They're completely different from the collars your dog would wear on a walk. However, if your dog experiences anxiety, they might wear a calming collar in addition to their regular collar.
Do Harnesses Make Dogs Calmer?
Again, if your dog is reacting to something on a walk, barking, or lunging, whether they're wearing a harness or a collar won't make a difference. Ultimately, your dog's behavior on walks depends on their training. Still, harnesses are gentler on dogs' throats and necks, making them more comfortable on walks, and potentially reducing leash reactivity. Still, your dog's training is essential for determining how they'll react to their environments and surroundings when in public.
3 Things To Consider When Choosing Between A Harness or Collar
Both dog collars and harnesses are essential equipment for walking and training your dog. You should always have a collar for your dog's ID tags; they can wear it 24/7 or only when they're outside, depending on your preferences. However, when choosing between a dog collar vs. harness, there are a few things to consider, including:
If your dog isn't trained to walk on a leash, you can rely on a collar or harness to keep them or others safe. However, harnesses are generally considered safer for dogs because they don't apply pressure to their throats or necks. If you have a dog that pulls, you'll feel them tugging on the leash. However, you may also hear them gasping for air. Many dogs get so excited on walks that they won't realize they're choking themselves and will continue to pull. In addition, if your dog sees a squirrel and wants to run toward it, they can easily put too much force on their necks and throats, causing serious injury.
A harness prevents injury because it keeps the pressure on the chest if they pull. In addition, harnesses can be safer when you need to move your dog. For example, if there's a fight at the dog park, you might need to lift your dog or pull them away from a potentially dangerous situation. Harnesses may have handles that allow you to move them faster and safer than collars.
2. Your Dog's Reactivity & Prey Drive
Many dogs experience leash, strangers, and even dog reactivity. These dogs are usually anxious and experience fear that causes them to bark, lunge, and even pull toward what they're afraid of to scare it away. If your dog is reactive, harnesses are generally safer because they won't harm themselves by pulling. However, harnesses can give dogs more leverage and encourage pulling. For example, back clip harnesses encourage strong pulling.3 Therefore, even though you may have more control over your dog's movements, they can still pull you in any direction.
Of course, there are no-pull harnesses, which have attachments on the front. When your dog's leash is attached to the front of the harness, their pulling will cause them to face you instead of continuing to pull you forward. Therefore, it's not a matter of whether a collar or harness is better for reactive dogs or dogs with strong prey drives; instead, you must consider the type of collar or harness.
In addition, if you have a reactive dog or one that likes to chase animals outside, you should invest in training to teach them how to properly walk on a leash and ignore distractions. For example, you can learn how to stop your dog from jumping on people or teach them how to ignore other dogs on walks. Working with a dog trainer or behaviorist can help you learn techniques for managing dog reactivity on walks.
Some dogs should not wear collars on walks. Since collars can restrict breathing when a dog pulls, they can be dangerous for dogs with breathing difficulties, such as brachycephalic dogs and toy breeds.4 Therefore, most vets recommend these dogs wear a harness instead of a collar on walks to prevent their airways from becoming further obstructed.
Should dogs sleep with their collars on?
Your dog shouldn't have to wear their collar 24/7, but many dogs safely do. Of course, it's possible for your dog's collar to get snagged on furniture and their crate, which can lead to choking. If your dog is well-trained and follows basic commands, you don't have to have them wear their collar with an ID tag around the house. They can if you still want your dog to wear their collar during the day.
However, they don't need to sleep with their collars on, especially in a locked house. In some cases, wearing a collar too often can result in skin problems because it causes constant friction, leading to irritation or even skin infections.
Why shouldn't dogs wear collars?
Dogs should wear collars; it's just a matter of where and when. If your dog goes out in public, they should wear a collar with their ID tag attached to it because most harnesses don't have a clip for the ID tags like collars do. Therefore, you may need your dog to wear a harness and a collar simultaneously, but the leash will only be attached to the harness.
While your dog should wear their ID tag at all times, it doesn't mean you should always use a collar for walks, especially if your dog pulls. Collars can be dangerous for dogs that pull because they obstruct the airways and cause tracheal collapse.
Is it easier to control a dog with a harness?
Harnesses typically make it easier to control your dog than collars. However, it depends on the type of harness. For example, back clip harnesses can make your dog pull more because it gives them more leverage. Therefore, you can easily lose control of a large, strong dog if they pull you on a walk. On the other hand, some pet parents find they have more control over their dogs with a collar, so it's ultimately a matter of preference. Still, you should ensure your dog is trained to walk on a leash to prevent situations that may cause you to lose control of your pet.
Dog collars and harnesses are essential pieces of equipment for your pet. While your dog should wear a collar for ID purposes, they don't have to wear a harness as often. Instead, when choosing between dog collars vs. harnesses for walks, you should consider your dog's behavior on walks. If your dog pulls, a collar might be harmful. However, a harness could also make them pull more. Ultimately, it all comes down to their training. Neither a harness nor a collar is better if your dog knows how to behave on walks.
Leash training can help your dog learn desired behaviors to prevent pulling on walks that make collars dangerous. But, of course, some dogs are more reactive than others. For example, dogs with fear-based anxiety may become reactive when seeing another dog outside, causing them to lunge and bark. If you believe your dog has fear-based reactivity, consult a Dutch vet. We can help diagnose and treat dog anxiety that causes them to react on walks, preventing injury while ensuring your dog can enjoy their time outside. In addition, we can provide you with tips and tricks for all types of dog training, including obedience, leash, and slow feeder training, to help your dog live a happy, healthy life.
Staff, AKC. "Dog Harness vs. Collar: Which Is Better?" American Kennel Club, 17 Nov. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/dog-harness-vs-collar/.
Bauhaus, Jean. "Should My Puppy Wear a Collar or Harness? Choosing the Safest Option." American Kennel Club, 24 Sept. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/puppy-information/puppy-collar-harness/.
Shih, Hao-Yu, et al. "Dog Pulling on the Leash: Effects of Restraint by a Neck Collar vs. a Chest Harness." Frontiers, Frontiers, 9 Aug. 2021, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.735680/full.
"Why Flat-Faced Breeds Need Dog Harnesses Instead of Collars." PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/why-flat-faced-breeds-need-dog-harnesses-instead-collars.