Should You Be Using a Collar or Harness
For Your Dog?
There are pros and cons to each. You need to understand your dog’s walking behaviors and general personality to make the right choice.
November 14th, 2018
When it comes to walking your dog, you have the option of attaching your leash to a collar or harness. The question is which.
As of this post, collars are still the more popular solution, probably due to their necessity. A dog without a collar implies it is without an owner. A collar also serves the dual purpose of holding a dog’s name tag and other identification.
But dog harnesses are on the rise. Many owners have taken note of the potential benefits of harnesses, and how they relieve tugging pressure on the neck.
There are pros and cons to each. One has not been able to gain significant traction over the other. This just goes to show that different dogs require different solutions. You need to understand your dog’s walking behaviors and general personality to make the right choice.
This post aims to be the ultimate guide to answer all your “collar or harness?” questions. Let’s dive into this topic.
Collars – The “Original” Choice
The moment you get a dog, you should immediately head to your nearest pet store and pick up a collar if you haven’t already. It’s definitely the first purchase you must make.
Dogs have been our loyal companions for millennia. But what’s crazy is that dog collars have been around for just as long.
Dating as far back as the ancient Egyptian era, collars were found to be used in dog training and just for decorating dogs. The article also describes leather collars found on dogs in ancient Greece, and many other significant time periods in history.
It’s funny how traditions stick. Here we are in today’s world, where dog collars are still very much mainstream.
With such a long history, the dog collar has ingrained itself into the very bond between human and dog. Any image of a dog and his owner is not complete without a dog collar.
This makes dog collars the “original” choice for any dog. But what about for dog walking? Leashes were not used until much later—dogs back then were not “domesticated” like they are now. The age-old design of the dog collar did not take into account the state of dogs today.
But obviously, dog collars have adapted—all commercial dog collars now feature a sturdy D-ring to attach any leash and identification to. Let’s look at the pros of the modern dog collar. (We’ve done a review on the Minnie collar below here!)
Pros of Dog Collars
1. Dog Collars are very intuitive to use.
Even if you don’t own a dog, you’ll know how a dog collar works. There are few things simpler than dog collar.
While humans have spent years debating the right way to harness a dog, a collar has never strayed from its fundamental purpose and design.
They’re easy to put on, as most of them feature a simple buckle. It’s also easy to loosen or tighten around your pup’s neck as needed.
2. There’s more variation in dog collars.
While dog harnesses are quickly getting more creative (check this Disney dog harness we just bought for the holiday season! Pictures coming soon!), there is already a lot of variation in the dog collar market out there.
This allows you to showcase your dog’s personality in various ways harnesses couldn’t accomplish.
The best example that comes to mind are chain dog collars. Perhaps chain/metal dog harnesses exist too, but come on… is that really a good idea? How could that be comfortable draping all over a dog’s body like that? You’re better off sticking with a chain collar if that’s your dog’s fashion style.
3. Dog Collars can offer strong control over your dog.
The neck is a very sensitive area in dogs. Most dogs will be able to feel the pressure build up very quickly against their neck if they start pulling too hard on a leash.
Depending on how much your puppy cares about that neck tension, a dog collar can be an excellent tool for training good walking behavior.
This was not my personal experience with Yuna, who seemed to not care how much she choked herself in pursuit of lunging at other dogs we met on walks.
For me, I felt like I was just injuring Yuna’s neck or desensitizing it. This, along with a myriad of other problems with dog collars, we will discuss next.
Cons of Dog Collars
- You could injure your dog’s neck.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we probably should not be pulling on our dogs’ necks all the time.
Dogs were made to roam wild and free. A leash is not natural to them, and they have to learn to adapt and be comfortable with them as family companions.
Until they learn, they cannot connect two and two together and naturally refrain from choking themselves in a highly distracting environment.
All the potential neck and tracheal problems that could come out of excessive leash pulling could spell doom for your pup. If you find yourself pulling on your dog’s neck often, it may be wise to shift that tension onto their body instead with a harness.
2. The dog’s neck is nowhere near its center of mass.
Unless you’ve got a literal furball, your dog’s neck is really quite far from its actual center of mass.
When you pull on a collar, you only pull on the neck and jerk the head area of the dog’s movement. You will not actually control the movement of the rest of your dog’s body.
Depending on the size of your dog, this can cause crazy torque centered around the collar and leash. Basically meaning your dog’s lunge at something will turn into a crazy mid-air spin. Again, not so good for the neck and for the entire body.
3. It’s hard to gauge collar tightness. Dog collars could potentially slip off.
When employing a collar, always use the two-finger rule to gauge tightness, and always check on the tightness periodically.
Even then, some are bad at gauging how tight a collar should be, particularly if their dog is very fluffy. They take too much caution in worrying whether or not it is too tight, then make it a few stops too loose.
The worst thing you want to happen during a walk is a dog that pulls so hard on the collar that his head slips right through the collar. Then he’s off to the races.
On the flipside, it’s possible that owners make the collar too tight as well. This could seriously affect your dog’s breathing.
In light of these downsides, we’ll take a look at what the harness has to offer.
Harnesses – A Recent Phenomena
Dog harnesses were first widely employed to allow dogs to pull sleighs, back in the 19th century. They saw increased usage during and post World War 1, where people used dog harnesses to carry medical supplies.
So it’s clear that harnesses are a very recent innovation compared to the collar.
Nowadays, dog harnesses are used in daily dog walking activities, and can present a wealth of advantages over traditional dog collars. Here are some of the main ones.
Pros of Dog Harnesses
- Relieves neck pressure and shifts it to the body.
It’s natural that a recent development like a dog harness aims to solve the recurring problems in dog collars. The most natural and beneficial advantage is that you no longer will be putting pressure on your pup’s neck.
A harness will put all that pressure on your dog’s body, and will offer you greater control when your pup tries to tug. They will feel more resistance from stretching forward than if only their neck were restrained.
If your puppy likes jumping, a harness is much more effective at preventing lunging and jumping than a collar.
This allows harnesses to be a great tool to use in training appropriate walking behavior.
2. It’s impossible to escape the harness.
No more worrying about a collar being too loose. Get the better of your little “escape artist.” Pretty much all harnesses go above and below a dog’s front arms, so you’ll always have the comfort of knowing your pup will be by your side at all times.
This makes them much more apt to use in crowded areas, or areas where there are a lot of dogs (and distractions like squirrels). They can keep your dog safe from running into dangerous situations.
3. Harnesses benefit all shapes and sizes of dogs.
If you have a very small dog, you should definitely not be using a collar. You can seriously hurt their little necks with the smallest of tugs.
In one extreme example, one of the cons of collars is that they can put intense eye pressure on certain breeds like pugs, and cause their eyes to protrude or even pop out. Scary (8).
On the other hand, if you have a very large dog, you might not be able to get full control of your dog with just a collar, particularly if not properly leash trained.
In all these cases, a harness would be the way to go. They offer you more control, while being significantly less injury-prone to your dog.
4. Harnesses do not “reward” pulling.
Yes, but you may also think collars do not “reward” pulling either. After all, the harder they pull, the harder they choke… so wouldn’t the dog eventually learn to stop pulling?
In reality, the more a dog pulls on a collar, they are still free to inch their paws forward. Your dog may begin to incorrectly assume that the harder he pulls, the closer he gets to his intended destination.
A harness restricts this movement altogether. Strong leash tension will not allow your dog to inch further, as long as you are able to be the anchor. This can eventually teach your dog that extraneous tugging will not earn him anything.
Harnesses certainly do sound great, but there are cons to note as well.
Cons of Dog Harnesses
- They are not always comfortable.
Can you really imagine wearing one of those things all day? They’re tight-fitting, restrictive, and really clamps down on your dog’s fur.
This is a primary concern for long-haired breeds. It’ll be hard to get the harness on in the first place without clipping your dog’s fur, and once it’s on it will likely feel awkward for your dog.
Your dog can probably adjust, but it will take time. You may need to gradually introduce the harness to your dog, using it only a little bit each day before your dog gets comfortable with it.
I would definitely not recommend keeping a harness on your dog for long amounts of time. Clip it on during a walk, and remove it once the walk is finished. They shouldn’t be wearing these in the house or while sleeping!
2. Dog harnesses can take a while to adjust or put on.
Especially your first time using a dog harness, it could take a while for you to get the sizing exactly correct.
You want the harness to be snug without looking like you squeezed your dog into a tiny little suit. Even if you think the harness is snug, it is likely to rotate off-center during the walk multiple times. You may need to stop and readjust the harness so you aren’t putting uneven stress on different sides of your dog’s body.
In addition, dog harnesses can take a little longer to put on a dog each time you’re getting ready to go out. Yuna was super cooperative whenever she had to put on her first nylon harness, but I imagine not all dogs are.
So now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of each, I will share my personal opinion on the topic.
On our morning and evening “potty breaks,” I use a collar. These walks are just very quick lap around our building complex and return home.
Every other significant walk, we use a harness.
One of Yuna’s few problems was that she loves to pull. Outside is her land. She had a mind of her own and would rather explore Seattle unhampered by a leash.
She barked and lunged at other dogs a lot during the first week. Having only a collar paired with a 6 foot nylon leash at the time, I could physically hear Yuna’s heavy labored breathing every time she wanted to lunge at a dog.
Obviously, the choking did not stop her urge to lunge. She showed no signs of improving in this area despite repeated scolding.
Our relationship was still new. We were not well-bonded, and I could not even get her to sit in public. But while we worked on that, I had to solve the underlying problem of discouraging her pulling, and alleviating the pressure on her neck.
Very soon, we switched to walking on a harness. All her self-inflicted choking noises were eliminated, and though she still had lots to work on in terms of leash walking, I felt comforted knowing her neck would be safe.
This is still the number one reason why I continue to use a harness today. In my opinion, the benefit of preventing neck injury outweighs everything else… by many many miles.
I used various dog harnesses religiously for a month. We worked on proper leash walking, and Yuna has since improved a lot in this area, though still far from perfect.
This gave me the freedom of switching to collar walking during our morning and potty breaks. It’s quick and easy, and I trust Yuna enough now to not avoid choking herself too much.
Moreover, your dog should know how to walk properly no matter what equipment their wearing.
Important Things To Note
So, it seems like I am a big fan of harnesses, and that’s true. But I think there are several points to note that are very important when it comes to selecting or switching your dog’s gear.
- Switching to a harness alone will not solve your issues.
A harness is a handy tool that can aid correction of bad behaviors faster than a collar can. However, it’s incorrect to assume that your dog will make any headway in this department on his own, if you do not put in the work to train in that behavior yourself.
It is you, the dog owner, not the equipment that will shape your dog’s behavior. There’s no magic in a harness. The advantages presented in this post about dog harnesses are definitely valid, but they will not be fully realized without your due diligence.
2. Switching to a harness does NOT give you the green light to pull harder.
Just because you are no longer hurting your dog’s neck doesn’t mean you should drag your dog along in their harness.
You can still injure your dog with sudden jerks and unexpected tugs on the harness. Remember, a harness is generally more restrictive than collars for your dog.
The Final Verdict: Collar or Leash?
Here’s a closing summary on which type of gear suits you and your dog:
A collar suits you and your dog if:
- Your dog already knows that tugging harder means reward.
- Your dog does not choke himself during walks, and protects his own little neck.
- You prefer the convenience and personality that your dog’s collar offers.
- Your dog dislikes the feeling of harnesses and cannot adjust to them.
- Your dog is already generally well-behaved during walks.
- Your dog is actually well-controlled by his neck, and naturally avoids pulling if it chokes him.
A harness suits you and your dog if:
- You want to eliminate all neck tension. The most important point.
- You want more useful tool to training your dog to learn proper leash walking.
- You want greater control of your dog during walks.
- Your dog is an escape artist and likes to break free of collars.
- You’ve got a very collar-sensitive breed.
- You’ve got a very large breed.
Hope you found this information and summary valuable. I am constantly revisiting posts, adding tidbits of information if I feel it should be added. Do get in touch with me if you think I missed something major.
Be sure to follow Yuna’s Instagram for more of her daily activities, and additional dog care tips like these.