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Dog Collar Or Harness – What’s Better For My Dog?

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

Dogs in collar and harness

Dog Collar Or Harness – What’s Better For My Dog?

Once, the choice was simple. You visited a pet store to look at 4 different collars, picked a color and a size, and maybe added a cute tag in the shape of a bone. Done! But should your dog actually be wearing a harness instead of the collar? Don’t worry – we’re here to break down the pros and cons of collars vs harnesses. 

Welcome to the FoTP debate club! We have a contentious topic today – the collar versus the harness. Dog owners across the land are certain their choice is best; we’ll get into the pros and cons of both here.

Choosing between collar and harness should never be done according to the owner’s preference. In general, the choice should come down to the breed and personality of your dog. 

So you should consider:

  • Where will you be walking your dog? If, for example, the local woodland is just a stroll from your home, your dog won’t need to be restrained on a leash for long.
  • What kind of health risks are known to be common for your dog’s breed? Are any of those a concern during your dog’s early years – and can they be prevented by replacing a collar with a harness?
  • Is your dog prone to anxiety? A nervous dog might not take to a harness. Change may put them on edge.
  • How does your dog interact with other dogs? A harnessed dog may feel restricted and defensive when approached by other dogs. A simple collar might be less inhibiting – allowing your dog more freedom.
  • Where does your dog’s walk take them? If you walk through undergrowth, a harness might be too restrictive. (Of course, we’ve known collars to be caught in brambles as well!) If your dog is a strong swimmer, a collar won’t weigh them down.

The collar is a canine classic, and for good reason – on the whole, it works. Your dog can wear their collar all day; just snap on the leash when it’s time for a walk. Let’s dive in to the pros of using a plain old dog collar:

  • It’s simple and inexpensive. You can buy a plain collar in pet stores and hardware stores – they’re usually made in tough webbing or leather, and will last for years. 
  • You don’t need to put it on and off. A collar can be kept on your dog, which is handy if they like to escape the yard. (Have you ever had to lead your dog away from the neighbor’s guinea pig hutch? Then a collar is probably right for your dog!)
  • It carries essential information. Again, this is important for wanderers. You can label your dog’s collar with your phone number or other important information like health conditions or veterinary surgery. Of course, micro-chipping is also a good idea and will carry the same information. 
  • It can be styled to match your outfit. Okay, this isn’t such a serious point – but fashion-lovers can coordinate their dog’s collar to their outfit, adding a bandana or crystals for extra bling. (Don’t scoff. It’s an ancient tradition – Mesopotamian dogs are pictured wearing collars adorned with protective jewels and amulets!)

In recent years, the dog harness has become more popular – for reasons we’ve outlined below. There are quite a few problems with the traditional collar, including:

  • A collar can hurt or injure a dog who pulls. Do you have an enthusiastic dog? The type who can’t wait to get out for their walk – and knows where they’re going? You might find that a collar (especially if it’s too narrow) rubs or hurts your keen dog, although it won’t necessarily stop them from straining to go faster. So it’s not ideal for pullers – and some animal charities recommend using a harness instead for walking.
  • A collar can slip off. Certain breeds can easily slip out of a collar. Sighthounds, we’re looking at you! But if you find that your dog is losing their collar (probably at inopportune moments), it might simply be because their neck is not much narrower than their head!If you are using a collar on your sighthound, it should be a special sighthound collar like a martingale or fishtail collar. 
  • Dogs with certain health conditions shouldn’t use collars. Check with your vet whether it’s appropriate for yours. Don’t put a collar onto dogs with conditions including obvious ones (like neck injuries or spinal malformations) and others like glaucoma, thyroid disease or proptosis (a protruding eye). You also shouldn’t use a collar for restraining dogs which are brachycephalic (and may suffer from respiratory problems). 
  • Collars can cause skin irritation. If you use one, take it off regularly and check the health of your dog’s skin. Ensure you can fit two fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck at all times; the collar should not be skin-tight. 
  • Choke collars should never be used. These are sometimes chosen to address a problem with pulling on the leash. But they’ve been linked to very serious problems like whiplash, crushing the larynx or trachea, and even damaging the spinal cord or brain. 
  • Shock collars are also strongly discouraged by animal charities. They’re used to train dogs to stop barking (or other undesirable behavior), but they are cruel. Using negative techniques like this is likely to produce a dog who is fearful and defensive; the sharp, unpredictable pain can cause mental issues like anxiety and shock. 

Harnesses have been used with dogs for centuries. Once used for working dogs and guard dogs, they have become popular with all kinds of domesticated dog, and they can be better for walking than the standard collar. 

  • A harness redistributes pressure. This is the key benefit of using a harness. By spreading the exertion across the chest and shoulders, a harness reduces the risk of injury and strangulation.
  • Your dog can’t slip out of a harness. Well, there’s bound to be some Houdini-inspired dog somewhere who has mastered the art of liberating himself from the harness. But the harness is not designed for your dog to escape, so it’s useful for restraining a dog if necessary. 
  • A harness is suitable for brachycephalic dogs. Pugs, French Bulldogs and other flat-faced dogs which might have breathing difficulties should wear a harness rather than a collar, which can restrict the airways. 
  • A harness is suitable for dogs with other health issues. There are some issues which are specific to certain breeds. For example, the Dachshund is prone to slipped discs, and a harness is a safer choice for them. 
  • A harness prevents your dog from pulling on the leash. You can buy special, no-pull harnesses which cause an excited dog to stop and wait for their owner to catch up. 
  • A harness is useful for dogs with arthritis or orthopedic problems. Walking using a harness can be safer and more secure, and might help your dog to get up or balance. 

If you’re new to dog collars and harnesses, it’s important to make the choice with an awareness about the pros and cons of both. And while most of the FoTP team loves a harness for walking our dogs, others have found a harness is quite difficult to get used to. 

  • A harness can be uncomfortable. Many dogs don’t like harnesses, because they are quite weighty and cover a lot of the body. If your dog has been accustomed to roaming free and naked, it’s not surprising that a harness might be a bit of a shock! If you’ve got a double coated breed or a dog with an especially long coat, it’s going to feel unnatural for their fur to be trapped or tucked into harness straps. Tip: See if you can borrow your first harness from a friend, to see whether your dog can get used to the idea. 
  • It takes time to put on and off. It’s not convenient like a collar; a harness cannot be left on your dog. It’s also a bit more complex to attach than a simple collar.
  • A harness can get tangled. Because it is large, a harness covers a lot of skin which can become irritated, especially behind the front legs, and the fastenings can pull on a long-haired coat, creating tangled fur. 
  • A harness is not suitable for swimming. If your dog loves to dive straight into the river, they shouldn’t be in a harness. The straps of the harness can snag on logs, branches, or unseen debris underwater, causing injury or even putting your dog into difficulty. 
  • A harness doesn’t carry information. Unlike the collar, some harnesses don’t have a ring to attach a name-tag. If your dog gets lost wearing their harness there might not be any visible information to help people locate the owner. 

If your dog is a brachycephalic breed or has greater risk of tracheal, spinal, or orthopedic problems, try replacing their collar with a harness as early as possible. For other dogs, the decision rests with the owner, and will largely depend on your walking and training style. You might choose to use both – a collar and name-tag for everyday use, and a harness just for walking.