Web Only Article December 10, 2017

Dog Collars or Harnesses: Which is Better?

Which is a safer option for your dog: a collar or a harness? Can dogs wear a harness and a collar at the same time? Should they stay on at all times?

You may see a lot more dogs on the street today wearing harnesses rather than having their leashes attached to collars. Are harnesses safer for dogs than collars? Should you abandon your dog's traditional collar altogether?

The fact is, your dog should have both a collar and a harness for the most effective training. The harness is the appropriate place for attaching your leash - it keeps your dog securely connected to you while eliminating strain on their neck. Harnesses are hard for jittery dogs to slip out of, and they increase the walker's control over where the dog moves.

happy beach dog

© Victoria L. Almgren | Dreamstime

This is a back-clip harness: fine for a dog who knows how to walk on-leash, but not ideal for a dog who pulls.

Whole Dog Journal believes collars are a great way to keep licenses and other identification tags on dogs. Harnesses should only be worn during walks and light exercise, so having your dog also wear a loose-fitting collar (2 of your fingers between neck and collar) for identification purposes is a good idea.

There are many types of collars AND harnesses on the market, and some serve specific purposes. The front-clip harness, for example, is supposedly the best kind of restraint tool for a dog who pulls on the leash during walks. Head halters, on the other hand, give little control to the walker, and should really only be used by professional dog handlers in specific situations, like in show rings.

beaglle with collar and harness

© Brett Critchley | Dreamstime

This beagle is wearing a harness for his walk, and a flat-buckle collar for IDs.

Both collars and harnesses should always be taken off during any rough play - whether with other dogs, or roughhousing in the backyard. Collars are known to get caught on things, and could seriously hurt your dog. Harnesses, too, should be taken off in play. They may not strangle your dog, but they can still catch on objects or cause chafing from extended use.

Collars and Harnesses for Dogs Compared 

  PRO CON
COLLARS Collars are a comfortable and secure way to keep ID tags and licenses on the dog at all times. Some dogs may become experts at ducking out of their collars; broad-necked or small-headed dogs have a higher risk of escape.
Most dogs do not seem to notice wearing a simple flat-buckle collar (WDJ recommends fitting collars with room for 2 fingers between), whether on-leash or off. Collars can be hard to fit properly to super tiny dogs.
Collars come in a huge variety of types and materials; some kinds of dog collars serve specific needs, like for duckers or more safety. Collars are known to cause thyroid and/or trachea damage to dogs who pull
Some collars detach under generalized pressure, eliminating the risk of suffocation in an accident. It is possible for collars to get caught on objects during play or in a dog fight, and may injure or suffocate the dog wearing it; collars are also known to get caught in the jaws of other dogs during rough play.
 
HARNESSES Harnesses create less pull-stress on both the dog and human during leashed walks. Harnesses should still always be removed while the dog is inside, or playing with other dogs.
Front-clip harnesses have shown to be most effective when training dogs not to pull on their leashes. Harnesses can chafe skin around a dogs' "elbows" if worn excessively.
Dog harnesses tend to come in a greater variety of sizes than collars; there may be better options for extra small or extra large dogs. Often harnesses are not adjusted to fit properly; if not fitted correctly, harnesses may cause the dog discomfort.
In the event of a dog's harness getting caught on something, the dog is safe from hanging. A harness that is improperly fitted may actually inhibit movement and alter the dog's natural gait.

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