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?

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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 dogs to slip out of, and they increase the walker’s control over where the dog moves.

Dog Collars or Harnesses
© Victoria L. Almgren | Dreamstime

Whole Dog Journal believes collars are a great way to keep licenses and other identification tags on dogs – not necessarily for attaching a leash. For walking, we prefer a well-fitting harness.

There are many types of collars AND harnesses on the market, and some serve specific purposes. The front-clip harness, for example, is a useful tool for a dog who pulls on the leash during walks. Head halters can be helpful for helping control a dog who pulls hard and is being handled by a physically frail or small person, but many dogs find them highly aversive. In this case, a consultation with an experienced, positive-reinforcement-based trainer would be advisable.

Dog Collars or Harnesses
© Brett Critchley | Dreamstime

Both dog collars and harnesses should always be taken off during any 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 entangle your dog’s playmate.

Dog Collars and Harnesses for Dogs Compared

PROCON
COLLARSCollars 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.
HARNESSESHarnesses 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.

16 COMMENTS

  1. If you have a strong or very large dog, a harness gives you much better control and is also easier on your arms and back. Very small dogs can be prone to injury from pulling or tugging on the leash. A harness disperses pressure over a larger area of his body, reducing strain on his neck and back.

    • If your dog slips out of the head harness you might want to try the body harness instead. Some dogs are sensitive to having something on their face. The body harness would be less restrictive feeling and no strain on the head and neck.

  2. I never thought about how a dog should have a collar and a harness in order for it to be trained effectively. My wife and I want to get a corgi this summer. We’ll need to train him daily so I’ll get him a collar and harness that can adjust as he grows.

  3. Firstly, I train dogs to government requirements to be a certified Service / Guide Dog. Any comments or recommendations of those who not ‘rea’ trainers should be ignored.

    The use of harnesses is relatively new and initially presented as ‘safer’ for the dog’s neck. Think. Do you know any dog that sustained a neck injury from a leash? No, you don’t. Training a dog to heel is one of the most important inputs toward training and using a collar is ‘exceedingly’ more effective than a harness. Fact. Dogs have been trained with collars for hundreds (thousands?) of years and never a peep about ‘neck injuries’ being a measurable hazard.

    When a dog owner chooses to use a harness it is almost always due to their ‘thinking’ it would make their dog more comfortable and ‘not hurt their neck’. Hard to argue / convince them otherwise, but most owners, after observe how my dog acts (trained) and accept the advice to use a collar for training to walk / heel (control) them.

    Just like many owners feed their dog a raw food diet, there is not a veterinarian on the planet that would recommend such! The ‘store-bought food’ has all the nutrients required, whereas the raw food diet should be left to those who rely upon harnesses for training. Ignorance loves company.

    You will never see a police dog or working (not a Guide) dog wearing / being controlled via a harness and there is good reason to for doing so.

    Next time you are at a dog park and see a dog owner being pulled off their feet – take note of whether a harness is involved. The best evidence for each and every one.

    • Collars can cause neck injuries. First hand experience: My 80 pound Ridgeback Mix injured his neck when he was 2 years old and lunged after a squirrel while I was walking him on a leash attached to his collar. He yelped when he hit the end of the leash. He lunged sideways so the brunt of the force was on the side of his neck, and pulled me over. I am 150lbs and athletic and my shoulder was also in pain for weeks after, but nothing compared to my dog. He was in pain for weeks. Never walked him on a collar again and he was often neck sensitive. X-rays were initially clear but later in his life showed resulting neck and spine arthritis in the same injured spot. Never walk a dog using their collar. He was highly trained to walk in a heel but the squirrel under his nose trumped all his training.

  4. To “EyeTrainDogs: YES, dogs can be injured by a collar! My CKC is currently being treated for nerve pain coming from her neck. Use of a collar is suspected in the injury. I know you are proud that you train dogs “to government requirements,” but you are not a Vet.

  5. Always remove a harness before your dog plays with other dogs. My dog has twice gotten her paw caught in another dog’s harness (at the chest area) and then they’re at each other but can’t separate. It’s terrifying.

  6. I’ve worked as a dog walker for 13 years. Any client who expects me to use a harness to walk their dog can find another walker. I’m tired and sick of injuries being dragged by every dog I’ve ever walked who wore a harness. They are the worst gimmick ever sold.

  7. EyeTrainDogs – what a crock… dog’s neck broken at impact by another dog running through it’s lead. It’s quite common. That has nothing to do with training.

    And raw diet – just because someone’s a vet doesn’t mean they are a qualified nutritionist. Widely recognised now that a raw diet is best for a dog. Christ, what century are you living in?!

  8. Please remember that we are not all professional dog trainers! I would love to walk my GBGV on a flat collar, but have yet to train him to even consider overlooking his hound nose in favor of something I want him to do. If he sees a wild animal he will start to pull, even in his harness. But he does it less, which means the nerve damage to my shoulders is less aggravated. I did the best I could, but I’m not a professional, so he still pulls on his leash sometimes – BUT – I trained him to be my service dog, and he’s amazing at it.

  9. I know many dogs who thrive on a raw diet, but it must be done with education. Many manufactured kibble diets are crap. I feed a combo. As for collars never causing neck damage? My father-in-law was a vet who hated choke chains especially but even flat collars if dogs pull enough can cause tracheal damage. The most important thing is to train loose leash walking right from the beginning, no matter what kind of collar or harness used. I prefer a T harness with a front clip for loose leash walking in a back clip for training tracking and scentwork.

  10. Our training with our Huskies has always been based around full-support style (back attach) harnesses. Trying to train a puppy of a stubborn pulling breed not to pull via the traditional “be a tree” method takes a LONG time, and you need to balance that with the equally critical need to burn off energy and socialize them to different situations. We use a limited-slip martingale flat collar for training; but when we put on their harness we let them (in moderation) pull, forge out in front, act like loons, etc… In all cases so far (five dogs and counting) they have caught on (with varying speed) and reached a point where they walk calmly on any flat neck collar, though we still use the harnesses for backcountry hikes because it is safer. We can lift them by it if they get in peril or we need to traverse something they can’t without an assist. This also helps reduce the confusion for when we WANT them to pull in an x-back sledding or skijoring harness. They already get the context.

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