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.

happy beach dog
© 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.

beaglle with collar and harness
© Brett Critchley | Dreamstime

Both 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.

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.

9 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.

  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.

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