Two Jack Russels. One wearing a collar and the other wearing a harness

Dog Collar Vs Harness -
Why Both Can Be Suitable

Every dog needs a collar, right? Well, not necessarily. In recent years, dog harnesses have become quite popular. There are many harness advocates that claim collars are cruel and bad for dogs. But is that really true?

Today we clarify all that dog collars vs harness business.

golden retriever puppy not wearing a harness or collar yet.

Dog Collars

When one pictures a dog, usually they have a collar on. The most common kind of dog collar is a ‘flat’ collar, something that resembles a belt with a buckle. These collars can vary in thickness, and can be made from different materials. Leather and polyester are the most common choices, but there is no limit.

Basic collars like this are not just an accessory, they are quite useful. First of all, of course, you might want to attach the lead to the collar when you are going for a walk with your canine (we’ll get to cases where this is not a good idea below). However, this is not the only reason why a nice, simple collar is useful.

The second reason is the fact that a collar can be used to attach a name tag and your personal info to your dog. You never know when your pet might run away or get lost, and having such a tag can make it much easier for the dog to find the way back (with the help of other people, of course).

Finally, a collar makes it quite easy to take control of your dog in unexpected situations. If the dog starts misbehaving, you are responsible for restraining them, and that’s much easier with a collar on.

Of course, a harness could be used for most of these things too. However, there is one big difference - a harness shouldn’t be worn for more than a couple of hours per day. A well-fitting collar, on the other hand, is quite comfortable. Most dogs get used to collars and not even notice they are wearing one. It is still a good idea to take the collar off from time to time (at night for example) to let the skin around the neck breathe, but collars can practically be worn all day.

One case where this is not a good idea is with brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds (1). These dogs (Including Bulldogs, Pugs, and a few others) are genetically predisposed to have breathing issues. To not make their life even harder, it’s a good idea to keep their neck completely free - therefore no collars.

So far we have talked about standard collars, but there are a few different types of collars that are a bit more sketchy. For example, there are “choke chains” that tighten around the dog's neck and pinch collars (also called prong collars) that have prongs that dig into the neck. While these may sometimes be used by trainers on very strong dogs, it’s best to avoid them in everyday situations. These types of collars can cause injury, and at the very least they are quite unpleasant to dogs (2).

A gentler version with a similar mechanism is a martingale collar. This type of collar tightens around the neck - but has a mechanism that stops it from tightening too much. This can be helpful in preventing escape artists from getting out of the collar.

Advantages of Collars

  • Easier to put on
  • More comfortable for the dog and can be worn all day
  • Added security: a collar can hold a name tag with your info in case the dog gets lost

Drawbacks of Collars

  • There is some potential of strangulation and neck injury, especially with dogs who like to pull on the leash
  • Definitely a no-no for brachycephalic dogs and dogs with any kind of respiratory injury

Dog Harnesses

Dog harnesses used to be common primarily for working dogs, such as sled dogs or service dogs. However, in the last couple of decades pet parents have been discovering the benefits of everyday dog harnesses. So what makes a harness better than a collar?

First, a harness can be more comfortable for walking and various sports activities where a lead is still involved, such as running. A good-fitting harness wraps gently around the dog’s body, distributing the pressure to all the right spots.

If a dog is pulling on the lead, a harness will neutralise the impact and make the pulling harmless, whereas a collar would dig into the dog’s neck. Therefore harnesses are a great tool for getting puppies and young canines used to the lead.

However, a harness should be used in the right way. By using a front-clip harness, you could train even the most stubborn pullers. However, if you let the dog get used to pulling, a harness could make that comfortable and the behaviour could persist. In any case, once a dog learns to walk on a lead without pulling, both a harness and a collar should be fine - it becomes a matter of personal preference.

One case where a harness is definitely a better option is, as we mentioned, with flat-faced breeds. A harness with the chest strap placed low is optimal for these dogs.

Related: Best No Pull Dog Harness Australia

On the other hand, there are dogs with non-standard body shapes, such as those with barrel-shaped chests (and any other body-shape variation you could imagine). Sometimes, it can be a nightmare finding a harness that fits well for such dogs. Finding the right fit is key for a harness to be safe and comfortable (3), so if that’s not possible it could be that a collar is a better option.

Advantages of Harnesses

  • Offers better control
  • Keeps the tension away from the throat when the dog pulls
  • Could discourage pulling
  • A great training tool for puppies

Drawbacks of Harnesses

  • Shouldn’t be worn for long periods of time
  • Some dogs have a hard time getting used to a harness
  • Skilled escape artists can wiggle out of harnesses too

Final Thoughts

So what is better - a collar or a harness? There is no clear answer. Some breeds and characters seem to be more suited towards harnesses, and some towards collars, but even that is no guarantee. You are the one who knows your dog best, so don’t be afraid to make the decision. Both options are usually fine if used right!

Consider using a collar if:

Your dog knows how to walk on a lead without pulling. Collars are much more lightweight than harnesses, so there is no reason for a dog not to wear one if pulling is not an issue.

Your canine has a non-standard body shape. For some dogs, it seems that no harness fits right. A collar might be better than an uncomfortable harness.

Your dog is an escape artist. Martingale collars, specifically, are a good solution for escape artists.

Consider using a harness if:

Your canine companion is a heavy puller. When a dog pulls hard on a collar, they could injure their own necks. A harness is the safer way to go until the pulling is under control.

Your canine is very large and/or strong. With a harness, it’s much easier to take control of the dog.

Your dog is very small. Tiny dogs can slip out of collars easily and it’s just awkward when you try to attach a lead to this tiny collar.

For brachycephalic breeds. Flat-faced dogs need their neck area completely free.

References
  1. Coates, Jennifer. February 10, 2021. “Why Flat-Faced Breeds Need Dog Harnesses Instead of Collars”. PetMD. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
    https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/why-flat-faced-breeds-need-dog-harnesses-instead-collars
  2. “Pinch collars and why they can compromise dog welfare”. RSPCA. Retrieved April 20, 2021. https://www.rspca.org.uk/-/blog_pinch_collars
  3. “Surprising Dog Harness Dangers to Avoid”. PetMD. Retrieved April 20, 2021.https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/surprising-dog-harness-dangers-avoid
Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is a dog lover & anthropologist. She enjoys writing content that will actually help people understand their dogs better. Eloisa is able to use her expertise to write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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