Dog Collar vs. Dog Harness: What's Better for Your Dog?

Dog Collar vs. Dog Harness: What's Better for Your Dog?

The dog collar vs. dog harness debate is an important one, because the choice can affect your dog’s health and safety. Here’s what you need to know.

Using the proper type of equipment for your dog is an important part of keeping them happy and healthy. This includes everything from their dog bed to their interactive toys to their leash, dog collar, and dog harness. The right arrangement will vary from dog to dog, and each option has its own benefits.

It’s important to make the right choice according to your dog’s needs so that your pet can be comfortable and safe. Here’s what to consider in the great dog collar vs. dog harness debate.

What to Consider When Choosing a Dog Collar vs. Dog Harness

Here are the factors to think about when you’re making a decision about whether your dog needs a collar or harness:

  • Your dog’s size
  • Your dog’s breed
  • Your dog’s temperament
  • General shape and fit

Your Dog’s Size Might Dictate Whether a Collar or Harness Is Better

While most dogs can be comfortable in either a harness or a collar if they are properly fitted, your dog’s size might help you choose which tool is better.

If you have an especially large dog that you struggle to keep calm during walks, a harness might give you that added level of control to make those experiences more pleasant and calm. Likewise, if you have a super small dog who is energetic and prone to pulling on their leashed collar, a harness can reduce the pulling behavior and make everyone a little more relaxed.

A dog sitting on the side of a pond with a harness on

Certain Breeds Do Better With Harnesses

The breed of your dog will be another factor to consider when choosing between a dog harness and a dog collar. Specifically, brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat faces, such as French Bulldogs) typically do much better with harnesses because collars put additional strain on their trachea.

Tracheal collapse and eye damage are real risks with these types of animals because their trachea is already more narrow than other breeds and they are prone to excitement and leash pulling.

Your Dog’s Temperament Is Important When Choosing a Dog Collar vs. Harness

How your dog behaves on walks will be an indicator that matters when choosing whether they need a dog collar or dog harness. While you’ll have to rely on other factors like size and breed when choosing the appropriate training tool for a puppy, you can use personality to inform your choice if your dog is already an adult.

Essentially, more excitable dogs will probably need a harness for added control and to prevent them from injuring themselves. More relaxed dogs can usually enjoy a walk with just a collar and leash.

The Shape of Your Dog Matters, Too

Every dog is unique, and your dog’s general shape can help you decide if a collar or harness is better for them. For example, some dogs have necks and heads that are about the same size, which makes it easy for them to slip out of traditional collars. Likewise, some dogs that are super barrel-chested will struggle to find a harness that fits correctly and comfortably.

When making the choice between dog collar vs. dog harness, you might have to shop around and let your dog try on a few of these accessories before deciding which is best for your needs.

The Benefits of Using a Dog Harness

Dog harnesses are a popular choice for many pet owners, and here’s why:

  • Dog harnesses may be safer for certain dogs
  • Harnesses can be used as a tool to discourage pulling
  • Harnesses are often more secure than collars

Harnesses Eliminate Some Risks Associated with Collars

One of the greatest benefits of using a dog harness over a dog collar is that harnesses can prevent injury and discomfort for your dog. Many dogs will pull and tug at their leash, which can cause tracheal collapse or other throat damage if they are wearing a collar. Harnesses prevent this injury, and they can also prevent back pain for some dogs.

Harnesses Can Be Great to Train Against Pulling on the Leash

If you have a dog who is prone to pulling, a properly fitted and used harness can be a useful tool in getting them to stop this behavior. If used improperly, though, it can actually encourage your dog to pull. Specifically, where you place the leash attachment is very important. Leash attachments on the back of the harness might trigger a pulling instinct on your dog, while a front latch will discourage this behavior.

Harnesses Provide Extra Security When Walking on a Leash

It will be much harder for your dog to escape from a harness than a collar when you are walking him. This added security can be especially important for families who live in busy, urban areas where they are walking their dogs on the street regularly.

Even if your dog’s collar is fitted properly, they might pull a major Houdini if they become scared or excited. Harnesses can give pet parents some peace of mind when they need to have complete control over their dog in order to keep them safe.

Helpful hint: Get a harness with reflective stitching for added safety, especially for walking at night!

Why Some Dog Owners Choose Dog Collars Instead of a Harness

Collars are the most common restraint and identification tool for pets because they are:

  • Affordable and simple
  • Best for puppy leash training
  • Available in a variety of styles and special functions

Dog Collars Are Affordable and Simple

Your dog needs a way to keep their identification tags on their body, and collars are the easiest and most simple way to achieve this end. Many dog owners simply don’t want to complicate this if they don’t have to. Collars are long-lasting, durable, and easy to put on and take off. For many pets, collars will work just fine.

Most Trainers Recommend Leash Training with a Dog Collar

It’s usually recommended that you leash train a puppy with a long lead and a collar rather than a harness. Unless your pet has specific needs around their breed, size, or temperament, as discussed above, a collar is the best way to instill proper leash-walking habits.

Collars Come in Many Styles and Special Designs

While collars can be extremely basic, there are also collars specifically designed for certain breeds or behaviors. For example, a martingale collar is designed to reduce slipping and ensure your dog’s collar, identification tags, and leash stay firmly attached.

Likewise, rolled collars are especially well-suited for adult dogs (never use rolled collars on puppies) with long hair that is prone to matting and tangling. Using a collar provides you with plenty of options for your dog’s specific needs.

A person walking their dog with a harness and leash

Tips for Leash Walking with a Dog Harness or Dog Collar

One of the primary purposes of a harness or collar, beyond carrying your dog’s identification tags, is as an attachment point for your pet’s leash. Regardless of whether you’ve chosen a collar or dog harness for your pet, leashes need to be attached and used properly. Here are our tips:

  • Collars and harnesses should be snug, not tight or loose
  • Choose the right type of collar or harness
  • Use proper leash training techniques

Properly Fitting a Dog Collar and Harness

Your pet’s collar or harness should not rub, pinch, or press too tightly on your dog’s chest or neck. For small dogs, this means you should be able to fit one finger beneath the collar or harness. For larger dogs, a two-finger space is appropriate.

Choose the Right Type of Collar or Harness for Your Needs

As we’ve mentioned in this guide, there are a variety of collars and harnesses for every shape and size of dog. Choosing the right one for your needs might take some time.

Harnesses typically come in three types: standard, front-clip, and step-in. A standard harness is a good place to start unless you are looking to reduce pulling behavior in your dog during leash walks, in which case you should get a front-clip harness. Step-in harnesses are great for pooches who don’t like having things put over their heads, and they also tend to be less likely to overheat your pet if you live in a hot climate, but they provide little in the way of control or pull reduction.

For collars, the standard flat-buckle collar works great for many dogs of different sizes and shapes. Martingale collars are perfect for breeds like Whippets and Greyhounds, who tend to be able to slip out of regular collars with ease. Rolled collars can be a great way to hold your dog’s identification tags and keep their fur from getting matted on tangled, but they shouldn’t be used for leash walking because they put too much pressure on your pet's trachea. Likewise, we don’t recommend prong collars because they can injure your dog.

Your Dog Needs to Be Taught to Walk on a Leash

Walking on a leash doesn’t come instinctually to dogs. They need to be trained to the behavior. Whether your dog is a puppy who is just learning to walk on a leash or an adult dog who is still getting used to this activity, you need to use proper leash training techniques to encourage your animal to behave.

It’s important that your pet can walk on a leash, even if they are able to play outside freely. The ability to walk on a leash can become useful in a situation where safety is a concern for your pet, so don’t forgo appropriate leash training.

The Dog Collar vs. Dog Harness Debate Is Personal

There are pros and cons for both dog collars and dog harnesses – what your pooch needs will depend on a variety of factors including their lifestyle, breed, size, and behavior. When making this choice for your pet, consider all of these factors, and don’t be afraid to try on a few different styles of collars and harnesses. Whatever you end up with, ensure your pet is comfortable, safe, and easily identifiable in case they get loose or lost.