Dog Harness vs Dog Collar: Which is Right for Your Dog?

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dog harness vs dog collar

It seems like not too long ago, there was only one option when you wanted to take your dog out: you attached a leash to his collar, and away you went.

Nowadays, though, there are plenty of options for taking Fido for a walk. You can still use a regular leash and collar, of course, or you can use a harness, a head halter, or something else entirely. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re living in the Stone Age if all you’ve got is a plain old collar wrapped around your pooch’s neck.

But are all these newfangled gadgets any better than the trusty old collar? Below, we examined the differences between collars and harnesses, so you can use the one that’s best for your dog.

A quick word before we get started, however: this discussion is about which is better for controlling and managing your dog while out in public. Even if you use a harness or other gadget, your dog should still wear a collar, and that collar should have pertinent information like his name, address, and license number on it.

Dog Collars

How Do They Work?

Dog collars come in a wide array of styles, but one thing they all have in common is that they exert pressure on a single location on your dog: namely, his neck. This is fine if your dog is well-behaved, but if he’s rambunctious or prone to pulling, it could cause an injury, especially if you have to yank on the leash to control him.

dog with collar

Some collars, like prong collars, take this one step further by adding even more pressure on the dog’s neck. These collars have prongs that dig into the dog’s neck when the leash is pulled on, pinching their skin and causing a bit of pain. The idea is to get the dog’s attention and discourage him from whatever negative behavior he was previously engaged in.

Not Recommended for Training

Some people feel that prong collars (and their cousins, the choke collar) can be useful as training tools, while others think they’re barbaric and cruel. We don’t recommend their use, but if you plan on using one anyway, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing.

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Comfort is Key

While regular collars can be less comfortable for your dog when they’re tugged on, they do tend to be more unobtrusive for extended periods, which is why they’re usually worn non-stop. They’re also much easier to get on and take off, especially if your dog likes to squirm.

dog with collar and leash

If you have an older dog, a collar might be the best choice, especially if you haven’t been able to acclimate him to using a harness. Elderly mutts are less likely to put the kind of pressure on a collar that could cause injury, and they may find wearing one to be more comfortable than climbing into a harness.

Pros
  • Inexpensive and easy to find
  • Simple to use
  • Comfortable for everyday wear
  • Holds identification and other important information
  • Dogs get used to them quickly
  • Easy to take off and put on
Cons
  • Can cause neck injuries
  • Don’t offer much control over unruly dogs
  • Some dogs can slip out of them if not tight enough
  • Can get snagged on objects or other collars
  • Dogs can get tangled when used with leashes
  • Do little to prevent jumping

Dog Harnesses

Just like with collars, there are quite a few different types of harnesses to choose from.

How Do They Work?

Most use a variation of the same basic design. There’s a strap of material across the chest and back, as well as another across part of the belly, and you attach a leash to a D-ring somewhere on the material.

Where that D-ring is located often dictates what kind of harness it is. Front-clip harnesses have the ring in front, usually on the dog’s chest. This is good for pooches that pull, as you can easily redirect their momentum without putting a lot of pressure on sensitive parts of their anatomy. This also makes them good for training.

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Known Issues

The problem with front-clip harnesses is that your dog can get his front legs tangled in the leash easily, so walking on it takes a bit of getting used to. Also, if your dog is extremely hyperactive or aggressive, it could be difficult to control, as you can end up with an angry dog that’s spinning in circles towards its target, rather than being fully restrained (trust us, it’s not as hilarious as it sounds).

Back-clip harnesses have the D-ring on the back (we know, it’s confusing — we’ll try to go slowly). This keeps it clear of the dog’s limbs, so you shouldn’t have to watch your dog constantly fall over itself like one of the AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back. Putting the D-ring further back also gives you more control over him if things get out of hand.

dogs with harness

However, this can actually encourage pulling. If anything, it makes the dog think he has to pull harder to get where he wants to go, so it often exacerbates the problem. If you’re very small and your dog is very large, you could find yourself getting dragged all around the neighborhood. It’s also not ideal for stopping surprise lunges, so if your dog likes to unleash sneak attacks on other animals, you might need something that gives you more warning and control (and, of course, more training classes and socialization).

Maybe a Dual-Clip Harness is the Right Choice

If you’re not sure which would be better for you, you can compromise with a dual-clip harness. It has rings in the front and back, so you can use the one that’s best suited for the situation at hand. Most often have handles on the top of the harness as well, allowing you to get full control over your dog if he gets aggressive.

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Dual-clip harnesses are typically more expensive than the other two kinds, and they often use webbing, which can irritate a dog’s skin with extended use. Also, they can become a crutch if used regularly, fooling owners into thinking they have better control over their dog than they actually do. This can be disastrous if they ever switch to a different harness or a regular collar.

Acclimate Your Pup to the Harness

sleeping puppy with harness

Putting a harness on is a much more involved process than attaching a collar, so it’s best to get your dog used to wearing one when he’s still a puppy. Also, if your dog loses his mind when he realizes it’s time to go for a walk, it may take a few minutes to get him to hold still long enough for you to get the harness attached.

Pros
  • Can be valuable training aids
  • Give you better control over unruly or aggressive dogs
  • Distribute pressure better to reduce risk of injury
  • Won’t strangle dog if they get caught on something
  • Reduces risk of tangling in leash
  • Useful for stopping jumping
Cons
  • Usually more expensive than collars
  • Some models may encourage pulling
  • Can be difficult to put on
  • May be uncomfortable if not fitted properly
  • Not ideal for continuous use
  • Often have no place to attach identification and other important documents

Which is Better for You?

So, it’s time to answer the million-dollar question: which one is better for your dog? First of all, you should know that a million dollars is way too much to spend on a collar or harness. Secondly…it depends.

Ideally, you should use both, unless your dog is very old or has other health issues that would make using one of them inadvisable. This allows you to keep all of the important documentation on your pet at all times, while also giving you superior control over the dog while on walks.

If your dog is extremely laid-back or rarely leaves the house, you can probably get away with just a collar. However, if your pup occasionally gets out of hand, you should train him to use a harness. It’s the best way to control him while in public, allowing you to take him outside safely and with confidence.

Regardless of which one you choose, you still need to spend time training and socializing your dog, as neither one is a miracle cure for bad behavior. With the right guidance and attention, however, your dog should flourish while wearing either one.