The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Dog Harness vs Collar: Which is Better?

By Lea Jaratz

lab holding collar in mouth

It can be overwhelming walking down the dog walking accessories aisle at your big box pet store, and even more confusing when you start looking online. There are so many opinions on which is better, harness or collar? Throw in extra terms like martingale, training collar, prong, pinch, slip, and so on, and it can be enough to make you give up on the walk before you even get out the door.



So, which is actually better? A collar or a harness? The answer: it depends.

In reality, the best dog walking accessory is going to be the safest, most effective, and most comfortable for your dog. Finding what’s right might take a little bit of trial and error, but, in many cases, the right item can be a game-changer come walk time. I’ve walked my share of pullers, and have some pro-tips for finding what might work best for you and your dog.

Collars

Walk or not, every dog should wear a collar with ID attached. These can be cheap nylon collars that you find at a drug store, but you can always go for a more luxury model in leather, patterned, or other designer styles. The key to a collar is to make sure it’s sturdy enough that it does not break when a dog pulls against it and that it can be loose enough to fit 2 fingers underneath it, but not so loose that a dog slips out of it.

For wearing around the house, some dogs may be more comfortable with self-adjusting collars, like the martingale or slip collar. These hang loose until the leash is clipped to the buckle, but do not pinch or poke the dog. However, because they are loose they are more prone to get caught and pose a risk of strangulation in the crate, on fence posts, or during rough play, so use this option carefully.

Many pet parents are just fine walking their dog on a collar alone. Personally, I feel traditional collars are best suited to dogs with good walking manners, as a strong puller won’t be slowed down much by a collar.

Which is the best dog-walking training collar?

No collar by itself is going to safely or comfortably stop a dog from pulling on a walk. However, if you’re willing to put a little time into clicker training your dog, a martingale is a great, comfortable collar. Because this collar hangs loose when the dog is not pulling, it reinforces that they can be more comfortable when they stop pulling.

Harnesses

There seems to be almost infinite styles of harnesses made of different materials with different forms. But, in essence, most fit into one of two categories, each with their own advantages:

Back-clip Harness

Back clip is what you see most often on small dogs. That’s because they’re really only to take the pressure off of the dog’s trachea. They’re easy to slip on, comfortable, and usually keep the leash from getting tangled around the dog’s legs. However, they do very little to prevent a dog from pulling. In fact, they may even make it easier for a strong dog to pull harder, without any pressure on the neck or throat to slow them down.

Front-clip Harness

Front-clip harnesses feel a little awkward at first because it puts the D-ring for the leash clip in the center of the dog’s chest.  So, they may get the leash tangled in their legs a bit more often. However, for the dog who thinks the walk is a sprint, instead of a marathon, the front-clip harness is a great tool for deterring pulling and lunging. They also put no pressure on the dog’s neck, instead, they reduce some of the power in a dog’s strong front legs.

Which Dog-walking Training Harness is Best?

I have a 65 Lb. Pit Bull who thinks he is part sled dog. His pulling made it dangerous for me to walk him until I got an Easy Walk from PetSafe. It saved me from sore arms from being yanked down the sidewalk and made it so my dog got walks much more often. In my opinion, it’s the best dog-walking training harness.

There are a few other training collars that you may have heard about. Some have a less than stellar reputation, with good reason.

Are Head Collars Safe?

You’ve probably seen dogs walked with what looks like a collar around their face. This head collar, commonly known by the brand name Gentle Leader, was all the rage with trainers in the early 2000s. However, many dogs resist the sensation of having it around their face so much that they constantly try to rub it off or refuse to walk altogether, possibly hurting themselves in the process. With some training, it may work. But most trainers now recognize that they’re too uncomfortable for dogs, negating most benefits.

Are Choke Collars Bad for Dogs?

Many of us grew up with dogs who wore choke collars, those chain metal loop style collars. However, this collar is going by the wayside as we start to know better and do better. If a dog refuses to stop pulling, no amount of restricting their throat is safe. They can do permanent harm to a dog’s airway, and do very little to prevent a dog from pulling. If you’re truly struggling to get your dog to walk safely, speak with a positive reinforcement trainer, and skip the choke collar. It’ll be money much better spent.

Luckily, you can take your dog with you to try on a few different collar and lead styles. Talk with a trainer or even the dog walkers at your local animal shelter for recommendations on the best types of collars or harnesses to help you walk your dog safely and comfortably.

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