Harness vs. collar: is there a "right" choice?

October 21, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
dog collar and dog harness

Ever felt like walking your dog is less of a leisurely stroll and more of a test of wills? If you're nodding along, you're in good company.

The long-standing debate over whether to use a dog collar or a harness has never been more relevant. And whether you're a rookie puppy parent or a seasoned dog owner pondering a gear update, you've likely encountered this dilemma.

So, let's put on our walking shoes (or, should we say, leash up?) as we delve into the advantages and drawbacks of each option. Hopefully, by the end, you'll be able to land on an option that helps you reap all the benefits of taking your dog out for a jaunt.

Let's get started.

A quick note first: an ID tag is key

woman doing yoga with dog

Whether you pick a harness or collar for walking your dog, it's crucial not to overlook the importance of a humble ID tag.

Veterinarians and pet experts generally recommend keeping an ID tag on your dog at all times, which means you might need a collar even if you opt for a harness on walks.

Think of it as a second layer of identification, complementing your pup's microchip. Both are key components in making sure your four-legged friend stays safe and can quickly be returned to you if lost!

OK, now let's dive into the world of collars and harnesses.

The classic dog collar: pros and cons

An old elderly English Springer Spaniel dog at 14 years age, Happy and enjoying life.

When it comes to walking your dog, the collar has long been the staple of pet ownership. Simple and straightforward, it's often the first piece of gear new dog owners think to buy.

Collars come in various materials like nylon, leather, and even eco-friendly options like hemp. But while collars may be convenient and ubiquitous, they may not be the best choice for all dogs as the main restraint on a walk, especially those with a penchant for pulling or specific health issues.

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Here are some pros and cons.

Pros of dog collars:

  • Simple and Convenient: Collars are user-friendly, ideal for a quick on-and-off (potty breaks, anyone?)

  • Visibility: A wide array of styles and colors for better visibility.

  • Training: Some trainers argue that some types of collars offer better control for leash training than harnesses.

Cons of dog collars:

  • Pressure Points: A study published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association showed that pressure from collars can cause harm to a dog's trachea, especially in smaller breeds or those with respiratory issues.

  • Pulling: For dogs that pull, collars may exacerbate the problem by concentrating force around the neck.

The rise of the dog harness: pros and cons

Cute hunting dog laying down relaxing in the forest, smelling the environment

The dog harness has risen in popularity over the last few years, becoming especially recommended for specific needs like brachycephalic breeds, small dogs, or dogs with respiratory or orthopedic issues.

A harness fits around your dog's chest and back, which is beneficial for distributing the force when your dog pulls, potentially reducing strain on the neck and spine.

With options ranging from no-pull designs to padded adventure harnesses, this category offers a wide variety of choices to suit both your needs and those of your dog, so pros and cons may not apply to every option available.

Pros of harnesses:

  • Better Control: Some studies have hypothesized that some types of harnesses may provide owners with better control over their dog's movements.

  • Safety: Harnesses are safer for dogs prone to pulling or those with certain medical conditions (or delicate tracheas!).

  • Discourages Pulling: Some harness designs actively discourage pulling (more on that below).

Cons of harnesses:

  • Complexity: Can be more challenging to put on, especially for an excited dog.

  • Cost: They're usually more expensive than a collar.

  • Potentially injurious (based on type): Studies are not conclusive, but there are a few that state certain types of harnesses may "contribute to long-term repetitive strain, leading to or predisposing an injury."

So, who wins the collar vs. harness showdown?

If you're waiting for a drumroll and a definitive winner, well, you're barking up the wrong tree.

Truth be told, the "best" choice varies from dog to dog and owner to owner. Whether it's a collar, a harness, or a specialized option like a Martingale or head collar, the ultimate goal is your dog's comfort and safety—and let's not forget your peace of mind.

That said, here are some tips on choosing either one, so you can test them out and figure out what works for you and your dog!

6 tips for choosing a great collar or harness

A low shot image of two dalmatian dogs leading through the long grass on their evening walk through the countryside.

Choosing between a collar and a harness (or even a specific type within those categories) is a big decision, but it doesn't have to be a stressful one. Here are some tips to wag about as you weigh your options:

  1. Consult your vet. A quick check-up can reveal any underlying health issues that might make one option more suitable than the other. For example, dogs with respiratory issues or trachea sensitivity (like Pomeranians) may benefit more from a harness.

  2. Know your dog's behavior: Some dogs are natural pullers, while others love to stop and sniff every leaf. Choose the option that best matches your dog's walking style for a more enjoyable experience for both of you.

  3. Consider your activity level. Planning to hike mountain trails or just stroll around the neighborhood? The extent of your outdoor adventures can influence your choice. Rugged harnesses with multiple attachment points may be more suited for active outings (like the Ruffwear one above), while a simple collar might suffice for leisurely walks. And side note: if you're heading into the great outdoors, make sure your pup's keeping creepy crawlies at bay with a good preventative medication (that's where a Wellness plan comes in).

  4. Test and adjust: No matter what you choose, make sure to adjust it for a proper fit. An ill-fitting collar or harness can cause discomfort or even injury. Most products come with fitting guidelines, so take a moment to read through them.

  5. Safety first: Especially when trying out a new type of collar or harness, keep initial walks short and stay vigilant to any signs of discomfort or distress from your dog. Observe how they react to the new gear and make adjustments as needed.

  6. Think long-term. While it might be tempting to go for the cheapest option, consider the durability and comfort of the product. Investing in quality gear can save you money—and headaches—in the long run.

Top harness and collar picks for dogs that pull

If you're dealing with a canine that thinks every walk is a race, here are some options, complete with approximate pricing to fit different budgets.

Great Harness Options

The PetSafe Easy Walk Harness

teal colored Petsafe easy walk harness on white dog

So, you've got a dog that pulls like they're in the canine version of the Olympics? Enter the PetSafe brand's Easy Walk Harness.

This front-clip number is designed with pullers in mind. It gently redirects your dog's attention back to you when they try to forge ahead, making walks more of a tandem effort than a test of wills.

It's also pretty straightforward to put on, so you won't feel like you're solving a Rubik's cube before every walk. It's also adjustable and usually comes with some comfy padding, making it a snug yet comfortable fit. I personally used this for my Pomeranian, and it definitely worked during her training period.

  • Price Range: $20-$30

  • Features: Front-leash design to discourage pulling.

  • Why It's Great: This harness is often recommended by veterinary professionals and is priced reasonably for the benefits it offers.

The Ruffwear Front Range

Ruffwear harness

If you're an avid hiker and want your pooch to join in the fun—or just like well-made products that can take a beating—take a look at the Ruffwear Front Range Harness. It has two leash attachment points, one on the back for casual strolls and another on the chest for training or added control.

  • Price Range: $40-$50

  • Features: dual attachment points for everyday walks and more active outings.

  • Why It's Great: Though a bit on the pricier side, its durability and versatility make it a solid investment, especially for those who love outdoor adventures with their pups.

Solid Collar Options

Mighty Paw Martingale Collar

Mighty paw martingale collar

Martingale collars offer a bit of a hybrid experience between traditional flat collars and corrective collars. Originally designed for dogs with necks that are larger than their heads (like greyhounds), Martingale collars have gained wider acceptance for their safety and efficacy.

The collar is composed of two loops: the larger loop is slipped onto the dog's neck, and the leash is attached to the smaller loop. When the dog tries to pull, the tension on the leash pulls the small loop taut, which makes the large loop tighten around the neck. But here's the key—the tightening is limited to a preset level, preventing choking. It's not right for all dogs, so definitely consult your vet first.

The Mighty Paw Martingale Collar is a good option. It's made with premium-quality nylon and reflective stitching, making it durable and visible for those late-night walks. (It's also like $11, so there's that.)

  • Price Range: $10-$20

  • Features: Tightens for correction without choking.

  • Why It's Great: It's an affordable middle-ground option for those who want some level of correction but are concerned about choking risks.

Gentle Leader Head Collar

Gentle leader head collar on lab dog

If you've got a pooch who's a bit headstrong (see what I did there?), a head collar could be your saving grace. One brand that often leads the pack in this category is PetSafe (yet again!), and their Gentle Leader.

The leash attaches under the muzzle, giving you control over your dog's head and, by extension, their direction. When your dog tries to pull, the design of the head collar redirects their head back towards you, naturally discouraging pulling. Again, check with your vet before using a head collar or other restraint for walks.

  • Price Range: $15-$25

  • Features: It controls the head and, by extension, the body but requires an acclimation period.

  • Why It's Great: For those willing to invest the time to get their dog accustomed to it, a head collar can offer excellent control at a moderate price point.

The final woof on dog collars vs. harnesses

The ideal choice is as individual as your dog's personality and your own lifestyle.

Whether you go for a traditional collar, a high-tech harness, or something in between like a Martingale or head collar, the key is to prioritize your dog's well-being and your own ease of use.

So take a deep breath, pet parents. The perfect choice is whatever makes you and your furry companion happiest and safest on your walks together!

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.