Is a dog harness better than a collar? Can’t decide between a collar or a harness? Behold the ultimate guide to what’s best for your dog.
Collars are great for dogs that don’t pull. But if you have ever walked a real ‘tugger’ then you will know from personal experience that it feels and sounds horrible. Both unpleasant for the walker and constant worry about the health effects it may be having on the dog.
So surely a harness is a better option? First up, let’s take a look at training.
In an ideal world, it is best if your dog doesn’t pull in the first place. Good early training can teach your dog to respect the collar and lead and walk to heel with only a light tension on the lead or leash.
For established pullers, there are collars that are designed specifically to constrict and cause discomfort when the dog pulls. But these are no substitute for good handling and training and can cause injuries in their own right.
Tips for stopping your dog from pulling
Here are some simple self-help tips that you can employ to try and reduce your dog pulling on the lead:-
1. Let them run around before training
If your dog is particularly boisterous and excitable then let them have a good run off the lead. This expends some energy before you try and teach them to behave on the lead
2. Gradually introduce the lead
If your dog still becomes excitable at the sight of the lead then it is worth spending a few days just introducing that. Then trying to insist on calm behaviour before you even try to do anything else. Reward all good behaviour with a treat
3. Begin by walking slowly on a loose lead
The plan is once you have the dog quietly accepting the attachment of the lead, to encourage the dog to walk slowly on a loose lead. If you go too fast then it will simply encourage the trait you are trying to erase. Walking slowly on a slack lead should be rewarded – so plenty of short intervals interspersed with reward
4. Stop when they pull. Tell them to wait.
If the dog pulls, stop. Take a step back or turn around. Ask him to return to your side and wait, this behaviour is not rewarded
Unfortunately, dogs are like excited children. They want to reach the object of their desire; be it the beach or the park, as quickly as possible. It is totally contrary to their instincts to wait and walk slowly. A dog that is an established puller will be challenging to free from this habit. These dogs may need the support and intervention of a good dog trainer.
Training is important. Many dogs will still pull even on a harness. Don’t assume that swapping a collar for a harness will immediately cure the problem.
Collar vs Harness
Harnesses are great because they take all the pressure from the dog’s neck. Many dogs that are established pullers will behave far better in a harness. This is because they usually pull against the tension around their neck.
As we know it takes two to pull. So it’s the dog that starts it. But once they feel the tension and the resistance from the handler, it can just cause them to pull harder and keep on pulling.
If your dog is an established puller then a harness is a great option. Although some training may be necessary alongside that. Just leave the collar on for daywear in case of unwanted escapes and to display that all-important identity tag.
However, when considering collars and harnesses, some people feel that a harness can encourage a dog to pull. After all, they are used for sledge dogs like huskies. Control of the dog comes by having control over his neck, doesn’t it? In the same way that horses in hand are controlled by their heads with either a head collar (which in reality offers hardly any control) or a bridle with a metal bit which goes in the horse’s mouth.
Some large dogs can lunge forward in a dog harness. Particularly if the attachment point is on the back of the harness. This can provide no real control over the front end of the dog. This is an issue particularly for dogs that either lunge forward or jump up or both.
For a dog which is manageable either by virtue of their small size or because they are trained to be obedient, a harness is probably going to be the best option right from the off.
This is more comfortable than a collar. A harness is also more secure than a collar. Some dogs manage to remove even if they are tightly fitted around the neck. This, of course, raises the potential for other issues surrounding the dog’s breathing.
What are the advantages of a harness?
- Great for dogs that pull in a dog collar
- Ideal for dogs that have compromised airways either through disease or conformation. For instance, Pugs and French Bulldogs who congenitally have respiratory problems and other flat-faced breeds
Make sure that if you do remove the collar, the dog’s disk is transferred to the harness when he is out walking; this is easy to overlook. Either leave the collar on, just don’t use it for the lead, or have a second disk made which lives permanently on the harness.
What are the types of dog harness?
Dog harnesses come in a myriad of different materials. Leather, material, nylon and webbing – in every funky design and colour you can possibly imagine. But first, you need to look at the different types. There is a bit more to a dog harness than just a harness.
1. Vest harness
The basic harness style is called a vest harness. The dog puts his head through one opening, one front leg through another with the harness clipping together around the second front leg and up and over the centre of the back. The attachment point for the harness is in the centre of the back and this is a great harness for dogs that don’t pull and are generally settled and well behaved on the lead.
With this type of harness, the lead will never again become caught under the front legs – hurrah! Some of these styles also usefully have an additional strap and clip attachment which you can use to secure the dog in a vehicle with the seatbelt.
2. Front clip or back clip harnesses
The other two types of harnesses are either described as front clip or back clip harnesses. The front clip harness has the attachment point in the centre of the dog’s chest and this type of harness is useful for controlling dogs who do pull and/or jump up when they become excited.
It also offers the option of turning the front of the dog back towards the handler. This turns them away from whatever excitement is causing them to misbehave. This is a popular style of dog harness with dog trainers.
The back clip harness has the attachment point over the dog’s back. It is possible to combine both of these two and have a harness with two attachment points both front and back offering offer optimum control. This can, in fact, be helpful in training dogs who do pull or who have discipline issues.
3. Tightening or Control Harness
There is also such a thing as a tightening or control harness. These add pressure over the dog’s body if the dog begins to pull. They are designed to cause discomfort when the dog tugs and Wood Green Animal Shelter, when interviewed by Which for their review of dog harnesses, said,
“Non-pull harnesses put pressure under the dog’s armpits and dogs stop pulling because it’s uncomfortable. We would advise owners to be careful and to ensure the fit is appropriate. On some designs, the belly strap sits beyond the rib cage and this would be uncomfortable on the dog’s soft tummy.”
So perhaps only to be used in very experienced hands for problem dogs.
We now move on to more practical aspects of our guide – the fitting.
Fitting a harness
Dogs are all different shapes and sizes. It is perhaps best to find an outlet which you can take your dog. This means harness can be tried on your dog and fitted before you buy it. Most harnesses are adjustable but buying unseen could result in a few false starts before you get the right one.
Harnesses are sold in basic sizes. But the cut and feel of one may not suit your dog whereas another might. Particularly if you have a deep chested breed such as a Staffie or a Boxer. If you can take your dog shopping then that is the best way to try on a variety at a pet store and then choose the best option.
A harness needs to be snugly fitting. But not tight. The harness should be made of a breathable fabric which is also washable. Straps should be foam padded, soft and comfortable with room for adjustment if required due perhaps to a change of coat density for instance. Try and choose a harness with several adjustment points to ensure the best fit for your dog. Different styles of harness suit different dogs depending on their coat and bodily conformation.
Some people opt for a vibrant or high visibility colour. This helps make their dog easy to spot when off lead. Some plainer harnesses will incorporate a reflective strip to serve the same purpose and there are even LED harnesses for those owners who have to walk their dogs in the dark for several months of the year. These charges simply with a USB port and have a good life, lasting several walks before needing a re-charge. Genius!
Take note if you choose to remove the dog’s collar. You need to make sure that you put an identity tag somewhere on the harness body. Some harnesses have an integral ID pocket which can be useful if you need to include more information other than simply owner name and phone numbers, such as health conditions and medication.
Dogs that are arthritic or with impaired mobility may benefit from a mobility harness. This is also recommended for dogs who are recovering from injury.
Support harnesses help support the dog if he needs to be lifted. Perhaps, for example, into and out of a car. These harnesses follow the standard design but usually incorporate one or maybe two handles so you can literally lift the dog up. These harnesses are designed to stay on the dog for extended periods of time without ill effect and can assist with mobility around the house including stairs and different floor levels.
Many owners report that a standard harness makes lifting any dog easier to manage. They offer more support across the dog’s torso. This distributes pressure and makes the whole process smoother and less likely to result in an accident.
Is a dog harness better than a collar?
We titled this article collar vs harness – so it’s only fair we consider the faithful collar. These have not only been practical for centuries – but considered a fashion item as far back as Ancient Egypt.
If your dog impeccably behaves on the lead, then a dog collar should not be a problem. However, in all fairness, how many of those are there around? Any dog that pulls or jumps up even occasionally is probably going to be more comfortable in a harness.
A note on Choke Collars
So what about choke collars or slip collars for dogs that pull? Why not use one of those instead of a harness? Choke collars do just that, choke, and can cause serious physical problems to any dog. Not only that, but they operate on a basis of negative reinforcement so fear essentially rather than a positive, reward-based system.
There are also such things as Prong Collars. These look like a piece of kit straight out of the torture chamber. In fact, these are more humane than a choke collar which can apply almost continuous pressure. Whereas a Prong Collar is designed to only pinch the dog’s skin and then release. Dogs that need correction collars are probably good candidates for training classes and a two-point control harness.
However you choose to control your dog, there is a huge responsibility on owners to ensure that their animals behave properly. A report in July 2018 by the Royal Veterinary College and featured on the ITV News identified the fact that dogs that misbehave are likely to have a reduced life expectancy.
Dogs that misbehave outside and are not under the handler’s control are likely to be more at risk of compromised welfare. Owners can struggle to cope. Owners may sometimes resort to control collars. However, these should actually only be used in the hands of the experienced.
On a lighter note
On a lighter note, a small lottery win might allow you to treat yourself to a diamond-encrusted harness for your trusty canine friend. Available from the Canadian company, Buddy Belts, under their luxury brand, Brikk, the harness is made of the softest lambskin, with 24-karat yellow gold-plated inserts and embellished with diamonds. This will set you back a cool $10,000.
For chilly days, it is possible to buy a coat and dog harness combined. This is ideal for dogs with scant coat or oldies. There are Union Jack harnesses for the patriotic but one of the best outfits seen recently at a UK horse trial was a Jack Russell terrier bitch walking the course with the rider in hand, in a plain black harness but with a Willberry Wonder pony attached to her back.
Willberry Wonder Pony is a charity set up after the death of a promising teenage event rider, Hannah Francis. Her soft toy pony became something of an emblem for her battle and top international riders promoted the cause by wearing a Willberry on their number bibs. This is the first time anyone believes that Willberry has appeared on a Jack Russell and what better place to attach it than to the harness.
That’s it for our ultimate guide. It looks as if harnesses will win out over collars paws down every time.
Harnesses are comfortable for every dog and have positive health benefits for many. This can be either dogs that pull or those with respiratory issues. With such a wide range of choices and styles, there is something for every dog and more importantly, something for every design conscious owner.
A dog harness is not a cure-all for a pulling dog. Though it is fair to say, that many dogs do pull less when you remove pressure from their neck. The rest can be managed with some training input.
So one thing is for sure, walking a dog on a harness is a much more pleasurable experience. This is true for both dog and owner.