Collar vs harness...curious which is best for your dog?
Like many other things in life, deciding whether a harness or collar is best for your dog, can be a personal preference. However there are advantages and disadvantages of both. Since one of our dogs suffers from IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) we have a strong preference as to what we choose to walk our dogs with based on health, research and comfort.
Perhaps you've got some experience in researching whether a harness or collar is right for you and your dog. The amount of information available is honestly overwhelming and it doesn’t stop there. You also have to decide what type of collar or harness and that alone can be overwhelming with so many choices available.
You must remember there is a time and place for collars and a time and place for harnesses and both can serve an important purpose. So let’s talk about dog collars first.
Dog collars should be functional and comfortable for your dog to wear everyday whether running around the house or romping in the backyard. Collars are versatile and can function to carry your dog’s important documents (dog tags for rabies, home address, name, etc.). Collars should not be worn to walk your dog for longer periods of time.
Collars are a great choice for a quick or impromptu walk only if necessary provided that your dog does not have a medical history of eye, back, breathing, tracheal collapse, spine or neck problems or your breed of dog is not predisposed for any of the aforementioned conditions.
As for the type of collar, there are so many to choose from. Typically, you see flat and round style collars. A traditional flat style dog collar comes in many different colors and patterns and is considered an obvious choice for most dogs, however round collars can be more comfortable for dogs with lots of fur and appropriate for trained, large-breed dogs.
Look for a flat-style padded collar that's lightweight and made from durable woven nylon with heavy-duty polymer 4-point safety buckles.
It’s great if the collar is made from a material that wicks moisture, dries quickly and resists mold and smells, such as neoprene. Why is this important? Well inevitably if your dog is wearing their collar day in and day out, it's going to get sweaty and wet at some point. If it's not the right material it’s going to stink and the odor may be impossible to get rid of. The collar material is a very important consideration when purchasing a collar for your dog for comfort, durability as well as washing convenience. A collar that is machine washable and easy to care for is a great choice.
Round style colors are typically made of a durable rope or leather material. This is an excellent choice for larger dogs who are strong and like to pull away from their owner aggressively. They are also great for dogs with a lot of fur as they help the fur not to mat underneath the collar. These types of collars should never be used on puppies or for training as they can easily get caught on objects and can become a choking hazard since they are raised off the dog's neck more so than flat-style collars.
Additionally, look for comfortable and quality materials in a dog collar since this is something your dog can wear most of the time as long as they are supervised. Collars are a great choice for a quick or impromptu walk if necessary provided that your dog does not have a medical history of eye, back, breathing issues, tracheal collapse, spine or neck problems or your breed of dog is not predisposed for any of the aforementioned conditions. In other words, it's important to do research on your specific breed type to make sure their genetic lineage is not predisposed for any of the conditions listed above.
Advantages of Dog Collars
- Great for supervised everyday/all-day wear
- Carry your pet’s important documents (dog tags)
- Safety to catch or restrain your dog quickly
- Shows ownership if dog were to get loose
- Easy to put on/take off
Disadvantages of Dog Collars
- Can cause or worsen eye, breathing, tracheal collapse, neck or spine injuries or choke your dog if not fitted, worn or used responsibly
- Not good for everyday walks
- Can cause skin irritation if not monitored, maintained or fitted properly
Can escape easily if not fitted properly or if your dog's neck is the same size or larger than their head (e.g. Whippets, Greyhounds, Doberman, Basenji, Afghan Hound, Dachshund, etc.)
Dog harnesses are preferred when walking your dog. Just like collars, harnesses are also versatile but they should not be worn day in and day out without giving your dog a break. Your dog should only wear their harness when under supervision. In other words, a harness should never be left on your dog unsupervised as this can become a hazard for your dog and can cause injury or even death.
Unlike collars where there is only one point of tension, harnesses are able to evenly distribute the tension around the shoulders, neck, torso, and back. This is considered a more tension balanced approach to walking your dog safely and comfortably.
From personal experience dog harnesses are our #1 choice to walk our dogs. Once we were hiking with our Chihuahua when she was about 4 years old when all of a sudden she slipped and fell off a steep ledge. Fortunately, the dog leash and the properly fitted harness saved her life. We were able to use the leash to pull her to safety and the harness kept her safe while not choking her or sliding off her head. From that day forward, we use harnesses to walk our dogs.
Just like collars, harnesses come in many different styles, material, shapes and sizes. Finding the right harness for your dog doesn't have to be a daunting task as long as you are informed and weigh the most important aspects for you and your dog. It’s extremely important to get the right fit and make all the proper adjustments of the harness to keep you and your dog safe and comfortable.
A proper fitting dog harness should be snug against their neck and chest to properly distribute pressure. A good rule of thumb is to use one finger width (with small dogs) and two finger width (with medium to large breed dogs) to obtain the perfect fit. Slide your fingers between the strap of your dog’s harness and their skin and repeat this step for both the neck and chest straps. In other words, the harness should be snug against your dog with only one or two finger widths of space between them and their harness.
Of the types of harnesses available, there are adjustable harnesses, y harnesses, strap harnesses, step-in harnesses, head halters, among many others. While there are many types of harnesses to choose from, the one that works best for you and your dog is again a personal preference.
A non-choking style harness is preferred. Look for a harness made of durable yet lightweight and breathable material to reduce overheating in the warmer months. It's also important to find a harness that has multiple adjustment points and multiple points to attach a leash. Many dogs are extra curious and like to pull to check and sniff things out so having options will give you the most versatility with your harness and allow you to choose what works best for you and your dog. Dogs are just like humans in that one size doesn’t fit all.
Harnesses are considered the top choice for dog walking mainly because of safety, comfort and control. A dog harness is less likely to cause neck or back injuries, while also providing the needed control to keep your dog safe and at your side. Unlike collars where there is only one point of tension, harnesses are able to evenly distribute the tension around the shoulders, neck, torso, and back. This is considered a more tension balanced approach to walking your dog safely and comfortably.
If you have been averse to trying a dog harness, you should give it a try. You might be surprised how much you enjoy the ability to control your dog with a harness and how much more comfortable and safe your dog seems to be.
Advantages of Dog Harnesses
- Safety (non-choking)
- Great for everyday walks and hikes
- Better Control
- Could potentially save their life
- Less likely to escape
Disadvantages of Dog Harnesses
- Can be more difficult to put on/take off
- Proper fit and adjustments is imperative for the safety of you and your dog
- Depending on the harness and material, it can be heavy, hot, constricting and cumbersome to the dog
As previously mentioned, heavy-duty polymer hardware is preferred over metal hardware. Metal buckles can be loud and tend to rattle as the dogs walk, can be heavy, cold or hot to the touch depending on the weather and can rust when they get wet if not made with appropriate metal.
It's best to look for heavy-duty, polymer, 4-point safety buckles. These types of buckles are lightweight, quiet and are made to get wet as well as wash well in the washing machine in a pillowcase or garment bag.
As with collars, it's important to make sure your dog has a proper fit with their dog harness and that it’s not too loose to cause injury or safety issues. An improperly fit or adjusted harness or collar can be very dangerous to you and your dog.
Always discuss these options with your veterinarian as they are educated in all the dog breeds and can recommend or suggest what's best and healthiest for your dog.
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-the Wag Trendz team-