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Dog Harness or Dog Collar? Which is Best?

by Ian H on October 05, 2021

golden retriever in harness

Dog owners love taking their dogs out on long walks; it’s stimulating for our dog’s limbic system and also a good exercise for us, as owners. However, if you’re like me, taking your dog out walking, is often accompanied by some level of anxiety.

Roads are busy, traffic is fast these days, and dogs get spooked by unexpected noises. Less so in rural areas, but most of us don’t have the luxury of hopping in a car to take out our pooches to the nearest country park for a walk.

One subject that gets owners hot under the collar, is the harness versus collar and leash debate. If your dogs are anything like mine, they’re crafty, Houdini-escape artists, that like to chase the odd squirrel or cat, and after trial and error, and several, unintentional laps of the nearby park, we’re pretty clear on what works and doesn’t!

So, what’s better for your dog – collar and leash, or harness? Let’s look at some common questions and what’s available and suitable, depending on the needs of your dog. And, don’t forget, you need to consider your needs too! 


Collars and Leashes

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If your dog isn’t one of the “pull” variety, and I’ll talk about that in a minute or so, then a basic collar and leash will be perfect for you. The benefits of a collar are mainly around ease of use, and for use with an identification tag. Then, there are different types of collars to consider.

To stop this from being an overwhelming set of choices, I’ll narrow this down to include the slip collar and the pack leader collar. The slip collar allows for quick corrections to get your dog back on track. All you need to do is to give a quick, firm pull sideways on the leash. Always sideways though.

With the pack leader collar, the harness fits at the shoulder around the base of the neck. It helps to keep the slip collar at the top of the neck, rather than the bottom. If you’ve ever watched huskies pulling a sledge, the collar is actually placed lower so they can pull as that’s their job.

With a collar and leash, there’s more chance of a neck or shoulder injury if your dog sees a quick movement or a small furry nearby, and it decides to investigate.

Who hasn’t that happened to?

A bungee cord leash can therefore, help to prevent shock to both the owner and dog, by softening the impact of a surprise pull through the elasticity it offers. It’s got nothing to do with you or your dog bungee-jumping, by the way!


Ah, but do harnesses stop dogs from pulling?

Yes, to an extent. It’s the design that helps, especially if the leash is attached above the dogs back or shoulders. With a harness, the dog is more contained within the structure, there’s no gain from pulling, and in fact, the pulling force is better distributed throughout its body. 


How to find the best harness for your dog?

With any harness, measure your dog carefully, even though most harnesses have a degree of adjustability. Neck, chest and belly measurements will help you to pick a harness that fits just right; the less wiggle room the better. 

However, do check to see if there could be chaffing under your dog’s armpits, as can happen with some of the material styles. Pick a generously padded chest piece to reduce stress on the trachea and sternum. 


Are there different types of harnesses?

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Yes, there are!  I use a step-in dog harness for one of our dogs. She eagerly steps into it too. Once her front legs are through, the harness is brought up to the body and clipped together. She isn’t a typical wriggler, just a strong greyhound, that needs a little more than a collar and leash. 

The other greyhounds use a vest style because they don’t mind having it put over their heads. It’s probably a good idea, from personal experience, to work out how it clips together and which way around it goes on before trial! I slip our dog's front paws through the left and right harness loops. 

Once clipped together, I check I can slip two fingers underneath the straps. If there isn't enough slack for that, I loosen the straps. Try to pull the harness up over its head or down his legs. If it comes off, the harness is too loose.  

Five adjustment points mean I can find a near-custom fit for the different sizes of our dogs, which is especially important with the difference between the huge ribcage and small belly of a greyhound! 

Bear in mind, some harnesses have front and back leash adjustments, such as Kurgo’s, Tru-Fit Smart Dog Walking Harness. Others, such as the Bolux range, feature a seat belt-style fixing across the chest. Ruffwear’s sturdy designs have great reviews for dogs that like to escape too.


What about Safety?

Some owners may still want to use a collar with the harness too. I do, and with the identification tag attached to it. That’s because our dogs have house collars that they wear every day, and they’re used to them.  Also, try to buy reflective trimmed collars or harnesses for walking in low-visibility and the dark. It’s a safety factor you cannot ignore!


In summary, there are views for both styles and it is down to a matter of trial and error, preference, the owner’s experience of dog handling and being aware of external risks.

In all cases, work to control your dog and teach it basic commands, but that’s a different topic altogether. And, if, like me, you aim to walk with your dog beside you, this establishes your role as leader of the pack, and he or she is more likely to obey you in hairier situations.

Furthermore, if you order a custom pet portrait from Printy Paw and the photo you upload of your dog has a harness or collar on, then you can choose to to include it or not in your final pet portrait.

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