Harness or Collar: Choosing the Best Option for Your Dog

Author : Anders Nilsson | Published On : 10 May 2024

Choosing the right restraint for your dog is not just a matter of preference, but one of safety, comfort, and health. Whether you're taking your dog for a leisurely walk or heading to a vet visit, the type of restraint you use can significantly influence your dog's well-being and behavior. 

This guide aims to explore the nuances between harnesses and collars, helping you make an informed decision that suits your dog's needs.

Harnesses and Collars: A Primer

Harnesses are worn around a dog's body, typically fastening around the chest and shoulders. This design helps distribute pressure more evenly than a collar when a dog pulls on the leash, which can prevent injury and provide better control for the owner. Harnesses come in various styles to accommodate different sizes, shapes, and levels of activity.

Collars, on the other hand, are worn around the neck and come in a wide range of materials, widths, and designs. They are suitable for attaching ID tags and for dogs that do not pull excessively or have respiratory issues. However, collars can pose risks such as neck strain or accidental choking if not used properly or if used with dogs that tend to pull.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into each option, examining how factors such as age, size, breed, and behavior can influence whether a harness or collar might be the right choice for your furry friend. This guide will provide you with the knowledge to choose a restraint that not only keeps your dog safe but also supports a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Understanding the Basics

When selecting a restraint for your dog, it’s crucial to understand the fundamental differences between harnesses and collars. Each type serves unique functions and comes in various styles to suit different needs. Below, we provide a closer look at both options to help guide your choice.

Harnesses: Overview and Types

A harness is a piece of pet equipment designed to be worn around the body of a dog. Unlike collars, harnesses encompass a larger area of the body, which can help distribute the force of pulling more evenly across the chest and back, reducing strain on the neck. This makes harnesses especially suitable for puppies, small breeds, or dogs with medical issues like tracheal collapse or respiratory problems.

Types of Harnesses:

  • No-Pull Harness: Ideal for dogs that tend to pull, these harnesses have a leash attachment at the chest that allows for redirection of a pulling dog back towards its owner, helping to discourage the behavior.

  • Step-In Harness: Named for the simple method of putting it on—just step in and buckle up. This type is perfect for calm dogs and owners who desire quick and easy preparation for walks.

  • Vest-Style Harness: Often padded for extra comfort, these harnesses provide good control and are excellent for small dogs or dogs with sensitive skin, as they help distribute pressure and prevent chafing.

Collars: Overview and Types

A collar is a band, typically made of leather or nylon, that fits snugly around a dog’s neck. It is commonly used for attaching ID tags, registration tags, and leashes. While simple and effective for many dogs, collars are not suitable for all; for example, breeds prone to respiratory issues or dogs that pull vigorously might be better served by a harness.

Types of Collars:

  • Flat Collar: The most common type, flat collars are suitable for dogs who don't pull on the leash and for everyday wear.

  • Martingale Collar: A limited-slip collar that tightens slightly under tension and is good for dogs with narrow heads, such as Greyhounds, to prevent them from slipping out.

  • Choke Chain: Made of metal links, this collar tightens around a dog’s neck when pulled. It should only be used under professional supervision as part of a training regimen, given its potential to cause harm if used improperly.

By understanding these basics, you can better assess which type of harness or collar is appropriate for your dog’s specific characteristics and needs. The next sections will delve into how various factors like age, size, breed, and behavior further influence this important decision.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Harness and Collar

When deciding whether to use a harness or collar for your dog, there are several key factors to consider. These factors include the age and life stage of your dog, size and breed specifics, behavior and training needs, as well as the general activity level and usage. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in determining the most suitable option for ensuring your dog’s comfort and safety.

Age and Life Stage

The age and development stage of your dog can significantly influence the choice between a harness and a collar:

  • Puppies: Harnesses are often recommended for puppies as they are less likely to cause harm to their developing necks and trachea. A harness can also offer better control, which is helpful for training puppies to walk on a leash.

  • Adult Dogs: For adult dogs, the choice can depend on individual behavior and training. Those used to collars and who do not pull might find collars more comfortable, whereas a harness might be better for those still in training or with pulling behaviors.

  • Senior Dogs: Older dogs might benefit from harnesses if they have arthritis or issues with neck pain, as harnesses can help distribute pressure away from these sensitive areas.

Size and Breed Considerations

The size and physical structure of your dog are also critical in deciding between a harness or collar:

  • Small Breeds: Small dogs can be more prone to injuries from collars such as tracheal collapse. Harnesses can offer a safer alternative by distributing pressure more evenly across the body.

  • Large Breeds: While collars are sometimes preferred for their simplicity, large breeds that pull might be better managed with a no-pull harness to prevent them from putting too much force on their neck and the owner.

  • Broad-Chested Breeds: Dogs with broad chests or unique body shapes (like Greyhounds or Bulldogs) might find harnesses more comfortable and fitting, as many harness designs cater to such body types.

Behavior and Training Needs

The behavior of your dog and their training needs can largely dictate the appropriate choice:

  • Pullers: Dogs that tend to pull on the leash are generally better off with a no-pull harness, which discourages pulling without causing neck strain.

  • Behavioral Issues: Dogs with behavioral issues such as aggression or extreme fear might benefit from a harness for better control during training and socialization.

  • Medical Issues: For dogs with medical conditions like tracheal collapse or respiratory issues, a harness is often safer and more comfortable.

Activity Level and Usage

The overall activity level of your dog and how they spend their time should also influence your decision:

  • Active Dogs: For dogs that are very active and participate in activities like hiking or running, a durable harness can provide better control and safety without the risk of neck injury.

  • Working Dogs: Working dogs typically use harnesses as they often need to pull or carry equipment, and harnesses can include features like handle grips for control and mobility assistance.

  • Sedentary Lifestyle: For less active dogs, a simple collar might be sufficient, especially if the dog is well-behaved on walks and does not exert much force on the leash.

Each of these factors should be carefully considered when choosing the right restraint for your dog to ensure their safety, comfort, and overall well-being.

Pros and Cons of Harnesses

Choosing the right type of gear for your dog involves understanding both the benefits and potential drawbacks. Here’s an overview of the pros and cons associated with using harnesses:


  • Safety Features: Harnesses can provide increased safety. For instance, they are less likely to cause neck injuries compared to collars, making them a safer choice for dogs prone to respiratory issues or neck strain.

  • Distribution of Pressure: A harness distributes pressure across a broader area of the dog's body—across the chest and back—reducing the risk of choking and providing better control for managing or training your dog, especially in scenarios where they might pull.

  • Variety of Designs: There is a wide range of harness types available that cater to different needs, such as no-pull harnesses for training or padded harnesses for added comfort.


  • Complexity of Putting On: Some harnesses can be complex to put on, requiring your dog to step into them or needing multiple adjustments, which can be challenging for dogs that are not cooperative or for owners with mobility issues.

  • Overheating: Particularly in warmer climates or during heavy exercise, some harness models can cause dogs to overheat due to the coverage and material, limiting breathability.

  • Inadequate Training Tool for Some Behaviors: While harnesses are great for controlling pulling, they might not be as effective for correcting other types of undesirable behaviors compared to collars.

Pros and Cons of Collars

Collars are a traditional choice for many dog owners, but they come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages:


  • Ease of Use: Collars are generally easier to put on and take off than harnesses, making them convenient for quick outings.

  • Better for Identification: Collars are the standard place to hang ID tags and registration, which is essential for identification if your dog gets lost.

  • Less Restrictive: For dogs that do not pull and are well-trained, collars can be more comfortable as they provide less coverage and restraint, allowing for more freedom of movement.


  • Risk of Neck Injury: Collars can increase the risk of neck injuries, particularly in dogs that pull on the leash or those with existing neck or throat issues.

  • Not Suitable for Certain Breeds: Some breeds with specific physical characteristics, like those with narrow heads or necks, or those prone to breathing issues, may not be suitable for collars.

  • Potential for Escaping: Dogs, particularly those with narrower heads like Greyhounds or Whippets, can more easily slip out of collars if not properly fitted.

Understanding these pros and cons will help you make a more informed decision about whether a harness or collar is more suitable for your dog’s needs, taking into account their specific characteristics and lifestyle.

FAQs: Choosing the Right Restraint for Your Dog

When deciding between a harness and a collar for your dog, several common questions and concerns might arise. Here are some frequently asked questions along with detailed answers to help guide you in making the best decision for your dog’s needs.

Is a harness or a collar better for training a puppy?

A harness is generally recommended for training puppies. It offers better control without putting pressure on the puppy's neck, which can prevent injuries as they grow and learn to walk on a leash. However, it's also beneficial to introduce your puppy to wearing a collar, especially for ID tags.

Can a harness or collar affect my dog’s behavior on walks?

Yes, the type of restraint can influence your dog's behavior. Harnesses are effective for managing pulling behavior as they distribute pressure more evenly around the body. Collars might offer less control over dogs that pull, which can make training more challenging.

Are there any breeds that should avoid collars?

Breeds with pre-existing conditions like tracheal collapse (common in smaller breeds like Pomeranians and Yorkies) or those prone to breathing issues (such as Bulldogs and Pugs) should avoid collars because they can exacerbate these health issues. Instead, a harness is recommended to avoid pressure on the neck.

How do I choose the right size harness or collar?

Measure your dog's neck circumference for a collar and the chest circumference for a harness. Ensure the chosen collar or harness fits snugly but allows you to slip two fingers comfortably between the restraint and your dog’s body to ensure it’s not too tight.

Can a collar or harness cause discomfort to my dog?

Both collars and harnesses can cause discomfort if not properly fitted or if used inappropriately. A poorly fitted collar can choke a dog or cause skin irritation, while a harness that is too tight can chafe or restrict a dog's movement. Always check the fit and monitor your dog’s reaction to their restraint during and after walks.

What should I use for an older dog with arthritis?

For older dogs, particularly those with arthritis or other mobility issues, a harness is often a better choice. Harnesses can help manage mobility without putting strain on the neck or back, and some harness models come with handles to assist dogs in moving around.

Is it necessary to use both a collar and a harness?

Using both can be beneficial. A collar can hold ID tags and serve as a backup if a harness is slipped, while a harness provides better control and distributes pressure safely during walks or training. Many owners use the collar for identification and the harness for walks.

By addressing these FAQs, you can better navigate the choices available and select a restraint that offers comfort, safety, and functionality for your dog, tailoring your decision to their specific needs and lifestyle.


Choosing the right restraint for your dog, whether a harness or a collar, is a crucial decision that impacts their safety, comfort, and behavior. This guide has explored the fundamental differences between harnesses and collars, the pros and cons of each, and various factors to consider such as age, breed, size, behavior, and activity level.

Harnesses are generally recommended for dogs that pull, have respiratory issues, or are in training, as they distribute pressure more evenly and reduce the risk of neck injury. Collars, on the other hand, are suitable for dogs that are well-behaved on walks, offer ease of use, and are less restrictive, making them ideal for quick outings.

When selecting a restraint:

  • Consider your dog’s physical characteristics, such as size and breed, which can influence their comfort and safety with either option.

  • Think about your dog’s behavior and training needs. A pulling dog might benefit more from a no-pull harness, while a calm dog might do perfectly well with a collar.

  • Reflect on your dog’s activity level and lifestyle. An active dog might need a more robust and secure harness, whereas a more sedentary dog might be comfortable with a simple collar.

It's important to choose a restraint that not only suits your lifestyle but also supports the health and happiness of your dog. Ensure the fit is correct, and the design is appropriate for your dog’s specific requirements. If you’re unsure about the best option or the correct fit, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional such as a vet or a professional dog trainer. They can provide guidance tailored to your dog’s individual needs, helping you make a choice that will enhance your walks and bonding time with your furry friend.