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Dog Harness vs Collar: Which is Better For Your Dog? (Pros & Cons)

Nicole Cosgrove

Review Summary

Dog collars and dog harnesses are both popular choices for pet owners. While dog collars have been a staple for dog training for many years, some people prefer using a harness for better control, less pulling, and assistance in lifting dogs that are lying down or sitting. Harnesses are also good for dogs that are magicians at slipping their collars and taking off.

Still, both collars and harnesses have their pros and cons, and choosing between them is an individual decision. Check out the differences, advantages and disadvantages, and types of dog collars and harnesses to see which is better for your dog.

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At a Glance

Dog harness vs dog collar - side by side
Image Credit: Left – maniablack18, Pixabay; Right – susanne906, Pixabay

Let’s look at the key points of each product.

You may prefer a dog harness if:
  • You have a puppy to train
  • Your dog is large or strong
  • Your dog pulls excessively
  • Your dog slips through collars and runs
  • You have a service dog, a dog with mobility issues, or a working dog
  • Your dog is prone to throat or respiratory problems
You may prefer a dog collar if:
  • Your dog is a well-mannered adult
  • You want a quick and simple process for walks and trips
  • You only need control for daily walks
  • You want something you can leave on your dog with identification tags

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Overview of Dog Harness:

doberman in a harness
Image Credit: Yama Zsuzsanna Márkus, Pixabay

Harnesses come in many styles and types, but their main purpose is to distribute the force of the leash across a larger area of the body. Unlike collars, which distribute leash pressure across the throat, a harness covers the upper and lower chest and wraps across the neck and back. When you pull on the leash with a harness, the dog feels the pressure across these areas.

If you have a large dog that pulls or a puppy that’s still learning leash manners, a harness is a good choice. Dogs that pull on a collar consistently over time can put a strain on their neck and throat, possibly causing damage. A harness prevents this problem by giving you better leverage and dispersing pressure across a larger area.

Keep in mind, however, that an ill-fitting harness can be just as damaging as a collar with too much pressure. The harness must be fitted enough to stay on the dog, but not so tight that it hinders natural movement or circulation.

Another benefit of a harness is that it’s not slipped easily. Some dogs are escape artists with their collars and manage to slip them, no matter how tight they are. Harnesses cover more of the body and dogs can’t get out of them with a simple head movement.

Harnesses do have drawbacks. Dogs with long or wiry fur can end up with tangles and mats, especially if the harness is worn for extended periods of time. Harnesses are also more likely to cause itching or rub the hair if they’re left on too long.

Finally, harnesses require a little more work to put on, so they may be intimidating to nervous dogs. You may find that your dog doesn’t want to put its head through or doesn’t sit still, but this can be corrected with consistent training and patience.

Pros
  • Good for training
  • Good for dogs that pull
  • Distributes pressure evenly
  • Provides more control
  • Hard to slip
Cons
  • Intimidating for nervous dogs
  • Can cause itching and rubbing
  • May tangle long-haired coats

Overview of Dog Collar:

dog with collar
Image Credit: MabelAmber, Pixabay

Like harnesses, dog collars come in a variety of materials, styles, and colors. Dog collars are a go-to for most dog owners. They’re simple to put on, can be left on the dog for long periods, and offer D rings for tags with owner information if your dog should get lost. Collars also allow for more personalization with colors, designs, and adornments like metal spikes or rhinestones.

For older or well-trained dogs, a collar may be all you need. Dogs that already have leash manners and don’t try to pull or slip a collar may not need the added control and pressure of a harness. If your dog has sensitive skin or is prone to itching, a collar can be left on longer than a harness without irritating the dog’s skin.

Collars have plenty of disadvantages, however. Collars exert pressure on the throat, which can potentially cause excessive coughing or choking. Over time, this can damage a dog’s trachea. Some small breeds suffer from tracheal collapse or are predisposed to it, such as French bulldogs and pugs.

Puppies tend to pull, slip collars, and fight leashes while they’re learning their manners. A collar may not be ideal for puppy training since it provides little control and gives the puppy an opportunity to misbehave or escape.

Pros
  • Simple
  • Comes in a variety of materials, styles, and colors
  • Good choice for well-trained, adult dogs
  • Can be worn for long periods
  • Can be used with identification tags
Cons
  • Exerts pressure on the throat
  • May cause tracheal collapse in some breeds
  • Easy to slip
  • Not ideal for leash training

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How Do They Compare?

Performance

  • Edge: Harnesses

Harnesses are better for training puppies, large dogs, and dogs prone to pulling. You’ll find plenty of variety with harnesses as well, such as harnesses with different features to help lift your dog and harnesses with saddlebags for outdoor adventures. Collars have less practical versatility, but more options for materials, colors, and embellishments.

Price

  • Edge: Collars

Though the prices for collars and harnesses can vary according to the material, style, and brand, collars are generally less expensive than harnesses. Typically, more expensive collars and harnesses offer advantages like better materials, better durability, and better features, so price shouldn’t be the only determining factor in your decision.

German shorthaired dog on the lawn
Image Credit: MVolodymyr, Shutterstock

Durability

  • Edge: Varies

The durability of a collar or harness depends on its material more than anything. Cheap, thin nylon isn’t as durable as double-stitched neoprene, heavy-duty nylon, denier, or leather. Both products may be prone to breakage at stress points from wear and tear, however.

If you take your dog hiking, hunting, or on high-intensity runs, durability matters. You may prefer materials designed for sport, like neoprene, and reinforced stitching at stress points, particularly for harnesses. For collars, leather is a good choice because it will break if your dog gets stuck on something like a fence or furniture when you’re not around. Nylon won’t break if your dog pulls against it, which could result in injuries.

Design

  • Edge: Harness

The design edge also depends on the material and features like a metal buckle closure or a plastic, locking buckle closure. Some harnesses have an ergonomic design for better control and comfort for dogs, or extra features like a strap for lifting the dog. Service dogs need harnesses with bright colors, reflective safety patches, and space for text.

You can also find harnesses that are designed for dogs with mobility issues. These harnesses are larger and provide support around the check and hind legs and include two lifting straps for dogs with significant joint problems and paralysis, or for dogs recovering from major surgeries. These are intended as temporary equipment and not everyday use, however.

Collars are simple in their design and typically only have a strip of material with a buckle closure and rings for the leash and identification tags. Collars do offer more aesthetic features than harnesses, such as embellishments, designs, and a range of colors.

dog wearing harness outdoors
Image Credit: Pixabay

What the Users Say

Choosing between a collar and harness comes down to your individual needs and what benefits your dog. To help with your decision, we’ve scoured reviews from users to see what people are saying about their favorite harnesses and collars.

Some of the top-rated harnesses have rave reviews from owners of escape-artist dogs or owners who tie their dogs outside when they work outside. Additions like extra belly straps, soft padding to prevent chafing, and thick handles for lifting are especially helpful for owners to control their dogs. These harnesses are also popular for owners of service dogs, amputee dogs, and working dogs that need assistance on rough terrain.

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Conclusion

Harnesses have many advantages over collars for dogs that need extra support, training, and control. You can find numerous options for harnesses that suit the needs of the dog, such as support harnesses for outdoor activities, bright, reflective harnesses for service dogs, lifting harnesses for dogs with mobility issues, and harnesses with ergonomic design and straps to prevent slipping. If you have a dog with good leash manners, however, a harness may be overly complicated. Collars are perfectly suitable for the average, well-trained dog on a daily walk.


Featured Image Credit: Left – Yama Zsuzsanna Márkus, Pixabay; Right – MabelAmber, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.