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Collar or harness: which is best for your dog?

You should consider your dog's size, age and personality when deciding between a collar or harness.

Collars and harnesses are necessary accessories to keep your pup safe while out and about. Certainly, all pets should wear some form of visible identification, and you should make sure that they’re microchipped, too. This permanent identification has reunited many, many lost pets with their grateful pet parents.

But collars and harnesses can also keep your pet safe when meeting new people and other animals, help you in training and keep them comfortable on long walks. Here’s how to pick out the best collar or harness for your active pup.

Are collars or harnesses better for dogs?

When choosing the perfect collar or harness, you should take your pup into consideration. Is he a puller? An athlete? A couch potato? Does his body shape lend itself to one kind or another? It’s also important to take into account what’s on your agenda for the day. 

“Generally speaking, a harness is our go-to choice for walks and outdoor adventures,” Sarah Fraser, certified dog behavior consultant and co-founder of Instinct Dog Behavior and Training, says. “A well-fitting harness that keeps pressure off a dog’s throat and doesn’t impede shoulder movement protects our pups’ physical health and helps ensure they have a comfortable walking experience.”

Unlike collars, harnesses don’t put pressure on dogs’ throats, which makes them better for any pet with respiratory issues, breeds that are prone to ocular prolapse, like Pugs and Shih Tzus, small dog breeds and pups with the condition tracheal collapse. 

Harnesses can also make it easier to control your dog, so they’re a good choice for some larger dogs, too, especially those who pull or are easily excited. There are options for attaching the leash to the front of the harness or the back. While some people find they have more control when the leash is attached to the front of the harness, it’s important to remember that dogs will respond differently to different situations. 

“For the most part, collars are generally not a first choice as a stand-alone piece of equipment for walks and outdoor adventures, given that most dogs are going to pull or strain at least occasionally, and doing so on a collar can put a lot of pressure on their delicate throat area,” Fraser says. 

Your dog should certainly wear a collar at home, and in all social situations, but should also have a more comfortable harness when getting active. 

The best harnesses for dogs

If your dog is a puller, you may want to opt for a harness with a front clip to attach to your leash. This will help you manage their pulling and redirect their attention toward you if they get too rambunctious. 

Make sure to read your harness’s instructions thoroughly to ensure a safe and proper fit, and you may want to consult your vet when deciding on which harness is right for your pup.

“The harness shouldn’t be so snug that it presses into your dog’s body while they are standing still, nor should it be so loose that your dog can easily back out of it or that it twists and chafes as they walk,” Fraser says. “Try to achieve a fit so that the straps and material lay flat against your dog’s body, where you can comfortably and easily slide two fingers in between the harness and your dog’s body.”

RELATED: 5 tips for helping your dog get used to an e-collar — aka a cone

The best collars for dogs

While you may want to opt for a harness on longer walks and outdoor play, your dog should still have an everyday collar. Fraser recommends a flat, breakaway buckle collar to hold your dog’s tags and identifying information.

“A properly fitted martingale (no slip) collar can be truly lifesaving when used as a harness backup harness on walks,” Fraser says. “Folks can attach the leash to the harness as usual, then connect the harness to the martingale collar via an inexpensive leash connector. This way, if the harness breaks, or if the dog manages to slip out of the harness in a moment of panic or excitement, they’re still securely attached via the leash connector and martingale.”

Collars may also be a better option if your dog seems uncomfortable or aggressive when you attempt to put on a harness. In that case, a wide, padded, no-slip collar is a great low-stress option as you help your pup get more comfortable putting on a harness. This padded collar does a better job distributing pressure over a much larger area of the dog’s neck, compared to a flat buckle collar.

“You can also choose a breakaway style collar, especially if you have multiple dogs who love to play and wrestle together,” Fraser says. “Too many owners have experienced the scary, heartbreaking situation of one dog’s jaw getting caught in another dog’s collar during regular play, creating a highly risky choking hazard. Just remember that breakaway collars are used only to carry identifying information – you can’t attach a leash to a breakaway collar.”

The benefits of collars for pets

Collars are super handy because they slip on and off easily and are a great place to hang identification and license tags. A properly fitted collar will allow two fingers to fit between the collar and the neck. Any looser, and you’ll risk your pet slipping their lead or easily backing out of the collar. If you’re not sure that your pet’s collar fits correctly, ask your vet or vet tech for advice.

“Dogs should wear a collar with identification even at home, except when confined in a crate or pen,” Fraser says. “While it’s not something we ever plan on, it takes just a moment for a dog to slip out the front door as an unexpected guest arrives or as we’re bringing in groceries. Knowing that your dog is wearing proper identification can remove one layer of stress if your dog manages to get loose and run off. And, it makes it a whole lot easier for the good Samaritan who finds them to get in touch with you.”

Remember, no collar or harness is a substitute for obedience training and good manners. Ideally, your dog should respond to your voice commands, and a collar is just there for backup security. If you and your dog are out of practice when it comes to command training, take some time to brush up — these commands could be a lifesaver in the event of a slipped lead.

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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