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collar or harness: which is best for your dog?

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan



When it comes to collars and harnesses, your four-legged fashionista has a veritable smorgasbord from which to choose. Whether she prefers a dainty bejeweled collar or a thick metal studded one, pet stores can fill any desire. But is there a collar or harness that’s best for your fickle friend’s health and wellbeing? You betcha.

 

Collars and harnesses are a necessary accessory for most dogs and cats because they also carry your pet’s ID. 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 owners.

 

When choosing the perfect collar or harness, you should take your particular pooch into consideration. Is he a puller? An athlete? A couch potato? Does his body shape lend itself to one kind or another?

 

Let’s start with harnesses. Harnesses fit around your pet’s chest, and they’re the best choice for small breed dogs and dogs with the condition called tracheal collapse. Unlike collars, harnesses don’t put pressure on your dog’s throat, which makes them better for any dog with respiratory issues and dog breeds that are prone to ocular prolapse, like Pugs and Shih Tzus.

 

Harnesses can also make it easier to control your dog, so they’re a good choice for some larger dogs, too. 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.





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 her 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.

 

Collars are a good choice for many dogs, but should be avoided in dogs with glaucoma, as the tension they put on the neck can raise the pressure inside the eye. Collars are also not a great way to control unruly dogs or dogs who pull, and for the same reason, they aren’t great for training.

 

Within the collar category, you’ll find numerous subcategories: martingale collars, choke collars, prong collars, broad buckle collars and the list goes on. Martingale collars provide more control, as they adjust their tension according to the situation, and they’re a great choice for Greyhounds and Whippets, or any dog whose neck is larger than their head. Martingale collars are also great for dogs who need a bit more guidance regarding their behavior.

 

Choke collars and prong collars are designed to quickly get a dog’s attention during training sessions. They can be effective tools in training, but I consider them last resorts to be used only when the handlers knows how to use them properly.

 

For dogs who pull on their leash, whether they wear a collar or a harness, my favorite type of collar is called a head collar. The Gentle Leader is a great example of this kind of collar, which fits around your dog’s muzzle. Head collars provide excellent control for even the strongest puller, and while they may take some getting used to, the time you spend learning and training how to use it will pay off tremendously in the enjoyable walks you’ll have together in the future.

 

Remember, no collar or harness is a substitute for obedience training and good manners. Ideally, your dog responds to your voice commands and a collar is just there for back up security. If you and your dog have gotten lazy about practicing commands, take some time to brush up—these commands could be a lifesaver in the event of a slipped lead.

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Dr. Ernie Ward, Jr.Veterinary Advisory Board of Petplan
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