Our education and training manager, Daniella, provides some guidance on choosing collars or harnesses for your dog.

When we consider how best to walk our dogs, the decision between using a collar or a harness involves more than personal preference. It's about understanding how these choices affect our dogs' comfort, health, and safety. 

With a balanced view that combines compassion with science, we explore the benefits and drawbacks of each option to help dog guardians make the most informed decisions possible.

Understanding collars

Collars have long been the standard for walking dogs due to their convenience and simplicity. However, the potential risks they pose, especially to dogs that tend to pull, must be considered.

At Hope Rescue, we discourage the use of choke collars or slip leads because of the significant harm they can cause to a dog's neck and the risk of long-term damage to internal organs. This discussion will focus on flat/static collars, which are generally safer but still require thoughtful consideration.

Pros of collars

  • Simple and easy to use.
  • Can be worn all the time, making them ideal for holding ID tags.
  • Best suited for dogs that are calm on their walks and do not tend to pull.

Cons of collars

  • Can put pressure on the neck, causing discomfort or injury, especially in dogs prone to respiratory issues (especially flat nosed like French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, etc.) or with previous neck injuries.
  • Offer limited control over dogs who pull, potentially increasing the risk of neck strain.

Understanding harnesses

Harnesses serve as an alternative, addressing many concerns associated with collars. By distributing pressure more evenly across the dog's body, harnesses lessen the risk to the neck and enhance control, particularly for dogs that pull.

Pros of harnesses

  • Distribute pressure evenly, reducing strain on the neck and throat.
  • Provide improved control over pulling, ensuring safer and more enjoyable walks for both dog and guardian.
  • Lower the risk of escape, which is especially advantageous for smaller breeds or those capable of slipping out of collars.
  • Allow for more natural movement and balance through the entire body.

Cons of harnesses

  • Be aware that not all harnesses are created equal!
  • Harnesses that are poorly fitted and hinder your dog's natural movements can lead to irritation and adversely affect their stride. It's crucial to select a harness that allows for a full range of motion, ensuring your dog can move freely and comfortably without any constraints.
  • Applying and removing harnesses can be challenging, and for dogs not accustomed to frequent handling, or those with sensitivities such as skin conditions, this process can become stressful. It's important to consider a harness that is not only easy to use but also gentle on your dog's skin, to minimise discomfort and stress.

Considering quality and fit

The quality and fit of your chosen collar or harness are crucial. Products of poor quality can fail, causing discomfort or injury. It's essential to select reputable brands and ensure a proper fit to maximise your dog's comfort and safety.

Trendy wider collars are designed to distribute pressure more evenly across the neck, yet they may limit neck movement and lead to discomfort. 

Y-fronted harnesses are often superior in allowing natural movement, as their design avoids covering the dog's shoulders, thereby preventing any restriction on their mobility.

Here are some of my personal favourites.

Perfect Fit Harness 

This versatile harness is designed for ease of use, offering multiple ways to put it on, which is particularly beneficial for dogs who dislike having a harness placed over their head. It ensures a full range of movement, allowing your dog to walk, run, and play without restriction.

Constructed from three individually sized components—chest, belly, and back—this harness provides the added advantage of replaceable parts. Should any piece sustain damage, there's no need to replace the entire harness, offering both a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution. This harness also has a D ring on the back and front, allowing for use of a double ended training lead and better stability.

Ttouch harness

This harness shares the versatile 'multiple ways to put on' feature with the Perfect Fit harness, including both chest and back D-rings for flexible lead attachment. Its more lightweight design makes it especially suitable for dogs who prefer not to wear bulky equipment. Additionally, it ensures a full range of movement, allowing dogs to move freely and comfortably.

Ruffwear harness

These harnesses are built to last, perfect for the adventurous dog and guardian duo. They come equipped with handles and additional features designed to ensure your dog's safety while exploring the outdoors.

These harnesses support a full range of movement and are straightforward to clean, making them ideal for any adventure.

Moreover, select models include dual body straps—one across the chest and another at the waist's narrowest point—providing an extra layer of security. This design detail is particularly beneficial for our uniquely shaped Sighthound companions, preventing them from slipping out and ensuring they stay safe and secure, no matter the terrain.

Additionally, several of these designs feature a D-ring at both the front and the back, enabling the attachment of a double-ended training lead. This enhances stability and offers more control during training sessions, ensuring a balanced and secure connection with your dog.

Addressing pulling behaviour

It's incorrect to assume that harnesses inherently cause dogs to pull. Instead, pulling is often a result of excitement, insufficient training, or environmental triggers. 

Harnesses can significantly aid handlers in safely controlling heavy pulling. Utilising a double-ended training lead attached to two points of contact on the harness—available with designs like Perfect Fit, Ttouch, and certain Ruffwear models—enhances both safety and manageability for both the dog and the handler.

Making an informed choice

In the journey of choosing the right walking gear for your dog, whether it be a collar or a harness, it's essential to consider factors like your dog's size, breed, age, personality, and specific behavioural requirements.

The priority should always be on ensuring your dog's utmost comfort, safety, and overall well-being. By selecting the most suitable equipment with thoughtfulness and care, and coupling it with consistent, positive training, every walk you take together becomes more than just a walk; it's an opportunity to deepen the bond with your dog, founded on a bedrock of mutual respect and understanding. This approach not only enhances the quality of your walks but enriches your relationship with your canine companion in every aspect.

Want to learn more? 

Read - “Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy” by Zazie Todd. 

Zazie Todd delves into what truly makes dogs happy and how the choice of walking equipment can contribute to their happiness. The book touches on the importance of comfort and freedom of movement in maintaining a dog's psychological health, making it a valuable resource for considering the type of harness or collar that would best suit your dog's needs.