When it comes to choosing a collar or harness for your new furry friend, which is better? The answer depends on comfort, safety, and use (or training). It’s helpful to understand the different features and benefits of both before making a decision. Choosing between a collar or harness will also depend on your dog’s size, breed, and the level of control you prefer when out on walks.

Professional trainers may express preferences in collars and harnesses depending on their method of training and the dog’s personality; consult with a professional trainer before enrolling your dog in a training program.

Another resource for information about collars and harnesses is the local pet shop. Vince Fahringer, the store manager of Dogs & Cats Rule in Doylestown, reviewed the types of collars and harnesses available and some of the recommended brands his store carries.

“Many customers will purchase a collar and a harness. When securing your dog in the car, a harness is the better choice, a safer choice, to work with the seatbelt. Some brands include the seat belt restraint, or the seat belt attachment can be purchased separately. Many people also purchase a collar to hold their dog’s identity and registration tags,” said Fahringer.

Harness Types: Comfortchoosing a dog collar or harness

Strap harnesses are a basic figure 8 style that come in different materials and widths. Fahringer said this style is a popular, less expensive option that allows for the most growth with medium to large-breed puppies. A strap harness may not be the right choice if your dog tends to pull ahead of you on the leash. Since the straps fit across the chest and under the front legs, the pulling may cause the straps to rub and irritate the skin.

There are harness styles made with fabric or soft mesh-like material that fit like a vest. The vest fits snuggly around the dog’s chest and back. Fahringer said this type of harness is not recommended for large breeds, but is a good choice for small to medium-sized breeds thanks to the comfortable and secure design.

Harness Clips: Front or Back

The position of the harness clip for attaching the leash is another consideration. The three clip positions include a back clip, a front clip, or a dual clip. Each position of the clip has different uses for safety and training when the leash is attached.

The back clip is positioned on the dog’s back instead of at the neck. This is a nice choice if your dog walks well with you or if you are giving the dog some space to explore. If your dog pulls while walking with you, a back clip does not provide the control to correct the behavior as it happens.

“Attaching the leash on the back clip is not recommended if your dog pulls ahead while on a walk since the correction to the behavior is delayed. Using the back clip conditions the dog to pull more. When pulling ahead, the pressure applied to the dog’s body comes from behind which conditions them to pull harder—sled dogs are a prime example,” said Jack Mitchell, a professional dog trainer with Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center in Doylestown, PA.  

On a front clip harness, the clip is positioned on the dog’s chest. Connecting the leash at the front of the harness provides better directional control of the dog and the right amount of pressure to correct the pulling. If your dog reacts to other dogs or people when walking on a leash, using the front clip and an appropriate leash (not a retractable leash) will keep the dog close and focused on you during a correction.

“Using front clip easy-walk harness is recommended for dogs that pull. It features a cinch point on the chest, and using the front clip makes it more difficult for the dog to pull too far ahead. Pressure at the cinch point from the front clip when the leash is pulled redirects the dog’s attention back to you. Ideally, your dog should walk next to you without feeling pressure on the harness or collar—this is loose-leash walking. The pressure on the dog’s chest from using the front clip is an immediate and quick correction in behavior so the dog understands what you are communicating,” added Mitchell.

The dual-clip harness offers both front and back clip options. Either clip can be used or simultaneously connected with a two-point control leash or multi-function training leash.

Safety

A harness provides better safety protection for the dog while riding in a car. Seatbelt attachments are available for all harness types and some brands include the seatbelt attachment. Using the dog leash as a tether between a neck collar and the seat could result in a neck injury during a car accident. A harness provides more coverage around the dog’s body for better security and stability in the event of an accident.

For a seatbelt attachment with the most security, look for harness brands that are tested and certified by The Center for Pet Safety for maximum protection.

The Freedom Harness is a popular brand because the harness includes a front and back clip and a patented no-pull designed leash. Fahringer and store sales consultant Rhiannon Egitto use the Freedom Harness with their dogs, and often recommend the brand thanks to its versatility.

EZ DOG is another harness that is easy to put on the dog because of the over-the-head, one-click design rather than a traditional figure 8 style.  Kurgo brand is another good option that provides additional protection for dogs (and their owners) with an active lifestyle. The brand also includes a seat belt attachment.

Collars

There are several types of collars to choose from. Choosing the right collar depends on the needs of your dog. A flat buckle collar is the simplest collar usually made of nylon or leather. This type of collar is better for dogs that walk nicely on a leash. It is not recommended for dogs that pull when on a leash because a flat collar applies pressure on the throat and neck when the dog pulls. This pressure on the throat can causing gagging, choking, or even injury in some cases.

A Martingale collar is a good choice if your dog tends to pull when out on a walk. It is a nylon collar that features a cinching section. The cinching provides a soft correction when the leash is pulled.

When choosing a collar or harness for your new puppy or dog, the first step is to know your companion. How well does my pup walk on a leash? What improvements am I trying to make? Discuss your dog’s personality and your goals for walking together with a professional trainer or a pet store associate. They can help outfit your dog with the best option. With so many choices for collars and harnesses, it can be difficult to decide—let the experts help!