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Dog Collars Versus Harnesses: a Vet's Opinion

Dog collars versus harnesses: which one is the best? This is something many dog owners may wonder about and a very good question over all. As a dog owner you want to do what is best for your dog, putting your dog's wellbeing and health at the very top. Often times, dog owners would like to ask their vets for an opinion, but often their vets are either too busy or dog owners forget to ask or perhaps are a bit bashful about it. We asked veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec about her thoughts in regards to both and she offered her personal perspective of dog collars versus harnesses. Here are her thoughts!

Dog Collar Versus Harness

The Importance of Walking Your Dog on Leash

Keeping your dog on a leash is part of being a responsible dog parent. While letting your beloved canine roam off-leash can be a fun and liberating experience, as it gives your dog the opportunity to walk freely and engage his explorative nature, in some cases, the consequences can be disastrous. Even if you keep an eye on your dog at all times, an uncontrolled environment almost always offers an extensive deal of risks. No matter how well trained your dog is, it only takes one squirrel, bird or rabbit to steal his attention and trigger his natural prey chasing instincts.

The dangers of keeping your dog off leash are therefore way too many! Keeping your dog on a leash is much safer for you, your dog and for other dogs and pedestrians. Since your dog cannot take care of himself, his safety is therefore your priority.

Generally speaking, there are two options when it comes to dog walking gear – collars and harnesses. Each option has its pros and its cons. There is no one universally good choice. It all depends on what you and your beloved dog want and need.

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Why Are Dog Harnesses Better Than Collars?

Harnesses are better suited for dogs on intense training regimens. Technically speaking you can have your dog wear a collar while exercising, however, this is not the wisest option. Investing in a harness specifically designed and manufactured for running is a better choice from many aspects.

First of all, when exercising, dogs tend to pull and jump more than usual. Using a regular collar is not enough to keep your dog under control. Managing your dog will be much easier if you use a harness. Secondly, using a harness reduces the risk of having your dog’s legs tangle in the leash. Getting tangled is especially dangerous while being physically active.

Plus, harnesses enhance the dog’s breathing and prevent potential tracheal injuries. During intense exercises, the dog’s breathing rate increases. Regular collars put unnecessary pressure on the neck and throat thus disabling uninterrupted ventilation. Harnesses take the strain off of your dog’s neck, and depending on the design of the harness, distribute it evenly, either across his chest or back. What is more, harnesses are more comfortable, especially during longer training sessions.

The fact that harnesses are gentle on the neck makes them particularly suitable for dogs prone to tracheal collapse. Tracheal collapse in dogs is a life-threatening condition that occurs commonly among certain brachycephalic dog breeds such as Pugs, French and English Bulldogs, Pekingese dogs and Boston Terriers. It also found in several toy breeds, particularly the Yorkshire Terrier but also the Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Italian Greyhound and Toy Poodle.

There are so-called vest harnesses, which as the name suggests, are worn like vests, thus providing good thermal barrier for cooler temperatures.

Another advantage of harnesses is that they are extremely unlikely to come off accidentally. For example, if the dog pulls too hard, a standard collar may easily come undone while harnesses embrace the entire body and pulling does not affect their hold on your dog.

Harnesses are particularly suited for giant dog breeds. This is because larger dogs have a higher pulling capacity. If your collar-wearing dog pulls a lot, keeping it under control will put too much strain on your arms and shoulders. The harness (especially the front-attaching type) distributes the pulling pressure more evenly thus enabling you to manage the situation without feeling sore.

Additionally, harnesses are beneficial for dogs with certain health issues. For examples there are harnesses specifically designed for dogs with hip, knee or elbow issues, or generally speaking dogs experiencing troubles while getting up. This is because the harness will provide support so you can gently pull the dog up thus making the situation less painful and less uncomfortable.

Last but not least, coming with cute, colorful and decorative embellishments, harnesses make extraordinary fashion accessories.

Why are Dog Collars Better Than Harnesses?

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First of all, getting used to a harness requires some time. Some dogs dislike the feeling of wearing a harness and getting adjusted requires more time than getting adjusted to wearing a collar. If you plan on using a harness, it is advisable to initiate the adjusting process from an early age. Young puppies are more adaptable and easily get used to new stuff. If your puppy get used to the harness when young, it will not notice it once he grows up.

Sometimes dogs may dislike their harnesses if they are not fitted properly. Luckily, this issue is easily dealt with – available in all shapes and sizes, there is a perfect harness for every dog. Short-haired dog breeds may dislike wearing harnesses unless they are padded in which case they cause rubbing and chafing.

Secondly, in terms of ease of use, harnesses are less practical than collars. Basically, harnesses are more time-consuming and complicated to put on and off particularly in hyperactive dogs that refuse to cooperate. Plus, harnesses do not support attaching dog tags such as ID, license and rabies tags.

Thirdly, harnesses are not best suited for dogs with behavioral issues like aggression. This is especially true for harnesses with back leash clips since they offer lesser control. Harnesses with back leash clips are also not best suited for dogs prone to excessive pulling. In fact, certain dog breeds, like sled dogs, are actually encouraged to pull because they have an opposition reflex.

Ultimately, harnesses are not recommended for dogs under the age of one. The dog’s skeletal development is not finished before reaching one year of age and if a harness is used during this phase, deformities are likely to occur. Last but not least, harnesses are usually more expensive than collars.

Dog Collars Versus Harnesses: The Final Verdict

As previously stated both collars and harnesses have their advantages and disadvantages. Maybe it would be best to gear up and have both a collar and a harness (unless your dog has a medical issue that instructs otherwise). If going hiking, running or biking use the harness. If patrolling the yard or going on a play-dates use the collar (make sure it's a break-a-way collar to prevent dog collar strangulation). If going for a walk, let your dog decide what it wants to wear.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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