Dog Collar vs Harness: The Top Tool for Training Puppy to Walk on Leash
Learning to walk on a leash is an essential skill for every puppy, forming the foundation for your pet’s good behavior outdoors and creating enjoyable, hassle-free walks for both of you. The dog collar and the increasingly popular harness are two popular tools for teaching leash skills. Interestingly, there’s a lively debate among dog trainers over which is best when it comes to dog collar vs harness. So it's no surprise that you might wonder which is better for training your puppy to walk on a leash. In this article, we'll cover all the details you need to make the best choice for you and your new canine companion.
Before we dive in, you should know that it's common for a brand-new puppy to throw a temper tantrum when a collar, harness, or leash is introduced. It's something they've never been exposed to before that feels different, so their natural instinct is to pull away. This is called the “opposition reflex.” It's the fancy term we use when dogs pull away because they feel pressure on their collar or harness. We often have to play a few training games to teach a puppy that the collar, harness, and leash mean good things will happen. (I’ll share more about those games later.) You can teach your puppy to love wearing a collar or a harness with some training.
- Learning to walk on a leash is a fundamental skill for every puppy that makes potty training, vet appointments, and other outings safe and enjoyable experiences for you and your puppy.
- Dog collars and harnesses are essential tools for training your puppy to walk on a leash.
- When choosing between a collar and harness, you must consider your puppy's breed, size, behavior, and training objectives.
- Consistency, positive reinforcement, and patience are crucial for successfully training a puppy to walk on a leash and creating a positive association with the collar, harness, leash, and walks.
Understanding Dog Collars
A dog collar is a classic tool, often made of leather or nylon, that goes around a dog's neck. Dog collars are used to display identification tags and dog licenses and as a point of attachment for a dog leash. They come in a variety of types, sizes, and materials.
Puppy owners must consider their dog's unique needs, consult a veterinarian, and choose the appropriate equipment for their walks and training sessions.
Types of Dog Collars
When choosing a suitable collar for your furry friend, it's important to understand the different types and their purposes.
Flat collars are the traditional dog collar made of leather or nylon that most people are familiar with, and they're a popular choice for everyday use. They are adjustable and typically have a buckle or snap closure. I prefer using a regular flat buckle collar because the quick-release collars or the ones with the plastic clasps don't stay snug to size very well, leaving room for your pup to back out and pull away.
Head collars, also known as head halters, have two loops: one that goes around the dog's nose and another that goes around the dog's neck with a leash attachment under the dog's jaw. It provides a safe and gentle way to control a dog that pulls excessively on the leash.
The following types of collars are extremely controversial and tools we would never recommend using on a puppy. Besides being unsafe for use on puppies, they are based on aversion techniques and often inflict pain.
Choke collars, or slip collars, are designed to tighten when the dog pulls on the leash. As a result, this type of collar is not suitable for dogs with respiratory or throat issues or brachycephalic breeds (dogs that have a broad, short skull like Pugs and Bulldogs) because the constriction from collar pressure can cause damage to a dog's larynx, thyroid, and other neck structures. As a result, this type of collar should be used with caution and under the guidance of a professional trainer, as incorrect use can cause injuries to the dog's neck.
Martingale collars, also referred to as limited slip collars, are commonly used for dogs that tend to slip out of traditional flat collars. They tighten slightly when the dog pulls, preventing the dog from slipping out.
Prong collars, also known as pinch collars, are usually metal chain collars with a set of metal prongs on each link that rest against a dog's skin. These collars tighten around the dog's neck as the dog pulls, causing the prongs to dig into the dog's skin.
Shock/vibration collars deliver a small electric shock or vibration as a form of correction. While some trainers believe these are effective in certain training situations, we discourage their use.
Each type of collar has its own benefits and considerations. Choosing the collar that best suits your dog's needs is important, so consult with a professional if you're unsure. Remember, the purpose of any collar should always be for the comfort and safety of your furry friend.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Dog Collars
Pros of Using a Dog Collar:
Accessibility and ease of use
Collars are widely available and easy to put on your pup – especially in the middle of the night for potty breaks. I like keeping the leash attached to the collar and lying next to the crate so everything is ready to go. This way, when the pup comes out of the crate to go potty, I can quickly put it on without much fuss. Timing is crucial in preventing an accident if a puppy really has to go.
Dog collars also provide a simple and efficient way to display your dog's identification information (name, address, and contact details) and dog license, which can be extremely helpful if your dog goes missing. Having identification on a collar increases the chances of a quick return of your lost dog, as anyone who finds them can quickly contact you.
Pro Tip: I'm not a fan of tags jingling on a dog's collar or harness because dogs have a much keener sense of hearing than humans, so the jingling tags are much louder to your pup and an unnecessary distraction preventing your puppy from focusing 100% on you. More often, jingling tags are an irritation that can easily over-stimulate a puppy and lead to behavior problems. For these reasons, I prefer microchipping or attaching an embroidered or engraved identification label onto the collar or harness. If you still want to use identification tags, consider using a tag silencer.
Cost and variety
Collars are often less expensive than harnesses and come in various materials and designs.
Some trainers believe collars can be used effectively for specific training purposes during training sessions.
Cons of Using a Dog Collar:
Potential for injury
One major concern is the pressure that collars can exert on sensitive areas of a dog's body, such as the neck and throat. If not used correctly, particularly while teaching a puppy to use a leash, collars could lead to injuries in dogs, including neck strain, thyroid damage, and damage to the larynx with collar pressure. This is particularly true for dogs with respiratory issues, breeds with broad, short heads, or those with throat or neck conditions.
Not suitable for all
Certain dog breeds with specific physical characteristics (like a small head) may slip out of collars easily. This can be especially worrying in a high-traffic area or dangerous situations where you need to ensure the safety of your furry friend.
Some dogs with super sensitive necks and throats (like Yorkies and tiny poodles or poodle mixes) will routinely cough and sputter with the slightest bit of pressure applied. If you have a dog with a thicker neck, such as a Pug or a BullDog, the collar might slip right off because the neck is about the same size as the head. This isn’t safe.
While dog collars offer the benefits of accessibility and ease of use, identification and potential quick return of a lost dog, and affordability and variety, pet owners should also be aware of the potential for harm caused by constriction from collar pressure and the risk of their dog escaping. It's essential to assess these factors and consider alternative options, such as harnesses, for the safety and well-being of our furry friends.
Understanding Dog Harnesses
A dog harness is typically made from polypropylene, nylon, or polyester and wraps around a dog's body. The leash is attached to the dog's chest or back, providing a larger area of control. Harnesses distribute the pressure and force exerted from the leash across the dog's body rather than placing it solely on the neck and throat. If your puppy is an escape artist, you'll definitely want a harness on hand!
Types of Harnesses for Dogs
When walking your dog, using a harness can offer comfort and control while ensuring your furry friend's safety. Harnesses come in a variety of types and configurations, from over-the-head or step-in to H-shape, Y-shape, sport, and utility harnesses, with two main attachment points for the leash: front-attach and back-attach harnesses.
As the name applies, front-attach harnesses provide a ring at the chest for attachment of the leash. This type of harness provides more control and keeps you in your dog’s field of vision while walking, which can help them stay focused on you. We discourage the use of front clip harnesses for any pup under 1 year of age because they can cause misalignment of your puppy’s neck, shoulders, and spine causing lasting damage.
On the other hand, back-attach harnesses have an attachment ring on the back for connecting the leash. These harnesses offer greater comfort during walks.
But the best harness to choose for a growing puppy is a Y-shaped harness with a back clip for leash attachment. The Y-shape provides maximum mobility for puppy’s shoulders, and the back attachment for the leash helps keep puppy’s body aligned.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Dog Harnesses
Pros of Using a Dog Harness:
Harnesses offer better control over your dog, which can be helpful with puppies that are learning or larger dogs that exert a lot of power.
They reduce the risk of injury by evenly distributing pressure across the dog's body.
Because a harness wraps around the dog's chest and shoulders and is adjustable for each dog's size, weight, and body type, it is much more difficult to escape.
Ideal for specific breeds
Certain breeds with unique body structures (like short noses, small heads, and skinny necks) may benefit from harnesses.
Cons of Using a Dog Harness:
Harnesses can be pricier than collars.
Complex to put on
They can be a bit more challenging to put on, especially with a wiggly puppy.
Difficulty finding the right size for young puppies
Finding a harness for tiny dogs can be tricky, so you may have to temporarily use a cat harness until your pup grows into an extra small or small-sized dog harness.
Potential for neck and spine issues
Injury can occur if the harness does not fit correctly and your dog is a serious puller. Too much pulling while wearing a harness can cause neck and spine problems as your pup grows.
Comparing Dog Collars and Harnesses for Leash Training
Both dog collars and harnesses have their advantages and disadvantages. It is crucial to consider your puppy's needs based on their breed, size, behavior, and training objectives.
Dog collars are a popular choice for leash-training puppies. They come in a variety of types and materials. They are lightweight and easy to use, making them suitable for small and toy breeds. However, collars can put pressure on the neck and throat, potentially causing injuries. They can also cause discomfort and stress, leading to negative associations with walks.
Harnesses, on the other hand, offer several benefits for leash-training puppies. Back-attach harnesses evenly distribute pressure across the puppy's body, making them a good option for puppy’s safety and comfort.
Important Note: If your puppy is pulling while using a harness, you’re in the wrong environment for the stage of leash training for which your puppy is ready.
Overall, harnesses provide a safer and more comfortable option compared to collars. They offer better control, reduce the risk of injuries, allow for positive reinforcement during training sessions, and promote positive associations with walks. However, choosing the right type and size of harness for your puppy is essential to ensure a proper fit and functionality.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Dog Collar or Harness
Several key factors must be considered when selecting a dog collar or harness.
Puppy's Breed and Size
One crucial factor to take into account is the breed and size of the puppy. Different breeds have different needs and characteristics to consider when choosing the appropriate accessory.
A harness may be the safer option for smaller and more fragile breeds, such as French Bulldogs and toy breeds. Small dogs are more prone to neck injuries, tracheal collapse, and respiratory issues. A dog harness can help distribute the force from the leash across the puppy's body, reducing the risk of injuries.
The shape and size of the puppy's neck can also influence the decision. Puppies with long bodies or delicate necks may require a harness for added support and control during walks. It is crucial to ensure a proper fit when choosing an accessory for your puppy. Trying on different collars and harnesses to find the best fit, considering the puppy's breed and size, can provide peace of mind and ensure the puppy's comfort and safety during training sessions and walks.
Puppy's Behavior and Temperament
It's also essential to consider the behavior and temperament of a puppy. Different puppies have different needs, and understanding their personality can help you make the right choice.
A harness may be the better option for puppies with hyperactive tendencies or a tendency to run away. A dog harness provides more control and prevents escape artists from getting loose, offering added security during walks. It can also help manage pulling behavior by distributing the force across the puppy's body while helping to direct the puppy's attention to you.
On the other hand, well-trained puppies may benefit from the freedom of a collar. A collar allows for more natural movement and can be suitable for puppies who have already mastered the leash.
When evaluating your puppy's behavior and temperament, consider factors such as their energy level, training progress, and any specific challenges they may present. Puppies who are easily distracted, anxious, or have a strong prey drive may also benefit from the added control of a harness.
Deciding between a collar and a harness depends on what will provide your puppy with the most comfort and safety. Considering their behavior and temperament when making this choice will help ensure a positive experience for you and your furry friend.
Your Training Objectives and Preferences
Your training objectives and personal preferences should also factor into the decision between a collar vs harness.
A flat collar will be a good choice if you want to focus on positive reinforcement, building a strong bond with your dog, and ease of use.
On the other hand, if you need increased control with less pulling and added security during walks, a harness might be a better choice – especially for dogs with high energy levels or a tendency to run away.
Ultimately, the decision between a collar and a harness hinges on the training techniques you plan to use, the level of control you desire, and your dog’s specific needs. By taking these factors into account, you can make an informed choice that supports both your training goals and the well-being of your dog.
Training Tips for Leash Walking with a Harness
When it comes to leash walking, using a Y-shaped harness can be a game-changer. As mentioned above, but worth re-stating, a Y-shaped harness is best for leash training and walking with a puppy. Here are some training tips to help you make the most of using a harness for leash walking.
First and foremost, ensuring that the harness is the right size and properly fitted is crucial. A well-fitted harness should be snug but not too tight (1 to 2 finger widths between the harness and your puppy's body), allowing for comfortable movement. Improperly fitted harnesses may cause discomfort or even chafing, making walking an unpleasant experience.
Use a polypropylene, nylon, or leather leash for safe and reliable control. We discourage using retractable leashes because of the risk of rope burns, getting your legs tangled, and the leash jamming up, which can leave you and your puppy in an unsafe predicament.
Next, the leash should be attached to the appropriate point on the harness – the back clip is best for puppies. For super tiny pups and low-rider dogs (a dog that is very close to the ground, like a Dachshund), a back clip harness is always best. Smaller dogs tend to stumble when using a front clip harness because the leash gets caught under their leg. Be sure to use a lighter leash with a smaller clasp for small dogs, as a big, clunky, heavy leash will feel like a ton of bricks to them.
Whenever your pup is wearing a collar or harness with the leash, there should be a J-shape (or smile shape) in the leash to ensure no pressure is being exerted on the puppy. This is also referred to as “loose leash” walking because the leash is hanging loosely instead of being pulled tight.
Finally, leash walking with a harness requires patience and consistency. Practice loose leash walking regularly, rewarding your dog for walking calmly beside you. Positive reinforcement and clear communication are key to successfully teaching a puppy to walk on leash. You and your dog can enjoy stress-free and enjoyable walks together with time and practice.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Leash Training A Puppy
Some common mistakes that hinder training progress include:
1. Pulling on the leash: Allowing your puppy to pull on the leash can create bad habits and make walking more challenging. Teaching your puppy to walk beside you with a loose leash is important.
2. Using a retractable leash: Retractable leashes can cause serious damage to you and your pup from rope burns and cuts if you accidentally get tangled up. They also create training problems, as they encourage pulling and give your puppy too much freedom. Stick to a standard leash that allows better control and communication.
3. Inconsistent training: Consistency is key when training a puppy. Inconsistent training can confuse your puppy and make it harder for them to learn the desired behavior. Set a consistent routine and stick to it.
4. Punishing your puppy: Punishing your puppy for pulling or misbehaving on the leash can result in fear, anxiety, or aggression. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and reward good behavior to encourage your puppy to engage in the desired behavior.
5. Lack of patience: Training takes time and patience. Rushing the process can lead to frustration for both you and your puppy. Take it slow, praise your puppy for progress, and be patient throughout the training sessions.
Avoiding these common mistakes will ensure a smoother experience for your puppy. Consistency, positive reinforcement, and patience are key to successful leash training and creating a positive association with the leash and walks.
The top tool for training a puppy to walk on leash is a Y-shaped back-attach dog harness (or cat harness if your puppy is too small for an extra-small dog harness). While working on leash training, the harness is best.
Once your puppy is leash trained, or if you have a super calm puppy that never pulls, you can use a flat collar that buckles because adjustable clasps don’t stay secure.
Once you've selected the right harness or collar and leash for your puppy, here are some other leash-training tools you'll want to have on hand!
About those training games we mentioned at the start of this article… Want to infuse your puppy training with lots of fun that makes learning new skills much easier for your puppy and more rewarding for you? Check out our 30 Days to Puppy Perfection program!
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.