You would think picking out a leash and collar for your new puppy is a simple enough task — until you walk into a pet store and are met with an overwhelming number of options. Which is better for my puppy: collar or harness? What are all these different types of collars and harnesses for, exactly? These are important questions, and the answers will help you choose the safest option for your dog.
Whichever you end up choosing, just remember that no collar or harness is safe for a puppy to wear without supervision, so be sure to remove it before shutting your pup inside a crate or leaving them unattended.
Types of Collars
Flat or Rolled Collar
This is your basic dog collar. These collars come in leather, woven nylon or cloth varieties, and they can often be found in cute colors and patterns, sometimes accessorized with bling, bow ties, bandanas and other ways to show off your dog’s personality. They’re easy to find, affordable, and they’re great for displaying ID tags. Rolled collars tend to be a bit sturdier and hold up better for active dogs who put a lot of wear and tear on their collars, but because they’re raised from the neck and can catch on things more easily and cause choking, they’re generally not recommended for puppies.
These standard types of collars have a major drawback, however. “[Both flat and rolled] collars can cause damage to the trachea,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, veterinary consultant for DogLab. “Tracheal collapse is when your dog’s tracheal rings weaken, causing them to collapse when your dog breathes in and out. This can cause narrowing in your dog’s trachea.” This can be a danger for puppies learning to walk on a leash and older dogs who have a tendency to pull.
Certified dog behavior consultant Kayla Fratt, founder of Journey Dog Training, agrees. “Once my dogs are trained to walk nicely on a leash, we simply use a flat buckle neck collar. Until they walk nicely, however, I use a back-clip harness to protect their throats from pulling.”
Another potential danger of these types of collars is that they can increase eye pressure. A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that the force generated by a dog pulling against a standard neck collar can significantly increase pressure in the eyes, and shouldn’t be used on dogs who have glaucoma, weak corneas or other eye conditions.
Choke Collars and Prong Collars
These types of collars are sometimes used in training. Choke collars slip around a dog’s neck and tighten uncomfortably when the dog pulls against it, whereas prong collars are lined with blunt prongs that place pressure on the neck. When used correctly, these collars are intended only to get the dog’s attention, and not as a means of punishment.
While some trainers find these collars effective on high-drive breeds like Belgian Malinois, who don’t always respond well to other training methods, many trainers disavow their use, including Kayla Fratt. “I recommend relying on games and treats to teach your dog not to pull, not finding equipment that makes pulling painful for your dog,” she says. These collars are not for everyday use and should only be used under the supervision of a professional trainer, and they should never be used on puppies younger than six months.
A hybrid between a choke collar and a flat collar, Martingale collars are designed with stops that make them less restrictive than choke collars and prevent them from squeezing the neck. Properly designed Martingales sit high on the neck, avoiding the trachea, and offer more control of the head, which makes dogs more responsive to direction. Poorly designed Martingale-style collars, however, tend to slip down and have the same drawbacks as regular flat collars. Also, poorly fitted collars can easily slip off over the head, making it easy for puppies to slip out and run away.
These are flat collars with a fastener that easily breaks open when a dog or puppy pulls hard enough. A safety collar can be a good option in a situation where you need your pup to wear ID or proof of vaccination but are concerned about choking, such as at play dates with rambunctious dogs or at an off-leash dog park. But the breakaway design makes these collars a poor choice for leash walking.
Types of Harnesses
Harnesses fit around your dog’s chest and torso, keeping pressure off of the neck. They come in a variety of materials and styles, but there are two main types you should be aware of.
This is the most common type of harness, with a D-ring located in the middle of the back for attaching a leash. These harnesses tend to be more comfortable for dogs, and are generally a good choice for brachycephalic breeds–those with flat faces, such as Pugs or Bulldogs, which are more prone to tracheal collapse. They also tend to be a better choice for breeds in the Toy Group, which tend to be more fragile, and for dogs with long, delicate necks, like Greyhounds.
One drawback of back-clip harnesses is that they can encourage pulling, especially with breeds like Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes that are bred to pull heavy objects. “I still recommend back-clip harnesses for jogging, biking, or hiking,” says Fratt. “They’re great in situations where comfort and freedom are the priority for the dog or in situations where a bit of pulling is expected.”
These harnesses have the D-ring located in the front of the chest. This design is meant to discourage pulling, which can be a good choice for heavy pullers, especially large breeds who could jerk you off your feet. However, depending on the design, some front-clip harnesses can constrict your pup and end up causing damage. “While they may reduce your dog’s pulling power, having a strap that shortens their stride and pulls them to the side is bad for their posture and musculature,” says Fratt. “Look for a front-clip harness that is Y-shaped rather than one that has a strap across their chest.”
Which is Safest: Harness or Collar?
While a flat collar is best for everyday wear and for displaying ID tags, our experts agree that a harness is the safest option for going on walks and other outdoor activities or situations that might cause your puppy to pull on the leash. As for what type of harness to choose, the best harness is the one that fits and is comfortable for both you and your pup, says Dr. Ochoa. “I always recommend taking your dog to the pet store to try on harnesses and pick out the one that fits them the best and is the easiest for you to put on your dog.”