Collar or Harness?

Everyone has a different opinion on which equipment is most humane and most effective to walk one’s dogs. I will give you my thoughts, based on over thirty years of training and experience.


Dog collars are tricky. Putting tags on a collar as a way to ID your dog is a good idea–as long as the collar is quick-release. Having lost a young, healthy collie in a flat buckle collar accident years ago when our two young dogs were playing, and on separate occasion seeing a dog catch his paw in another dog’s choke-chain while playing, I strongly oppose these collars. Prong collars are also dangerous, as a second dog can catch a tooth in the convoluted metal, and you can only imagine the chaos that would ensue trying to separate two panicked dogs. Dogs have also been known to catch chain and prong collars on inanimate objects (branches, fences etc.) and have been consequently injured or strangled.

  1. Quick-release flat collars: Even a quick-release flat collar will constrict a dog’s trachea, or can cause injury to the spine if the dog pulls hard or lunges, but they are a good way to ID your dog. If you have a well-behaved dog who doesn’t pull or lunge, this collar is an option.
  2. Martingale collars: Dogs, especially those with narrow heads, such as collies or greyhounds, learn very quickly how to duck out of flat, quick-release collars. When a martingale collar is fitted correctly, it will only tighten to the circumference of the dog’s neck–it won’t constrict the neck when pulled tight. If you have a well-behaved dog with a narrow head who walks well on a leash, a well-fitted martingale collar is an option, though it should always be removed during play or when your dog is unsupervised.
  3. Choke chains: These collars can damage a dog’s trachea permanently. Vera, our rescued German shepherd, had difficulty drinking water throughout the course of her life from such an injury. When pulled tight, in addition to pain and choking, choke chains will also reduce the amount of oxygen flowing to a dog’s brain, thus causing panic and anxiety. They can damage the spinal cord, crush the larynx, and cause many other injuries.
  4. Prong collars: These mimic the bite of another dog. They also induce pain or threaten to induce pain by pinching or puncturing the skin, inducing or increasing anxiety in your dog (your dog will tell you this by lip licking, yawning, pulling back his ears, tucking his tail, and suddenly decreasing his activity level or “shutting down”.)
  5. Shock collars: These collars either induce pain (or even burns), or the fear of pain (stress and anxiety) as do prong collars and choke chains.


I absolutely recommend walking your dog in a harness rather than a collar because it takes the pressure off your dog’s vulnerable neck. Harnesses must be fitted correctly, so follow any instructions that come with your harness carefully. Harnesses that allow attachment of the leash only on the back of the dog can actually encourage pulling due to the “opposition reflex” wherein the dog leans into the pressure of the harness against his chest. You also have very little control over where your dog is headed. If your dog is a puller, I would strongly recommend a harness with a ring in both front and back to which you can attach a leash with a clip on both ends–AND invest in positive-reward training classes. Here are my favorite harnesses:

  • Balance harness: This harness has a ring on the front and the back, and can be adjusted to fit the length and girth of your dog. It can be used with two points of contact where the leash attaches to both the front and the back of the harness for young, boisterous dogs (see below).
  • Ruffwear dual-attachment harness: This harness is padded, comfortable, and has attachment points both on the front of the harness and on the back. It can be used with 2 points of contact if desired (see below). This harness might be intimidating for some dogs to put on as it can be snug going over the dog’s head. Using a delicious treat to guide his head through the opening will encourage him to overcome his hesitation.
  • Freedom Harness: This harness also has a ring both on the front and the back so it, too, can be used with 2 points of contact if desired. It is lined with velvet and has a strap that goes between the dog’s front legs so that it fits securely.
  • Wonder Walker: I have used the Wonder Walker for many years. It slides easily over the dog’s head, but although it has attachment points on the front and back for two points of contact, it should never be used with just the back attachment ring as the dog could potentially duck out of it.
  • Double-ended leash: All these harnesses can be used with a leash that has a clip at both ends. You can attach one clip to the front of the harness and the other to the back, which can give you more leverage with a large, energetic dog. In tricky situations, one hand can guide the front of your dog away from the trigger, while the other hand controls the back end of your dog on a short leash at your side to prevent too much strain on your dog’s shoulder. If there are no distractions, you can unclip the leash from the back of the harness and walk your dog on the chest attachment point only if you desire. This leash is very versatile, easy on the hands, and can be used in several configurations.
  • “Two Points of contact video” coming soon…