All dog owners have spent a significant amount of time in pet shops trying to decide on one out of the ridiculous number of dog leashes and collars on display. Dog leashes, collars and harnesses come in all makes, materials and sizes. They also come with all sorts of modifications and innovations to help you better control your dog, but the classical question remains the same: Do you prefer to control your dog by restraining it around the neck, or around the chest? The argument usually revolves around finding a balance between choosing something that is humane and yet still effective.
Which is the most humane?
This is a difficult question to answer and it varies from dog to dog. This is because such an answer will boil down to how the dog walks on a leash, and also depends on its personal preference when it comes to restraint. Generally speaking, most people acknowledge that the harness is more humane than the collar. This though highly depends on the design of the collar and harness that are being compared. Thick, soft collars cause less pain then a poorly made harness that has a lot of thin straps. This is especially so if the dog is a well behaved dog, and does not pull on the leash. Some dogs are also annoyed by the feeling of a harness enveloping their body. This is not a cut and dry situation, so therefore go with what feels is best for your dog. Whether you go for a super soft, wide collar or a highly padded harness will ultimately boil down to what you and your dog find to be most practical.
What is healthiest?
Although we’ve already established that deciding between a collar and a harness should be made based on what is preferred by you and your dog, research shows that harnesses are less likely to harm a dog than a collar. This is because when using a harness, a dog prone to pulling will have the force distributed over a larger surface area than when using a collar. Moreover, the chest surface over which this force is spread is also less sensitive then the neck. It is therefore common to see neck injuries in overly excited dogs that are walked on a leash and collar. Neck injuries can occur in the spine and also other organs. Spinal injuries show up as uncomfortable posture and gait, as well as sensitivity around areas of the neck and other parts of the body. The trachea can also be injured or irritated resulting in laboured breathing or other respiratory abnormalities. Collars can also commonly damage the thyroid gland, resulting in the occurrence of a host of metabolic issues. Increase of intraocular pressure has also been observed in dogs that use collars. This is extremely harmful for dogs that suffer from conditions like glaucoma.
But if the harness is healthier to use than a collar, why do we still use collars?
Unfortunately harnesses – while they are generally a better option for the dog – do little to help control a dog that has a mind of its own. The most well behaved dogs do well on a harness, but if a dog can take off in a different direction when on a harness, the whole dog walking experience can become very frustrating for the owner. Collars are therefore a way of shifting a certain degree of control from the dog back to the owner. This is because in dogs, as in most animals, wherever the head goes the rest will usually follow. Collars do not cause damage in well behaved dogs that just need a gentle nudge to encourage them to go in the right direction. However, make sure to avoid using a regular collar with very unruly dogs. It might seem like the most obvious idea, but unruly dogs will most often hurt themselves significantly if walked with a collar. In such cases, speak to a dog trainer to take some obedience lessons and to find other alternative collar or harness designs that keep you and your dog safe.