By Unnati Hunjan*

Walks are an essential part for the well-being of our dogs. But it can get difficult without the right equipment and training. Choosing between a harness and a collar, especially one that’s ideal for your dog, can get tricky! The choice largely depends on your dog itself. Their breed, age, activity level, health concerns, and personal preferences will guide you towards the right choice. If you aren’t sure which one to purchase or are a new pet parent or are just looking to try out something new, it is important to know the pros and cons of both collars and harnesses.

Collars

Collars are an essential training tool and a choice for many when they start leash walking for their dogs. When connected to a leash, dogs obtain a higher degree of security and control. Some of the pros of using a collar include leaving it on for a longer duration than a harness. They are easier to snap on and convenient to use. Collars also tend to provide easier access to metal rings on which your pet’s ID, name tag, or other crucial information can be attached.

However, leading your dog by the neck can quickly go wrong if the tools used for leash walks aren’t used correctly. It is vital to ensure the safety of your dog’s neck. If your dog constantly pulls and tugs harshly, it could end up injuring their neck or hampering the airflow. It could also lead to thyroid damage or spinal injuries over time, if not corrected. Especially, breeds that are prone to collapsing tracheas could be severely harmed. Breeds with thick necks run a risk of slipping out of the collar easily.

Harnesses

The key advantage of a harness over a collar is that you will have much more control over an excitable dog. It is safer, more secure, and fits around your dog’s body to fasten better and provide more comfort. It is not easy for dogs to slip out of them and run into trouble if fitted well. H harnesses are the best kind as they disperse pressure over a larger area of their chest, shoulders, and back – preventing accidents and damage to their neck that collars may cause. It also makes redirecting the dog easier by using a harness rather than a collar.  It should ideally be light and soft with a long back bar and sturdy buckles.

Just like collars, harnesses also have their weaknesses and one must always choose wisely as to what is right for their pets. Harnesses can be less convenient to put on, as dogs might not be comfortable with something being slipped over their head and they take longer to fasten. It could hold the chest and front legs too close if not well-fitted, reducing their shoulder blade mobility. An ideal harness should provide maximum freedom of movement and overall mobility, not covering too much of your dog or the shoulder blade. They can be bulkier and some dogs might just not prefer wearing one and might need time to get used to them. They might not provide ease of hanging your dog’s ID or tag like collars do.

That being said, it is crucial to train all dogs to walk on a loose leash. It is safer and healthier for them. They should be able to understand leash pressure and not pull excessively. It is also essential for a pet parent to understand the right way to use tools they are picking for their dogs. Pulling and tugging may not be a function of poor behaviour; instead, it is reflective of a lack of mental stimulation and enough time to sniff on walks. Keep in mind that every dog is different and will have a different learning curve. Have realistic expectations when introducing a new tool to your dog to avoid you or your pet from getting frustrated. For pet parents that are just starting out and do not hold a lot of experience with such tools, use LIMA tools – least intrusive and minimally aversive. It is advised to refrain from using complicated or aversive tools like shock collars, prong collars, and others, without proper knowledge of these tools and of the right way to use them. It could end up harming your pet and make them fearful or averse to the tool itself while making them dread going on walks!

And remember, when in doubt, consult an expert!

* Founding team – Training Lead, Supertails. She is a Psychologist and a certified Animal-Assisted Therapist, and previously was the Founder of Therapeutic Paws; she was a former Professor in the Department of Psychology, Christ University, Bangalore. Her PhD is in Neuropsychology and Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI).

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