Harnesses v collars

I know that many of you are strong proponents of harnesses but I was listening to a podcast this morning in the car that made me ponder on whether harnesses are less punishing than collars.

Just to make this clear I’m not starting an argument and I use a harness myself on my puppies and young dogs to differentiate getting from a to b against practising heel walking.

But listening to this I was left wondering if it’s just us that perceive harnesses as kinder and not dogs. I was thinking about the fact that you almost never hear of dogs refusing or finding collars punishing, whereas often people have a struggle to put their dogs into harnesses. Does the fact that we can hear the dogs breathing change when pulling on a collar make us more aware? Why do so many dogs suddenly decide that they no longer want to wear a harness and why are so many people ending up counter conditioning harnesses?

Does any one else have slight misgivings? I’ll try and find a link to the podcast, but is seriously geeky.


Please let us know what the podcast is, I love me a bit of geek :D

I think it's a complicated one. Actually, Luna doesn't like wearing a collar. She will fool around to avoid having it put on, just like others do with the harness (she also does it with a harness).
I think that wearing anything on their bodies is alien, and that harnesses are "worse" just because they are bigger. I'm afraid with Luna that I don't have the energy to put into full CC, so I just wait her out until she's ready to sit down and have it put on. It doesn't make her like it any more, and I'm a little ambivalent about that.

Put a collar on a young puppy and they will normally shake and try to get it off (unless they've worn an identity collar from very tiny). It's aversive. But, it keeps them safe. Harnesses are often also aversive, but, again, keep the dog safe - arguably safer than the collar.

So, to me, there's a line you have to draw in protecting your dog from all aversive stimuli. It's not possible to do that. My line is that, even if they don't like their harnesses, they have no choice but to wear them until they can walk nicely on a flat collar, because that is what is safer for them.

It's similar to the nail trimming. I will do what I can to make trimming nails a collaborative, stress-free process, but the fact of the matter is that, for their health and wellbeing, the nails need to br trimmed, so sometimes they just have to suck it up while I get on with it. They are very clear about when they have a choice and when they don't. I think that's a valuable lesson to teach them. Sometimes, you just have to be restrained or put in icky situations and you have to deal with it. Sorry, pup, c'est la vie.
Hmmm. I don't know what to think to be honest.
I've never used a harness on a dog before Cassie, but then I've never had a dog that I've actively taken out to socialise as a puppy previously either. I made mistakes with that in allowing people to fuss her, which has resulted in her pulling on her lead to greet people, not pulling to get from a to b. But still that noisy breathing happens then, so if we're out and about amongst the public I find her harness better than her collar. I don't think it can be ok to risk damaging her neck.
Cassie is lucky in that she doesn't need to wear either a collar or a harness on a daily basis, often going a couple of weeks using only her limited slip. She is happy to put it on as I have taught her "head in". There isn't any real difference in her attitude to either her collar or harness going on, she's not overjoyed in either case. Whether they are actually "punishing" I don't know. But they make the difference to whether she gets to be "involved" in what's going on , or waiting home alone, or in the car.

Not sure if I've rambled off topic a bit!


Really interesting! I think there is lots going on with the dog when we simply "put a harness on"

Breaking it down -

1. We get close to the dog - our arms reach out...

2. We bend down - looking at the dog - our heads get closer, generally "face on"

3. Arms circle the dog -

4. Strange "clicks"

5. Pressure is felt around chest, tummy and back -( a lot of puppy do seem to be made of a lot of soft material )

Doesn't sound much to us, but I am very aware that Otter had never worn a harness and reacted to it from the "get go". Even more interesting is that during the slow and careful habituation process, I kinda predicted that she wouldn't like it. It caused no end of problems in puppy classes!
We use both harness and a collar and used a nose harness too. All for different reasons and circumstances.

i Use a harness for Homer when his collar is not enough. He can slip his head through his collar especially when he is scared or anxious of a situation and I need to keep him safe. An example would be when he’d have to walk along a reasonably busy road to get to the vet, or taking him to a place we don’t know we’ll.

I used a ‘gentle leader’ to help teach him to walk without pulling. We’d go on training walks in the opposite direction around the quiet streets to get him used to not pulling all the time.

Most of the time now the lead is just on his collar. But he’s seven and mostly a lot more sensible. For most of his walks he can be off lead so I don’t have to worry too much about a harness restricting movement or a collar constantly yanking on his neck.


Oh and 4 dogs...only one is comfortable with a harness and that is Benson. He has a super conditioned response and that it...harness means walks and walks are the BEST thing! BUT if he hadn't of paired harness = fun....and it meant...nothing in particular, what would his response look like?


Whether they are actually "punishing" I don't know.
Well, you just have to look at the behaviour of the dog. Punishment is something that reduces the likelihood of a behaviour happening.
When I'm in the hallway and I call my dog, they will normally come towards me rapidly and happily. If I pick up the harness and call my dog, do they come with the same body language, or do they show avoidance (slower responding, slower approaching, not approaching at all, looking away from you...). If they do, then the harness is punishing the behaviour of coming to me in the hallway.
Interesting...Quinn did not have on a collar from a tiny puppy and did not react or care at all when we put her first collar on at 8 weeks. She comes to me and lowers her head when I put her collar on now, and that always means we are leaving the house so I assume that's a positive connection. She doesn't like harnesses and will back away, but is very much a tolerant dog and accepts it. Harness means we are going on a fun walk near water, so you would think that connection would be even more positive....
I have never used a harness and probably never will. It can be damaging to the body if not fitted correctly. It just seems to have sprung into fashion lately. First check chains were all the rage when I was younger, then halter type collars and now harnesses.
Actually, Luna doesn't like wearing a collar.
Me: "Who is Luna? Does Ginnny have a new name?"

Me again: "Oh, she means Squidge!"

I like harnesses better for walking until a dog is 100% sure to never pull. That's forever for a lot of dogs. Brogan wore a harness to help me with stairs/slopes but the lead was attached to his collar as I just found it easier.

Carbon will always wear a harness and now I'm used to attaching his lead to it, so no biggie. His collar is for ID.

All my dogs prior to Carbon wore their collars and bandanas 100% of the time. Carbon is totally fine with his 'outfit' as I call it (harness, collar, bandana and pretty soon SD vest) while he is out but it really bothers him indoors and he'll start scratching. He's the first dog that gets naked when he's off duty.

But when it comes out for walk, he's all wags, so I don't think he minds it...just wants it off when he's done working. :)


Cornwall , UK
It all depends on the walk itself . Our usual ones are off lead jobs but leads required to exit the car and cross a lane , in which case its leads but if its a not an off lead walk then it is harness time . Reuben doesnt seem to mind his harness too much , Nelly runs off and hides at the very sight of it x
Never used a harness with Sky - never felt the need to. Had to get one for Red as trainer at the puppy course we did, insisted on a Perfect Fit. Red really didn’t like it. Used to have real difficulties getting it on her - she would run away. It was useful when we did the scent work but I haven’t used it since. They both happily wear their collars during the day and both walk nicely with a slip lead - F prefers a lead attached to the collar.
Pepper comes running if I pick up his collar, but despite months of trying to get him used to his harness, he's still not keen to have it put on.

Once he's on and he's outside then he's just as happy as with his collar on.
Ooh @Pepper that could describeFergus, he loves having his collar put on, it’s like an announcement that the day has started, but his perfect fit harness...no thank-you. He takes himself into his crate as soon as I pick it up. If I remember I close the door beforehand otherwise I have to throw a treat down to lure him out. Happy enough when it’s on though, and I’ve never forced him, but that initial aversion to it despite nigh on 3 years of harness wear does worry me.
My 2 wear harnesses because they lunge. To me, they are like Benson, they associate their harnesses with going out for a walk and are super keen to have them put on, pushing to be first dog dressed. Once the harness is on, I can detect no difference in either dog. I've never had a dog who wasn't happy to have their harness on (out of 4 dogs).
You see what I’m talking about with just a small cross section of poster here...
If we just applied the rule does that dog want to do this, then we would have to say that quite a lot of dogs find harnesses or putting on harnesses aversive. I have to say that I haven’t had a problem with my two dogs that have used harnesses but is there a big PR campaign that has promoted harnesses when the evidence is that they are not suitable for all dogs?


but is there a big PR campaign that has promoted harnesses when the evidence is that they are not suitable for all dogs?
I think they are the best option for all dogs who pull, until they are taught to walk without pulling. I think they are the best option for dogs who might back out of collars (although you have to find the harness they can't back out of, too). I can't think of any argument that would dissuade me from that (although I always remain open-minded). If the choice comes down to protecting the dog physically or avoiding the discomfort of the dog, then I will choose protecting them physically every time. With the caveat that I would try to DS/CC as much as possible, and I would ensure that there were no pressure points etc that might cause physical pain.
I think the promotional campaign is aimed at protecting the dogs' necks. Beyond that, I think there is a lot of potential for harm if they are used long-term, if they are not designed for full range of natural movement, or if they are fitted incorrectly.