Dog Walking 101 – Harness vs. Collar

Collars – Not for Every Dog

I get quite a few first-time dog owners that aren’t sure what they should use when walking their dogs.  The age-old standard is the collar, but more and more dogs are being walked with a harness instead.  They both have their goods and bads, so it’s up the the individual owner to decide what’s best for them.  I’m definitely more of a harness person, because I believe they are more humane than collars…especially those of the choking variety.  However, I am not an expert…this article is just one woman’s opinion on the subject.

Standard collars are great for dogs who don’t pull, chase squirrels, charge at other dogs, are old or were trained to walk at a heel.  They are more convenient, as they can stay on the dog indefinitely, have their ID readily available in case the dog gets loose, and are great for training.  Chokers, pronged and Martingale collars are used primarily to control pullers and aggressive dogs by squeezing the dog’s neck when the leash is taught.

Unless you are watching your dog like a hawk (especially if you use a retractable leash), you run the risk of your dog injuring his neck and you having a nasty shoulder injury.  It only takes a second or two for your dog to be running full speed at a squirrel and his neck get yanked back when the leash tightens up.  The force when that happens is frightening when you see your dog’s body snap to a full stop just by his neck.  They risk damage to their trachea, and you can injure your shoulder or completely rip off a fingernail when the leash goes flying out of your hand at impact.  Imagine the same thing happening to you…running as fast as you can and being snapped to a complete stop by your neck with spikes simultaneously choking you and digging into your flesh.  Not a good visual, is it?

I have not used every single harness on the market but, of the ones I’ve used, I have my favorites that I’ll be describing here. There’s only one variety that I implore you not to get.

Standard Harnesses

There are two main varieties of a standard harness.  Each variety may have a fancier look to it, but the mechanics are the same. The two below are the basic versions of each.

The one on the left is my favorite of the two.  You slip the dog’s head in the neck hole, lift one of his arms through the side hole and clip it all together.  Even if the dog is jumping all around excited about going for a walk, it should take you less than a minute to wrangle this on them.  It also gives an even distribution of weight when you have to hold the dog back, making it less painful for them and giving you the security of putting as much strength as needed to hold your dog back without fear of injury.

The type on the right is on my “do not buy” list. Though the version below is probably the cheapest harness on the market ($4.98 at Walmart), there’s a reason why. It requires your dog to stand absolutely still, let you to lift up one front leg, put it through a hole, put the leg back down, let you do the same thing to the other leg, THEN pick up both ends and clasp them together. Unless you have an old dog or one that will not move if you order him not to, don’t waste your money. As a professional dog walker, I’ve only had one dog that let me put this thing on without having to practically wrestle him to the ground. Most dogs are so excited to go out that they will not stand still long enough to let you get both legs in. Oh yes, they’ll let you put one leg in, but the second you go to do the other one, they will pick up the first leg and take it out of the harness hole. It will drive you crazy.

Anti-Pull Harnesses

On the left is the Easy Walk, which is the easiest harness I’ve used to put on a dog…bonus points for that. Even super strong pullers get stopped in their tracks with this. The front-chest leash attachment stops pulling by tightening slightly across your dog’s chest and shoulder blades. The gentle pressure steers your dog to the side and redirects his attention back towards you.  Prices range from $15 (amazon.com) to $25 (retail pet stores).

The one on the right, and my low cost favorite, is from Walmart. It’s only $9.98 for every size, and it really works. I have no idea how, because it’s a pretty basic design, but I’ve stopped asking that question and just go with it. Even a client’s 100 lb. black lab can be walked under control with this. I don’t find it on their website, which is strange, but they are at the local stores here.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to what works best for your individual dog and what you, their parent, is most comfortable with. Happy walking!

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