Should you walk your dog on a collar or a harness?

We asked behaviourist and dog trainer Carolyn Menteith to share her thoughts on whether you should attach a dog’s lead to their collar – or to a harness.

When you live with a dog, a key part of every single day will be your exercise time. Putting on your dog’s lead, getting out and spending quality time together in the great outdoors. 

Traditionally this lead has been attached to a collar around your dog’s neck. These days, there are all kinds of chains, headcollars and harnesses out there. Each one with their own supporters who say “this is what you need to use on your dog to prevent them from pulling and get them walking beside you on a loose lead.”

And after all, that’s what we want. There’s no fun in being pulled all over the countryside by your dog – especially if they’re large and strong! If this sounds like your dog walks, you’re certainly not the only one. Ask any trainer what the main problems people have with their dog’s obedience are, they’ll tell you without hesitation: recall and pulling on the lead. 

If you ever doubt it, spend some time watching owners out with their dogs. I bet you’ll see way more tight leads than you will slack ones!

Why does my dog pull on the lead?

You can find plenty of people on the internet who’ll tell you your dog is pulling because they are dominant, or because they’re trying to be pack leader, or take over the world or something…

The reality is most medium to large dogs naturally walk faster than we do. It really is that simple.

Plus a dog’s enthusiasm and general love of life means they’re really excited to get where they’re going as quickly as possible. So, of course they pull to try to persuade you to get there faster!

What should I use to stop my dog pulling on the lead?

Any piece of equipment that’ll stop your dog pulling will only do so because it hurts or is uncomfortable if they pull. It’s obvious if you think about it. There is only one thing that will stop your dog pulling – and that is training. 

While you’re doing that training, it isn’t fair to use equipment that’s aversive, hurts, or makes walks anything less than the fun and enjoyable time it should be for both you and your dog.

Collar or harness?

A well-fitted, comfortable harness that allows your dog to use their shoulder and move their front legs freely is ideal. This will keep your dog safe, controlled and secure without causing any discomfort or pain. 

While a plain collar is traditional and what many people are used to, there’s enough research to show they can cause injury and long-term damage to the delicate structures in your dog’s neck – even from just low levels of pulling. They can cause tissue damage, increase pressure in the eye, potentially affect the thyroid, and compress the blood vessels. Not only that, but the pressure on the dog’s windpipe can affect their breathing and ability to pant to cool down. 

So while a collar is for attaching your dog’s ID tag to*, when it comes to attaching a lead, it’s a well-fitting harness all the way – and some time spent training your dog to walk on a loose lead (either on your own or at a good, reward-based, training class).

Even after you’ve taught your dog to walk on a loose lead, remember that you’ve got a dog not a robot. Sometimes they will get excited or overly enthusiastic – or just have to investigate a fabulous sniff or try and chase that ever-so-enticing squirrel! And so pulling sometimes happens – but you can always be sure that you are not punishing your dog’s joy of life with discomfort or pain.

*It is the law in the United Kingdom for dogs to wear a collar with an identification tag whenever they’re in public.

Find more behaviour tips and info.

1 thought on “Should you walk your dog on a collar or a harness?”

  1. I attach the leader to her very substantial harness as our nervous wriggler can Houdini her way out of a collar and a not so substantial harness and did so on a couple of occasions when we first got her from the rescue centre. Life, now that she has more confidence, is much easier but I am not prepared to take the chance of her getting spooked and making her escape. We have had her for 3+ years now and still have the occasional ‘OMG what is that moment’.


Leave a comment