Collar vs. Harness – Protecting Your Dog’s Neck and Spine

There are many potential hazards associated with the pressure a collar places on a dog’s neck, throat and spine.

Wearing collars in the house:

Dog collars are great for attaching dog tags and licences to, but that is about it.  Many pet parents are unaware that puppies and dogs who spend time in crates while wearing regular collars are put in jeopardy every time you leave them unsupervised. There are thousands of cases annually where dogs have accidentally strangled or hung themselves by getting caught on the bars of the crate and were unable to wriggle themselves free. Choosing the safest dog collar or harness depends on your dog’s needs and habits.

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This can best be avoided by removing the collar altogether before entering the crate or pen. Another option is to use a break away collar. In the case of an emergency, the dog pulling to get loose will release the clasp on the collar and the dog will be free and safe. I actually experienced this recently with my cat. We came home to find that the cat had no collar on. It was several days before we found the collar. It was wrapped around the floor-level hooks on our coat rack. Had he not been wearing a break-away collar; he may not have survived. Because of this incident, he no longer wears a collar at all. It’s just too dangerous.

Wearing collars on a walk:

Collars were traditionally used to attach leashes to when walking your dog. We are now learning that there are many potential hazards associated with the pressure a collar places on a dog’s neck, throat and spine. If the dog walks easily beside you, and never pulls, there is little chance of damage. The likelihood that your dog never pulls for any reason, is very slim. If a dog sees a squirrel, another dog, a favorite person, if he gets startled or needs correcting, the leash will probably reach full tension. As soon as this happens pressure is placed on the dog’s neck. This is where the decision between dog collar or harness comes in.

Below the area of the neck where a standard collar rests on a dog’s neck is a thin layer of skin which covers the trachea, larynx, thyroid and cervical spine. When the dog pulls (or is pulled) the collar can place pressure on any of these areas causing permanent damage. Pressure on the neck can even result in damage to the eyes. Sometimes when I am walking, I see a dog who is pulling so hard on the leash that I can actually hear the dog struggling to breathe. I am not sure why they don’t stop pulling when this level of discomfort is reached. I don’t think that dogs have the mental capacity to logically associate that if they were to stop pulling it would make it easier to breathe.

If you use a well-fitting harness – one that rests below the neck and does not rub behind the front legs – your dog will be safe and comfortable.

Now that we know that, for most dogs, we probably don’t want to attach our dog’s leash to a collar, we have to choose an alternative. A shock collar is out of the question for me. Controlling a dog with pain is, in my opinion, cruel and inhumane. What’s the safest choice? A harness. If you use a well-fitting harness – one that rests below the neck and does not rub behind the front legs – your dog will be safe and comfortable.

A leash can be attached in two places on a harness. Some have the D-link on the back, allowing the leash to pull from behind. There is little control over pulling, jumping or for training purposes when attached in this location. For a trained dog, this provides a safe and comfortable option. Deciding on a harness with the D-link in the front at the chest level offers more control over the dog’s movements. When training this serves as a gentle reminder not to pull. The resistance comes from a place that does no physical damage at all to your dog. When training or when more control is desired, choose a harness that is reversible or has a D-link in both places .

When deciding whether to choose a dog collar or harness, please consider your doggo’s safety and comfort. They will protect us from anything. We should do the same for them.

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