should small dogs use a harness or just a collar
should small dogs use a harness or just a collar

Curious about whether small dogs should use a harness or just stick with a collar? We know it’s a topic that dog owners frequently ponder over, trying to find the best option for their furry companions. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of both harnesses and collars for small dogs, helping you make an informed decision that keeps your pint-sized pup safe and comfortable during walks. So whether you’re a seasoned dog owner or a new addition to the small dog club, read on to discover the best choice for your four-legged friend.

Advantages of using a harness

Reduced risk of injury

When it comes to the safety of our furry friends, using a harness provides significant advantages. One of the most important benefits is the reduced risk of injury. Unlike collars, which put strain on the delicate neck area, harnesses distribute the pressure across the dog’s chest and back. This not only prevents neck injuries but also protects the spine and other sensitive areas.

Increased control and stability

Using a harness gives us increased control and stability when walking our small dogs. The design of a harness ensures that the leash is attached to the dog’s back, allowing us to have better control over their movements. This is particularly beneficial for dogs that tend to pull or have a strong prey drive. With a harness, we can prevent our dogs from pulling and redirect their attention without causing harm or discomfort.

Prevents choking

Safety is always a top priority, and a harness provides an effective solution to prevent choking. Traditional collars can put pressure on a dog’s windpipe, especially if they pull or become anxious during walks. On the other hand, harnesses wrap around the dog’s body, avoiding any harm to the throat or neck area. This makes them an ideal choice for small dogs prone to respiratory issues or those with sensitive necks.

Prevents escape

Small dogs can be quite agile and quick, making it challenging to keep them securely leashed. Harnesses are a reliable solution to prevent escape. The secure fit and design of a harness reduce the chances of our furry companions slipping out or wiggling their way off the leash. This provides us with peace of mind, knowing that our dogs are safely attached and can enjoy outdoor activities without the risk of running away.

Advantages of using a collar

Lightweight and comfortable

Collars are a popular choice for small dogs due to their lightweight and comfortable nature. They are less intrusive than harnesses and don’t restrict the dog’s movement. Small dogs often have delicate necks, and a collar provides a gentle and non-restrictive option for attaching a leash. This allows them to move naturally and freely, providing a comfortable experience during walks.

Easier identification

Collars offer an easy way to identify our small dogs, especially when they’re out exploring or in crowded places. By attaching identification tags to their collars, we can ensure that they can be quickly recognized and returned to us if they happen to get lost. This added layer of safety provides peace of mind and facilitates a swift reunion.

Less expensive

Cost can sometimes be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing between a harness and a collar. Collars tend to be less expensive than harnesses, making them a more budget-friendly option for pet owners. This is particularly advantageous for those with multiple small dogs or those who need to replace collars more frequently.

Allows natural movement

Collars allow small dogs to move naturally and comfortably, without any restriction to their motions. This is particularly important for active dogs that enjoy running, playing, and exploring. The lightweight nature of collars ensures that our furry friends can move with ease while still being safely attached to a leash.

Disadvantages of using a harness

May restrict natural movement

While harnesses offer numerous benefits, there are a few disadvantages to consider. One potential drawback is that certain harness designs may restrict a dog’s natural movement. It’s essential to choose a harness that allows for comfortable motion while still ensuring security. Some dogs may require an adjustment period to get used to the feeling of wearing a harness.

Learning curve for the dog

Introducing a harness to a small dog may require patience and a gentle approach. The process of getting them comfortable with wearing a harness and attaching the leash can take some time and effort. Each dog is unique, and some may need more time to adapt to the new sensation of wearing a harness. However, with consistent positive reinforcement and gradual training, most dogs can acclimate to using a harness.

Potential for tangled straps

Certain harness designs may have multiple straps that could tangle if not properly managed. This can be frustrating for both the dog and the owner, as it may require stopping and untangling the straps during walks. It’s crucial to choose a harness with well-organized straps and adjust them properly to minimize the risk of tangling.

Overheating in certain climates

In hot and humid climates, using a harness may cause our small dogs to overheat more quickly. The additional material and layering of a harness can restrict airflow and trap heat against the dog’s body. It’s important to be mindful of the weather conditions and choose a harness made of breathable materials to prevent discomfort or overheating for our furry friends.

Disadvantages of using a collar

Risk of neck injuries

One significant disadvantage of using a collar is the risk of neck injuries. Small dogs are more prone to various health issues, including neck-related problems. The pressure exerted by a collar on the neck, especially when the dog pulls or jerks abruptly, can lead to injuries, such as neck strain or damage to the trachea. This is a crucial consideration for pet owners who want to prioritize their dog’s long-term health and well-being.

Less control

Collars can offer less control over our small dogs compared to harnesses. The attachment point on the collar is typically located at the front of the neck, which can encourage pulling behavior. The lack of leverage can make it challenging to guide the dog’s movements effectively, especially if they become excited or distracted during walks.

Potential for escape

Some small dogs are crafty and determined when it comes to escaping their collars. Due to their size and agility, they may discover ways to slip out of a collar, leaving their owners in a panic. This can be particularly dangerous if the dog escapes near busy roads or unfamiliar areas. It’s important to ensure that collars are properly fitted and securely fastened to minimize the risk of escape.

Increased likelihood of pulling

Collars can inadvertently reinforce pulling behavior in small dogs. When a dog pulls on a collar, it can exert pressure on the neck, which can prompt them to pull even more. This can create a cycle of pulling and strain on the neck area. If reducing pulling is a priority, a harness may provide better control and encourage positive walking habits.

Factors to consider when choosing between a harness and a collar

Size and breed of the dog

The size and breed of our small dog should be taken into account when deciding between a harness and a collar. Smaller dogs with delicate necks may benefit from the added support and reduced strain provided by a harness. Breeds prone to respiratory issues or with shorter snouts, such as Pugs or Bulldogs, may also benefit from wearing a harness to protect their airways.

Behavior and temperament of the dog

Each dog has its unique behavior and temperament, which should be considered when choosing their walking equipment. Dogs that tend to pull, have a strong prey drive, or display reactive behavior may benefit from the increased control and stability offered by a harness. Conversely, well-behaved and calm dogs may be comfortable and content using a collar.

Health and medical conditions

If our small dog has any health or medical conditions, it’s crucial to consult with our veterinarian before deciding between a harness and a collar. Dogs with neck or spine issues, respiratory problems, or tracheal collapse may require the extra support and reduced pressure provided by a harness. Our veterinarian will be able to offer guidance tailored to our dog’s specific needs and conditions.

Training goals and preferences

Our training goals and personal preferences also play a role in the decision-making process. If we prioritize loose-leash walking and reducing pulling behavior, a harness may be the preferred option. On the other hand, if our small dog has already mastered leash manners and we prefer a lightweight and minimalistic approach, a collar may be suitable. It’s important to align our choices with our training philosophy and goals.

Choosing the right harness

Types of harnesses

There are various types of harnesses available, each designed with different features and functionalities. The most common types include step-in harnesses, vest harnesses, and back-clip harnesses. Step-in harnesses are easy to put on and are suitable for dogs who are comfortable with their legs being lifted. Vest harnesses offer additional coverage and support, making them ideal for small dogs with specific health concerns. Back-clip harnesses are great for dogs that don’t pull excessively and provide optimal control and comfort.

Proper fit and sizing

Choosing the right size harness is essential for our small dogs. A harness that is too loose may allow for escape, while one that is too tight can cause discomfort and restrict movement. It’s important to measure our dog’s chest girth accurately and refer to product sizing guides when selecting a harness. Adjustable straps and buckles are beneficial for ensuring a secure and comfortable fit.

Quality and durability

Investing in a harness of good quality and durability is vital for the safety and long-term use of our small dogs. High-quality materials, such as durable nylon or reinforced stitching, contribute to the harness’s strength and longevity. Additionally, inspecting the hardware, such as D-rings and buckles, ensures that they are sturdy and reliable.

Additional features to consider

Certain harnesses offer additional features that can enhance the overall walking experience for our small dogs. Reflective strips or patches enhance visibility during nighttime walks or low-light conditions, ensuring their safety. Padded or cushioned straps provide extra comfort and prevent rubbing or chafing. For dogs who enjoy going on adventures, harnesses with attachment points for extra gear, such as backpacks or lights, can be a convenient choice.

Choosing the right collar

Types of collars

Collars come in various types, each suited to different needs and preferences. The most common types include buckle collars, quick-release collars, Martingale collars, and slip collars. Buckle collars are standard flat collars with a buckle for secure fastening. Quick-release collars offer easy and quick removal with a snap buckle. Martingale collars are designed to prevent dogs from slipping out and tighten slightly when pulled. Slip collars, also known as choke chains, provide limited control when used properly, but caution must be taken to ensure that they are not used excessively or inappropriately.

Proper fit and sizing

Choosing the right size collar is crucial to ensure our small dog’s safety and comfort. Collars that are too loose may allow the dog to slip out, while those that are too tight can cause discomfort and potentially injure the neck. Measuring our dog’s neck circumference accurately and following the manufacturer’s sizing guidelines will help us select the appropriate collar size. It’s important to be mindful of weight fluctuations, as this may require adjusting collar sizes accordingly.

Materials and durability

Collars are available in a variety of materials, including nylon, leather, and fabric. Each material has its own advantages, such as durability, comfort, and ease of cleaning. Nylon collars are versatile, affordable, and easy to clean, making them a popular choice. Leather collars are durable and offer a classic look, but they require more maintenance. Fabric collars can be stylish and lightweight, but they may not be as durable as nylon or leather.

Training and behavior considerations

Certain training and behavior considerations may influence the choice between a harness and a collar. If we are using training techniques that involve leash corrections or need precise control, a collar with appropriate training tools, such as a Martingale collar or a slip collar used correctly, may be necessary. However, it’s important to understand that these training tools should be used with caution and under professional guidance to prevent any potential harm or discomfort to our small dogs.

Common misconceptions about harnesses and collars

Harnesses are only for large dogs

One common misconception is that harnesses are only suitable for large dogs. In reality, harnesses are beneficial for dogs of all sizes, including small breeds. The right harness can provide comfort, control, and safety, regardless of the dog’s size. It’s essential to choose a harness specifically designed and proportioned for small dogs to ensure a proper fit and optimum functionality.

Collars are always uncomfortable

Another misconception is that collars are inherently uncomfortable for dogs. While ill-fitting or improperly used collars can cause discomfort and potential harm, properly fitted collars made of appropriate materials can be comfortable for small dogs. It’s important to choose collars that are lightweight, well-padded, and have adjustable features to ensure a snug yet comfortable fit.

Harnesses will instantly fix behavioral issues

Some pet owners may believe that using a harness will instantly fix their small dog’s behavioral issues, such as pulling or leash-reactivity. While a harness can provide better control and support during walks, it’s crucial to remember that behavior modification requires consistent training, patience, and positive reinforcement. Using a harness in conjunction with proper training techniques can facilitate the process, but it is not a standalone solution or a guaranteed fix for behavioral problems.

Collars are inherently cruel

There is a misconception that collars, especially those with training tools like choke chains or prong collars, are inherently cruel. While it’s true that the misuse or excessive use of such collars can cause harm, when used correctly and responsibly, they can be effective training tools. It’s essential to educate ourselves on proper training techniques and seek professional guidance if considering the use of any training collar.

Alternative options to consider

Combining a harness and a collar

For some small dogs, the best solution may be combining a harness and a collar. This combination provides double security and allows for increased control during walks. By attaching the leash to both the harness and collar, we minimize the risk of escape and ensure better control over our furry friend’s movements. However, it’s crucial to maintain proper fit and avoid excessive pressure on the neck.

Using a head halter or gentle leader

A head halter or gentle leader can be an alternative option for small dogs that require extra control during walks. These tools work by controlling the dog’s head, redirecting their focus and preventing pulling. Head halters and gentle leaders are designed to fit comfortably around the dog’s snout and neck area, providing effective control without causing harm or discomfort. They can be particularly useful for small dogs with a tendency to pull or display reactive behavior.

Exploring non-traditional options

In addition to traditional harnesses and collars, there are non-traditional options available in the market. These include body wraps, backpack harnesses, or even specialized walking equipment designed for specific medical conditions. These alternative options can cater to unique needs and preferences, offering different functionalities and benefits. It’s important to research and consult with professionals to determine if these options are suitable for our small dogs.

Seeking professional advice

When faced with the choice between a harness and a collar for our small dogs, seeking professional advice is always a wise decision. A veterinarian or a professional dog trainer can assess our dog’s specific needs, taking into consideration their size, breed, behavior, and any existing health conditions. They can offer personalized recommendations tailored to our small dog’s requirements, ensuring their safety, comfort, and overall well-being.


When it comes to deciding whether small dogs should use a harness or just a collar, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option, taking into account our dog’s size, behavior, health, and training goals. Harnesses offer benefits such as reduced risk of injury, increased control, and prevention of choking and escape. On the other hand, collars are lightweight, comfortable, and offer ease of identification and lower costs. By considering these factors and experimenting with different options, we can find the right solution that prioritizes our small dog’s safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment during walks. If uncertain, consulting professionals in the field can provide valuable guidance to make an informed decision. Ultimately, what matters most is the well-being and happiness of our beloved small dogs.

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Brian Moore
I'm Brian Moore, a veterinarian with over 10 years of experience. I graduated from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation, I worked as a general practitioner in a small animal clinic for several years. In 2017, I opened my own veterinary practice, Moore Animal Hospital. I'm passionate about providing compassionate and high-quality care to all animals. I'm skilled in a wide range of veterinary procedures, including surgery, dentistry, and internal medicine. I'm also a certified animal behaviorist, and I take a special interest in helping animals with behavioral problems. In addition to my clinical work, I'm also active in the veterinary community. I'm a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association. I'm also a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences. I'm dedicated to providing the best possible care for my patients and their families. I'm a compassionate and knowledgeable veterinarian who is always willing to go the extra mile. I'm originally from San Francisco, California. I'm married and have two children. I enjoy hiking, camping, and spending time with my family. I'm also a member of the local animal shelter and volunteer my time to help care for homeless animals. I'm excited to continue my career as a veterinarian and help even more animals in need.