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Official Vet Blog Recommendation: if Your Dog Pulls on the Leash, Use a Harness Instead of a Collar

If you have ever watched an especially rambunctious dog pull on a leash that is attached to his collar, surely you have suspected that the...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Jul 8th 2009


If you have ever watched an especially rambunctious dog pull on a leash that is attached to his collar, surely you have suspected that the activity might be bad for his neck.

It turns out that this common-sense observation has merit.

Two types of dogs are at special risk from neck lead use. The first group consists of Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, and other individuals with snubbed noses (so-called brachycephalic individuals). Due to the conformation of their noses, sinuses and other airways these dogs have trouble breathing even under ideal circumstances. A tight collar around the neck can dramatically exacerbate their respiratory issues. I recommend that all snub-nosed dogs be walked using a harness.

The other group of dogs that is at high risk of injury from neck collars is made up of larger dogs that pull hard on walks. Labrador Retrievers are over-represented in this group.

At a recent lecture at the Pacific Veterinary Conference, a leading expert on neck and throat surgery in dogs (the same individual who admonished the attendees never to perform elective debarking surgeries) discussed his concern that chronic injury to the neck could damage a nerve that runs to the voice box. This, in turn, can lead to a life-threatening syndrome called laryngeal paralysis. His recommendation: use a harness.

Of course, all breeds of dogs can still wear appropriately sized collars to hold their identification tags. And it is crucial that the person walking the dog be able to physically control the animal at all times.

But I would be happy never to see another dog pulling so hard on his collar that he can’t breathe.

Photo: Buster models his harness. Forget about that other guy.