Walking With a Dog Harness Instead of a Collar Will Change My Dog’s Life

A dog out for a walk.
A dog out for a walk. Photography by angi71/Thinkstock.

I’ve had and walked dogs since childhood. Until last autumn, I’d never given a second thought to how I walked them. I’d just always clipped a leash to the ring on the dog’s collar and got on with it. In October of 2015, I was conducting interviews for a Dogster magazine article on the health benefits of dog walking as exercise. As I noted in the piece, when dogs and their humans establish a regular walking routine, the benefits — emotional, mental, and physical— pass up and down the leash.

The article wasn’t published until February of 2016, but two of the interviews I conducted— with Tricia Montgomery, founder and CEO of K9 Fit Club, and Jt Clough, author, dog trainer, and inter-species life coach— made an immediate impact on both me and my dog, Baby. I was fascinated by how passionately each of them spoke about using a dog harness instead of the standard collar clip. The long-term risk to a dog’s neck over years of pulling and being pulled had simply never occurred to me, and I’m convinced that these interviews may have changed the course of my dog’s life.

Baby wearing a dog leash.
Two weeks after I got Baby in 2014, with the leash clipped to her collar. (Photo by Melvin Peña)

Dog harness revelations

One of the questions I’d formulated for my interviews had to do with chest or waist leashes for dog owners versus the traditional method of holding the leash by hand. When I asked Montgomery and Clough about these rigs, I was taken aback when each of them turned their answers toward a dog harness, specifically.

Clough: I have become a proponent for dog harnesses. The love of my life is my 10-year-old Weimaraner; she got a neck injury… My realization was that I was pulling on her neck all the time. That’s how we’ve always been taught to control our dogs. The benefit of a harness for a dog is [that it’s] really helpful for [reducing] wear and tear on their bodies.

Me:  The risk of repetitive stress injury never occurred to me.

Clough: It really became apparent looking at her X-rays. If you’re pulling on that all the time… They withstand it a lot differently than we do, but their ligaments, their bones, and the way they’re put together, the wear and tear is the same. You can only pull on something, or jerk on something, so many times before it has a life-long effect.

Baby wearing a dog harness.
The dog harness made an immediate difference both to Baby and to me. (Photo by Melvin Peña)

When I asked Tricia Montgomery about harnesses, the echoes of what I’d heard from Clough startled me.

Montgomery: I’m a huge advocate of harnesses. I believe harnesses work for the dog. The harness controls dogs just a little bit better. Keep in mind that excessive pressure for the dog on its neck or cervical [vertebrae] can cause so many issues related to whiplash lameness.

A little thing like a dog harness makes a big difference

I’d adopted my dog, Baby, about 18 months earlier, and had only ever walked her the same way I’d walked every dog I’d had before, with the leash attached directly to her collar. It didn’t take long for me to learn that Baby, a Bluetick Coonhound mix, is a puller. She’s powerfully scent-motivated and physically very strong. With Clough and Montgomery’s words ringing in my ears, I thought about all the times I’d already tugged at Baby’s leash, and, by extension, her neck.

I also thought about all the times she tried lurched off at full speed after an intriguing smell, straining her own neck in the collar. I felt a compounded sense of guilt, not only for my baby puppy, but also for all the dogs I’d ever had. Having lost my previous dog, Tina, in the spring of 2014 to a debilitating idiopathic condition that robbed her of the use of her hind legs, I could only wonder what role, if any, a lifetime of tugging and pulling from both ends of the leash might have played.

A dog with her harness.
Now we never walk without the dog harness. (Photo by Melvin Peña)

Dog harnesses work!

Within a day, I’d obtained a simple harness for Baby and haven’t looked back since. As with any dog accessory, there are a wide range of options, sizes, and price points. The harness I got was literally the simplest $12 to $13 dollar one at the pet store. We slide her front legs through two hoops, and clip it over her back, where I attach the leash.

It took a while for each of us to get used to it, but the difference in handling her was immediately noticeable. I feel more in control of her when we walk, and I am confident that Baby’s risk of unforeseen spinal trauma is greatly reduced in the process. Sincerest thanks to Jt Clough and Tricia Montgomery; Baby thanks you, and so do I!

Read more about dog walking on Dogster.com:


17 thoughts on “Walking With a Dog Harness Instead of a Collar Will Change My Dog’s Life”

  1. All of my dogs are trained to walk on a leash without tugging, lunging, or other bad behaviors. They will do so with a leash loosely draped over their neck, because they understand how to behave on a walk. Teach your dog proper leash manners and this becomes a non issue…. but then if people did that they wouldn’t be getting drug all over the place by out of control dogs in the first place and we wouldn’t be fretting that Patches will hurt himself. Imo harnesses are just a crutch for people who cant or wont train their dogs proper manners.

    1. My my aren’t we arrogant! The first 8 dogs in my life, all mutts except the last two certified therapy Golden’s, had zero problems with leash training. The golden I have now ( 18 mos) has had a years worth of training, and every collar know to man. He has pulled me so hard I have fallen and broken several ribs. He is now doing better on his second time around gentle leader and I refuse to give up on him.
      My wish for you is that your next dog is worse than this last dog of mine. I wonder how long it will take you to rehome him.

    2. I’m sorry but what about all the damage being done during training? Did you just snap your fingers and magically make a puppy behave? We are owners not miracle workers, training takes time; but injuries can happen unexpectedly at any age or point in their training. Harnesses are safer. Get over yourself.

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  4. I stopped using collars for leashes more than 20 years ago! Once I realized how much more enjoyable it is to walk my dog using a harness I’d never use a collar again unless it’s an emergency.

    It’s better for me and more fun for my dogs. No pulling or choking on the collar no reprimands for pulling etc.. Also I have mostly smaller dogs and these breeds have fragile windpipes and tracheas. Using a harness takes all the pressure off the throat.

    And there are all kinds of fun harnesses with different designs to get! Go for a walk and enjoy it!!!

  5. All dogs like to pull. A harness with standard attachment on the dog’s back encourages it’s will to pull. A harness with an attachment in the middle of the dog’s
    chest will stop the pulling. Dog’s don’t like to pull from the front of their body.

  6. P.S. Now I always use a harness, they make more sense to me, different kinds for different lessons, my dogs are more comfortable in them and just as easy to train. Highly recommend!

  7. Until Ned (3 dogs ago) I used a ‘chain link’ collar. Holding it close to the dog’s jaw gives you great control and discourages jerking. Most of my dogs were easy to train, but Ned was part chow, part border collie, and part lunatic, totally against domestication. He yanked me off my feet once and the leash broke my finger. It didn’t take long to worry about hurting something in his throat. Our first success was on leash with a harness. He still humped my leg if I stopped to talk to someone but as long as we kept moving it was remarkable behavior! He’s come a long way. At 7, I think has matured, and besides some quirks, he’s a very good companion and makes me smile often.

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  11. Many harnesses have an additional ring on the chest, for a second lead attachment point and single leads with two attachment clips are available. This hugely increases your control of the dog (turns it gently back towards you whilst putting it slightly off balance to interfere with it’s ability to pull hard) whilst not requiring any more hands to hold on!

  12. I was advised by vet against using a chest harness for my 40+kg dog, as it would mean he can put more force into pulling, and pulling me over (am disabled, didn’t choose a big dog but found him dumped yrs ago & rspca were going to euthanize him. He was 6mths old.) Tried headcollars, couldnt find one that he couldn’t get out of by pawing at it. Doesn’t often get walked on lead, (live in country with big garden, hard for me to get about in wheelchair with leads to juggle, he has arthritis, exercises himself in garden) but when he does come out, I feel like there’s no suitable option besides a collar.
    Others may have been advised the same by their vet if the dog is a big’un.

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