Harnessing Your Walking Potential: A Brief Guide to The Most Common Harness and Collar Types for Your Dog

Walking into the harness section of your local pet supply store can feel daunting at times. It seems like there’s almost as many ways to attach a lead to a dog as there are designer dog breeds! If you’ve racked your brain sorting out your peke-a-poos from your cockapoos and the thought of getting your head around an easy walk vs a gentle leader fills you with dread, don’t worry! The tremendous diversity of control sources (collars, harnesses, et cetera) can be broken down into a few attributes that define their role and what they are best suited for.


Harnesses and collars can also make great presents for a dog owner in your life, but which harness works best for that dog could be very particular! This guide will hopefully give you a good place to start, but if you want to explore other options, here are 5 great presents for pet parents!



First, let’s talk some general points:
1. Why a harness?

There are a variety of reasons to use a harness over a collar.
First is control. Larger, stronger dogs might need a bit of extra guidance than a simple flat collar can provide.
Second: a harness will not put added pressure on the neck and trachea of a dog. Brachycephalic breeds (e.g. pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers) will benefit most from this, as it is best to avoid putting pressure on their airway.
Other reasons can include keeping your dog from getting tangled in their lead, and preventing a dog from developing dreams of becoming the canine Harry Houdini and giving you the slip.

2. Harnesses stop my dog from pulling, right?

Well, yes and no. If your dog pulls, putting a harness on them won’t magically stop pulling. Harnesses are a tool, first and foremost. Different types of harness will give you different ways of handling your dog and redirecting their energy: if you use a headcollar, when your dog pulls and puts tension on the lead, it will redirect their head (and therefore focus and momentum) down and towards you, the handler.

Regardless of your control device, these tips from the AKC are a great place to start with training your furry friend’s leash habits.


Now let’s talk about the types of control device. The main categories we’re going to talk about today are flat collars, martingale collars, front-clip harnesses, back-clip harnesses, vest harnesses, and headcollars.
1. Flat Collars.
A brown lab wearing a red flat collar, looking to the left of the camera.

(Image Source: Pexels.com)

When you think of a dog collar, this is almost certainly what you picture (unless you happen to be a greyhound owner— more on that in a moment). Every dog should be wearing one of these whenever they’re outdoors, complete with ID, rabies, and registration tags. These are not always great primary control devices, however: they can put excess pressure or force on the neck/trachea and the buckles can in some circumstances fail, leading to a loose dog.

2. Martingale collars
A white greyhound on a stylish martingale collar.

(Image Source: Pixabay.com)

Also called greyhound collars (told you!) due to their everlasting popularity with owners of greyhounds and other dogs with heads that are skinnier than their necks, these control devices are a fantastic option for many, many dogs. Designed to sit comfortably loose when slack, the moment the dog begins pulling, a loop to which the collar is attached tightens up (but NEVER tight enough to compress the neck!), making sure that collar is not going anywhere.

3. Front-clip harnesses (E.g. Pet Safe Easy Walk or similar)
A brown and white dog on a red and black front clip harness, sitting and looking at its owner.

(Image Source: Adam W. on Flickr.com)

For larger, athletic dogs, these harnesses are, in a word, fantastic. Clipping to the front of the dog’s chest means that when they pull, you’re redirecting their momentum in and towards you. The three-strap layout (one across the chest, one over the shoulders, and one across the ribs) is easy to size, fits a wide variety of body shapes, and tends to be pretty comfortable to boot.

4. Back-clip harnesses (E.g. 2Hounds Freedom No-Pull or similar)
A red-brown french bulldog on a back-clip harness and rope lead.

(Image Source: Pexels.com)

These harnesses can work great for dogs that really just pull (say, pointers). Clipping to the dog’s back (just above and behind the shoulder blades) will lift their forepaws off the ground a bit as they pull forward, which helps to limit the pulling impulse. Additionally, the arrangement of straps on these harnesses can be good if chafing under the arm pits is a concern (as can sometimes be the case with front-clip designs).

5. Vest harnesses (Rabbitgoo, EcoBark, Puppia Soft Vest or similar)
A miniature schnauzer wearing a black and red vest harness.

(Image Source: Pete Beard on Flickr.com)

These can be thought of as a subset of back-clip harnesses, but with the “underbody” assembly made of a padded mesh vest rather than nylon straps. They often offer significantly less control than the prior two options but obliterate any competition where it comes to comfort. Any pulling force the dog imparts is spread over a larger surface area, which can be an issue with front-clip harnesses, particularly. These are the best choice, in my mind, for sub-15lb dogs, especially brachycephalic ones. Pug lovers take note!

6. Headcollar (Halti, Gentle Leader, or similar)
A brown dog wearing a headcollar, relaxing in a field with its owner.

(Image Source: Ryan Hyde on Flickr.com)

For dogs that can exhibit leash-reactivity or are strong pullers, a headcollar can be a fantastic device to use. Note: never ever pull or yank on a headcollar— this can cause pain or injury to your dog! Additionally, these cannot and should not be used as a muzzling device. That being said, when a dog wearing one of these pulls, as mentioned before, it redirects the head down and towards the walker. It’s a similar principle to reins on a horse: if you control the head you control the animal.

For more reading on dog harnesses, check out the following articles:

(Banner image courtesy of Frankie Leon on Flickr.com)

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