Not so long ago I read a good article written by a Finnish dog osteopath about the problems on the neck connected to the using of collars on dogs. Now, to anyone living in areas where having your dog leashed is a must there are limited options on how to attack the least to your dog. It's either a harness or a collar. But how to make a decision? What risks are there when using a collar and how to avoid problems?
Collars were developed for the very same reason as we have bits for horses; to gain control. Collar is easy to attach, you can make a loop from almost every piece of rope or string and the neck is a sensitive area so the dog reacts to the instructions given via the leash. This, however, does not mean that the dog's neck would be any more adjusted to the wear of the collar than a human neck. It's a common misbelief that a dog has it's neck, muscles, vertebra and throat somehow used to the pressure of the collar. This is not true.
Are there safe collars?
Collars to avoid are choke collars that tighten around the dog's neck without any stop. Martingale collars, or the so called ”half chokers” never get too tight if they are picked and measured properly and from my own experience I can say it also seems to be the most comfortable for my dogs. When there is no pulling, the collar is loose and doesn't choke, and when there IS pulling, the collar can't get too tight around the neck. Normal collars are good also.
I use collars mainly as accessories or when we are in a show or in a place I can be sure the dog is not pulling too much. I use wide collars mainly made from fabric or padded leather to try and avoid any possible injuries. I do use a collar during walks along with a harness so I can take a hold of the collar if I need added physical control. Unfortunately sometimes it is needed, and it's better to hold the dog by the collar than let it run away, for example chasing a prey, and get seriously injured.
Why would I use harness?
A good harness sits nicely and tight enough. It should not move around when the dog moves, but it should let the dog breath properly. The pull should concentrate on the chest instead of the throat or neck. There should be no straps going over shoulder plates to allow maximum mobility, no rubbing against armpits and the ring for leash attachment should preferably be more on the back than closer to the neck.
Oh, and to answer a question I myself wondered for a long time; can you use regular harness as a pulling/sleighing harness for fun? Well, that is not recommended as pulling harnesses are built for it and they are better distributing the pressure and making sure the pulling feels as comfortable as it can. Regular harnesses are not meant for pulling purposes and they can possibly cause muscle jams if constantly used for that purpose. Much like shoes; you can run with just a regular Converse All Stars, but sneakers are way better for that and it's less likely your legs get sore.