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Harness or Collar for Labrador Puppy? Which is Best?

Last Updated: February 3, 2024

Whether you have brought home a new Labrador puppy or already have a dog following you around the house, ready to go out on walks, you must know how to lead and control him.

This is, above all, for his safety, and you do not want to use an uncomfortable or unintentionally harmful method of restraint. That’s why it is reasonable to weigh your options between a harness and collar for your Labrador puppy and learn which is best.

A harness is better than a collar for a Lab puppy because it is safer and offers more control. Harnesses distribute pressure across the upper body and reduce strain, whereas a collar causes tension around the pup’s delicate neck.

If you have a dog that pulls, a front-clip harness is best.

Below, you’ll discover:

  • An in-depth analysis comparing harnesses and collars for your Labrador, detailing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Guidance on the appropriate age to use a harness on your Lab puppy.
  • Tips for selecting the right harness size for your Labrador.

Whether you’re considering a harness or leaning towards a collar, this comprehensive guide aims to provide valuable insights.

For collar enthusiasts, the following information may offer a new perspective on why a harness could be a more suitable choice for your Labrador.

Let’s get to it!

Labrador puppy wearing a pink collar

Harness vs. Collar for Labrador Puppy

When I refer to a collar, I’m talking about a traditional flat collar that fastens with buckles or clasps. There is no place on this site for prong, pinch, shock, martingale, or chain slip collars

Labrador puppies can be well-trained with collars and harnesses, but one gives you more room for error, while the other can border on cruelty if you don’t pay attention.

I am assuming you don’t want to step on eggshells all the time and want to go with the option that lets you have peace of mind that you’re not hurting your dog unintentionally. 

And that’s only possible if you opt for a harness. If you have a dog that pulls, a front-clip harness is best.

With that said, it is only reasonable that I break down the pros and cons of both options as objectively as possible.

Labrador Barking

Advantages of a Dog Collar

Easy for Identification and Tracking

While lead-walking with a collar can be quite problematic, especially for an energetic breed like a Labrador, identifying and tracking is easier than a harness.

A harness is quite large, and you don’t want it on your Labrador all the time. A collar, especially a light, humane one, doesn’t have a similar load and can be worn by your dog most times. 

If your Labrador runs away or ends up farther from you than you expect, you can at least have the assurance that he will not be mistaken for a stray.

Please note that having a tracking collar becomes redundant if your puppy is chipped, and you can track him without a harness. 

“The fact that your Labrador has a collar on can keep him from getting “rescued” or taken as an assumed stray. ” – World of Dogz

Finally, you must respect the fact that your dog’s skin and fur both need to breathe and for that, removing the collar after the last potty break is a good idea.

Leaving a collar on your Lab all the time, including at night and when he is in his crate, can be dangerous.

Makes Impromptu Walks Easier

It’s easier to hang out with your friends in an informal setting than show up at a cocktail dinner party. The critical difference is the degree of dressing up required.

A harness can end up being a dog’s tuxedo, and some people would instead prefer to just quickly pop the lead on the collar and go for a walk. 

This is a moment of personal reflection: do you have difficulty leaving the house to take your Labrador for a walk?

If so, a leash will become an excuse to defer the walk. Minimizing the effort required to take your dog walking will ensure that you actually take him out.

Labrador Puppy Itching

Disadvantages of a Dog Collar

Now that we have given collars their due credit, it’s time to address the drawbacks that make dog collars almost obsolete.

Can Damage Your Dog’s Skin and Fur

Since Labrador puppies grow so quickly, especially from the eighth week to the sixteenth, it isn’t surprising that using the same collar all the time would actually irritate your dog’s skin.

Even worse, your Lab’s inability to understand the pressure from a collar can further cause nerve damage.

If your Labrador pulls on his lead, the pressure can quickly start producing irreversible damage.

Can Trouble Dogs

Even the most humane collars can bother some Labradors. This is such a personality-driven factor that I can’t judge whether your puppy will be proud of his collar or hate wearing it.

Most new puppies might have trouble accepting a heavy collar. 

Starting with a light collar at an early age can offset this disadvantage. Some dog trainers can lead-train dogs with collars by building on a foundation of familiarity set by owners who get their dogs to accept light collars early on.

Requires Constant Changing

Since we’re discussing harnesses and collars for Labrador puppies, we must acknowledge their fast growth. This means both products need to be able to cater to different sizes.

Most harnesses can house a range of body sizes. But when it comes to collars, your Labrador might start choking on the collar without you realizing it. Adjustable collars can offset this problem.

Ineffective At Safely Controlling Your Dog

This drawback is the final straw for me regarding the collar vs. harness debate.

In my opinion, even if you have compassionately trained your Labrador to accept his collar and even go on long walks with the lead attached to the said collar, what happens when your dog gets over-excited? 

I don’t like that with collars; you have no option but to unintentionally hurt your pup when he tries to pull on the lead. It is quite literally impossible to hold him in position without choking him.

And I don’t believe you should leave that as the only option, no matter how unlikely your Labrador is to get out of control.

Labrador Retriever Pulling

Verdict on Dog Collars

Dog collars are great to indicate ownership and protect your Labrador from being assumed and treated as a stray. Apart from that, I see no advantage in collars, especially when walking on a lead.

So a nuanced approach would be to use a light collar and use a harness whenever you use a lead so that you can sidestep the dangers of lead walking a puppy with a collar.

Advantages of a Dog Harness

Prevents Injuries

Because a harness takes pressure away from the neck and distributes it across your Labrador’s upper body, you can pull the leash without hurting him.

More importantly, your Labrador can pull the lead without hurting himself. It is worth noting that you still need to teach your dog not to pull on the leash so that walking him doesn’t become a chore.

More Room for Error

If your Labrador puppy wears a collar, you must follow his growth closely lest the collar begins choking him. With harnesses, there’s more room to grow, and even when it becomes too tight, at least your dog’s neck is not under strain.

Above all, it is more noticeable when your puppy outgrows his harness than when he outgrows his collar.

Labrador Wearing a Harness.

Gives You Cruelty-Free Control

This flips the final disadvantage of dog collars. In the worst-case scenario, you can hold back your Lab with sheer force without hurting him as much. Tugging on a collar when your Labrador tries his best to escape is heartless.

That said, you should note that dogs give in more easily when their collar is tugged compared to holding back a harness.

The ease, however, is mutually exclusive with kindness in this instance as a submission comes through the pain with a collar.

Disadvantages of Harnesses for Labrador Puppies

They Can’t Wear Them All the Time

A dog harness isn’t small; it has to cover a large enough area to be effective. Unfortunately, that also means that a significant portion of your Labrador’s upper body will remain under the harness. 

Therefore, you can’t leave it on for most of the day like you can with a collar. In other words, a harness is something you would want on your pup only on walks.

Most well-trained Labradors can go without a harness for short walks, and the harness is left for lead walks.

Your Dog Will Take Time to Get Used to It

This is a size-driven disadvantage that seems like a logical tradeoff when compared to the burden it offsets. I believe removing cruelty from the equation is well worth the relatively long waiting period. 

Starting with a light harness with a young Lab puppy is a perfect way to normalize it. Both collars and harnesses are uncomfortable initially, but in the long run, your dog can get used to both.

The difference in periods of resistance varies by only a few weeks, which isn’t a dealbreaker for most owners.

Verdict for Harnesses

Labradors aren’t the tough breed that can withstand repeated collar-tugging. While some trainers argue for collars, they are almost exclusively positioned as okay for larger dogs with stronger necks. 

I do not mention this to endorse such arguments, but only to highlight that even collar advocates don’t believe it’s a good idea to use a collar for walking your Lab on a lead. This makes a harness your only option when out walking.

Harness vs. Collar: Pros and Cons

While I can empathize with owners looking to avoid having their dogs on any restricting device, Labradors’ natural tendency to get excited due to their overwhelming friendliness makes it impossible to bet on their discipline. 

No matter how much you train your Lab pup, everything changes once he’s out and interacting with various stimuli and distractions. Fortunately, if you put your Lab in a harness early enough, you won’t need to worry about issues down the line.

Harness AdvantagesCollar Advantages
Prevents injuries to the neckAllows a lost dog to be identified from a tag
Allows more controlEasier to wear for tracking
Allows room for growthBetter for unplanned walks
Cruelty-freeTakes longer for a pup to get used to
Good training tool for pups
Front-clip discourages pulling
Great for escape artists
Harness vs. Collar
A Labrador Puppy Wearing a Harness.

What is The Best Harness for a Labrador Puppy? 

When getting your Lab puppy a harness, you have to err on the side of kindness instead of effectiveness, especially in the first twelve weeks.

That means even if a harness isn’t quite effective at holding back a dog on his leash, it can be great for your puppy if it’s gentle on him.

Fortunately, you don’t need to sacrifice effectiveness for gentleness, as I’ve found the perfect harness for Labrador puppies…

The Rabbitgoo Dog Harness is the best harness for a Labrador puppy because it’s non-pulling, as you can attach it from the front or rear.

It’s also fully adjustable, which allows your pup to grow, and is soft-padded, which is great for getting your dog to accept the harness without resistance.

Initially, puppies don’t need a front lead harness, and it’s often recommended to get a rear-attached harness only.

However, this product has two clips, making it easy to transition from attaching the lead at the back to gradually moving it to the front.

This harness is inherently kinder and gives you more control. I can certainly vouch for that, as my dog uses a front-attached harness.

Note: Clicking the above link(s) will take you to Amazon or an online store where we have an affiliate relationship. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.


Should a Labrador wear a harness?

A Labrador should wear a harness so that you can control him when he gets over-excited on a walk. A harness lets your dog keep his neck safe when you have him on a tight leash. Doing the same with a collar could cause choking, damage to the trachea, or nerve damage.

At what age can you put a harness on a puppy? 

You can put a harness on a puppy at eight weeks old, but you must be careful to use the right size harness that isn’t too heavy or uncomfortable on your dog. Be mindful of your pet’s growth plates, and make sure the harness doesn’t have big loops that could get him stuck on furniture. 

What size harness does a Lab puppy need? 

A Lab puppy needs a small-sized harness of adjustable variety. This allows you to alter the harness according to your dog’s growth. Once your puppy is fully grown, you should switch to a harness that matches his neck and chest measurements since there will be fewer size changes. 

Final Thoughts

Collars have a place in a Labrador’s life, but this place is only an identifier – not lead accessories. Lab puppies can easily get over-excited and end up tugging on their leads.

A collar pretty much guarantees that such instinctive actions will be penalized by choking, immediate pressure on the neck, or even nerve damage. This isn’t justifiable regardless of the advantages a collar might bring.

A harness gives you more control, especially if it has a front clip, and is safer – but you must make sure to get your Labrador used to the harness while he is a puppy.

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Sowmya Sankaran
Sowmya Sankaran is crazy about dogs, rabbits and birds! An avid rescuer and rehabilitator of dogs and other animals, she runs the Life With Equality Charitable Trust, an animal shelter in Chennai, India. She is also the founder of Petsmond, a pet website, in which she shares her experiences in raising different creatures and paying attention to intricate aspects of their health.

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