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Harness or Collar for Lab Puppy: Which is Best?

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 need to know how you can 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 they are safer and offer more control. A harness distributes pressure across the upper body and reduces strain, whereas a collar causes tension around the dog’s rather delicate neck. If you have a dog that pulls, a front-clip harness is best.

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.

Below you will see:

  • A detailed pros and cons comparison of harness vs. collar for your Labrador
  • What age at which you can put a harness on your Lab puppy
  • The size of harness you should choose

If you’re leaning towards harnesses, this will be an informative post. And if you’re more inclined to get a collar, I hope the following section will help you see why that wouldn’t be a good idea.

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A Labrador Puppy Wearing a Harness. Harness or Collar for Lab Puppy?

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Harness vs. Collar for Lab Puppy

Labrador puppies can be well-trained with both 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. With that said, it is only reasonable that I break down the pros and cons of both options as objectively as possible.

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 in the absence of a harness. 

Still, the fact that your Labrador has a collar on can keep him from getting “rescued” or taken as an assumed stray. 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.

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Makes Impromptu Walks Easier

It’s easier to hang out with your friends in an informal setting than showing 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 a tough time getting out of the house to take your Labrador for a walk? If that’s the case, 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.

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 make a judgment whether your puppy will be proud of his collar or will 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 when it comes to 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.

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.

Labrador Wearing a Harness. Harness vs. Collar For Lab Puppy

More Room for Error

If your Labrador puppy wears a collar, you need to 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 compared to when he outgrows his collar.

Gives You Cruelty-Free Control

This flips the final disadvantage of dog collars. In the worst-case scenario, you get to hold back your Lab with sheer force without hurting him as much. Tugging on a collar when your Labrador is trying his best to get away 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 is going to 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, and 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 make arguments for collars, they are almost exclusively positioned as okay for larger dogs with stronger necks. 

I do not mention this to sign-off on such arguments but only to highlight that even collar advocates don’t believe that 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.

Should a Labrador Wear a Harness?

We have already established that harnesses are gentler than collars on Labradors. But now, you also know that it’s initially uncomfortable for your dog, and he will resist his harness for at least a week. So, this may have you wondering, should Labradors 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 also allows your dog to keeps 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.

So, while I can empathize with owners looking to avoid having their dog on any sort of 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 vs. Collar For a Labrador Puppy

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

What Age Can You Put a Harness on a Puppy? 

It’s far better to have your pup wear a harness sooner than later. Waiting until you introduce a lead is a wrong choice. Harness training is about getting your puppy comfortable with the harness and initially having nothing to do with lead discipline. So the question of when you can put a harness on a puppy has the same answer as “when can you get a puppy?”

You can put a harness on a puppy at eight weeks old but 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? 

As puppies come in various sizes, especially if you have the runt of the litter, it can be difficult to decide on the harness size. And since your Lab puppy will have multiple growth spurts within his few months, you may want to hold off on a measurement-specific harness until he’s fully grown. So, 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. 

You can also save on buying a really high-endurance harness for later as the initial aim is to get your puppy used to a harness. You’re looking for a harness that weighs just enough to get him ready for a standard harness while being gentle enough to avoid any unnecessary pressure. 

Once your Labrador is fully grown, you can get more specific measurements and get a new harness. For this, you would measure the neck right above the shoulders and the chest at its widest (closer to the ribcage than the armpits).

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 from Amazon 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 adjustable, which allows your pup to grow into 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. But this product has two clips making it easy for you 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.

Some Labs may need a medium-sized harness for a few months before adulthood. This makes the harness’s price even more appealing. I’m glad that this one doesn’t cost much, and you may even choose to purchase a small and medium, though I would advise you just to order the small one and observe your Lab’s growth. 

Final Thoughts

Collars do have a place in a Labrador’s life, but this place is as 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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  • Sharon Waddington

    Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Find her on Linkedin!