Aside from the slobbery kisses and the joyful meltdowns when you walk in the door, life with a dog comes with a slightly less heart-melting daily reality: walks. And with walks come the needed supplies: a collar, harness and leash (poop bags too, but that’s a topic for another day). So how do you know which of the many options will actually be the best choices for your dog?
Dogs come in such an array of shapes and sizes that finding the products that fit your pooch right is hugely important. No matter how well made or smartly designed a collar, harness or leash is, it won’t do its job if it’s ill-fitting. Measure your dog with a soft tape measure and carefully review size charts. Remember too that sizing can vary by brand. You can’t expect your dog to take the exact same size across the board.
Read on for more guidance and tips from veterinarians on picking the best possible collar, harness and leash for your precious pup. Want more ideas? Check out our other vet-approved dog essentials here.
Best dog collars
“When choosing a collar, make sure it isn’t too tight that it’s choking your dog or too loose that they can slip out of it. You should be able to slip two fingers underneath it,” informs Rachel Barrack, veterinarian at Animal Acupuncture in New York City.
And if your dog will be wearing both a collar and a harness, here’s a tip: “You may want to attach your dog’s collar to the harness with a separate clip or carabiner in the event they slip out of either one,” says Dr. Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA Behavioral Sciences Team.
Tellpet Quick-Release Collar (starting at $9.98; amazon.com)
“A quick-release collar allows you to quickly take it off if it gets stuck on something,” says Zay Satchu, veterinarian at Bond Vet in New York City.
In a world full of nylon collars, this handmade, soft leather number will stand out at the dog park. It’s also available in red.
PetSafe Martingale Dog Collar (starting at $10.49; amazon.com)
“A recommendation I give to friends with dogs who enjoy backing out of their collars are martingale styles,” shares Satchu. “These collars are designed so that when there is a tug, it tightens just enough to prevent backing out without causing any airway restriction.”
This well-priced collar has a quick-snap buckle so you can get it on and off instantly, and it comes in five other colors.
PetSafe KeepSafe Breakaway Collar ($12.95; petsmart.com)
“If you have a backyard that your pet is frequently in unsupervised, or even if you just have a rambunctious dog, it may be helpful to consider a breakaway collar,” says Satchu. “If your dog gets hooked onto something when you’re not around, it will reduce the risk of strangulation.”
This top-rated breakaway collar with snazzy gold hardware earns top ratings from reviewers. One even says it ended the bad habit of one of her dogs to pull on the collar of the other.
Ruffwear Crag Dog Collar ($19.95; amazon.com)
“When it’s time for a walk, I recommend a nonbreakaway collar, such as the ones from Ruffwear,” says Satchu. “These last a very long time and are cute too!” Plus, it has reflective webbing to keep you both visible at night. It’s also colorfast, so all those walks in the rain (hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go) won’t fade the fun design.
GoTags Reflective Embroidered Dog Collar ($19.45; amazon.com)
“This customizable, reflective collar is one of my favorites,” says Chris Menges, a veterinarian in Austin, Texas, working in digital pet care delivery. It comes in three adjustable sizes and boasts a stainless steel D-ring that won’t corrode.
PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar (starting at $15.69; target.com)
If you’re trying to leash train your dog — or if they just pull a lot no matter what — a Gentle Leader head collar can be a good idea, says Satchu.
“It controls the head itself, the dog’s main point of direction. A loop around the muzzle allows the pet to pant. You will get a more immediate response when training a dog using these types of collars as opposed to the traditional ones.” Just be sure to get your dog used to wearing one before going out on a walk, advises Reid.
Coastal New Earth Collar (starting at $10.26; petco.com)
Made of sustainable, all-natural soy fiber, this eco-friendly dog collar is a favorite of Albert Ahn’s, veterinarian for Myos Pet in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. He notes it’s a quality, good-looking option at a reasonable price.
GoTags Pet ID (starting at $8.13; amazon.com)
Even if your dog is microchipped, make sure they’re wearing a tag with your contact information and rabies vaccination information to make returning them to you as simple as possible, urges Barrack.
This featherweight aluminum tag can be customized on the front and back, and it’s available in eight eye-catching designs.
Best dog leashes
First off, a word of caution. “I never recommend retractable leashes. They can quickly create dangerous situations where a dog can get too far from you and get into dog fights or traffic,” warns Menges. “If it snaps, the leash can retract quickly and injure a person.”
No matter which specific leash you choose, “Make sure it attaches securely to your dog’s collar or harness,” says Barrack.
TaoTronics Leash ($16.99; amazon.com)
“I like hands-free leashes like this one,” states Menges. “Not only does this leash clip around your waist to prevent losing your grip on your dog, but it also has dual bungee cords to help protect you if your dog pulls too much.” Plus, reflective material is woven into it to make you visible in the dark.
Cymiler Short Dog Leash ($14.95; amazon.com)
“If your dog is not friendly with other dogs or people, I recommend keeping them on a short controlled leash at all times,” advises Satchu. Even if your dog is well behaved, you’ll probably want to switch to a shorter leash than the one you use for walking when you’re in crowded places, like the vet’s office, adds Reid.
Comfortable to grip, this rope-style short leash comes in six colors and three lengths, so you can choose the one that’s best for your dog’s size.
Blueberry Pet Essentials Classic Dog Leash ($11.99; amazon.com)
This 5-foot leash comes in 20 fabulous colors, but it gets the thumbs-up from Ahn for more than just being pretty. He calls it a “strong, cost-effective product with a proven track record.”
Leatherberg Leather Dog Leash ($25.99; amazon.com)
Some dog parents prefer leather leashes. They’re easier on your hands, and they give a little, so they absorb some of your dog’s tugging. For them, Ahn points to this durable leash made of 100% full-grain Latigo leather with strong metal rivets. He especially likes the “rugged double stitching construction.” At 6 feet long, it’s ideal for medium- and large-size canines.
Best dog harnesses
“Harnesses disperse pressure more evenly over a dog, making them safer for breeds susceptible to neck or back pain, such as corgis, dachshunds and basset hounds,” explains Satchu. “We also have to be careful about reducing head and neck pressure in dogs with bulging eyes, including shih tzus and pugs, making harnesses a safer choice for them too.”
Barrack agrees that attaching the leash to a harness can be more comfortable for many dogs than attaching it to a collar but advises making sure that “it isn’t too tight that it’s constricting or chafing yet not so loose that they can slip out.” Be sure to check the fit around the armpits, as chafing is particularly common there.
2 Hounds Design Freedom No-Pull Harness (starting at $29.58; amazon.com)
If you’re working to leash train your dog, a front clip harness is more effective at correcting pulling than a regular harness, says Satchu.
Available in seven different sizes and with two points of adjustment, this no-pull harness makes getting a snug fit easy. It’s available in 18 other colors and is lined with velvet to help prevent uncomfortable rubbing.
Kurgo Baxter Backpack Harness (starting at $52.19; amazon.com)
“Harnesses designed with packs are very handy for carrying a water bowl or treats for longer outings,” notes Satchu.
If you and your doggo are fans of hiking, or simply leisurely afternoons at the dog park, this workhorse of a harness will be a smart buy. It’s constructed to easily hold food, water, first aid supplies and poop bags, yet it’s really lightweight and comfy for your dog to wear.
Zeus Da Bear Harness (starting at $20.99; amazon.com)
Menges calls this harness “wonderful.” It’s comfortably padded and has mesh panels to keep your canine cool all summer. It also boasts an unusual smart feature: a soft handle, in case you need to take quick control of your dog.
Puppia Soft Harness for Small Dogs (starting at $10.50; amazon.com)
“One downside of harnesses is that many have a bit too much heft for our little guys,” observes Menges. “For them, we want a harness that is high quality but lightweight. This one fits our toy breeds extremely well and has adjustable, buckling straps, which provides nice safety and security for even the tiniest of pups.”
Canada Pooch Everything Harness ($36.99; amazon.com)
Smushy-faced dogs like pugs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers especially need a harness, says Menges. “Because of the way their airways form, breeds with a short nose and a flat face are susceptible to harm from a collar,” he says. They’re also notorious for being nimble enough to slip back out of them, he adds. “This harness is extremely soft and securely adjustable to help prevent neck pressure and escapes of any kind,” says Menges.