Harness or collar – which is best for cavapoos?

What’s the best gear to opt for when planning your first walk with your new cavapoo? What are the pros and cons of harnesses and collars and are there certain dog leads that are better than others? In this article we will explore all of this and more.

Small dogs like cavapoos are far better suited to harnesses over collars because of their small, delicate windpipes that can be damaged by collars being pulled by leads. However, note that walking a dog on a harness can sometimes result in the dog pulling on the lead whilst out walking.

Cavapoo wearing a harness

Collars

Let’s get this straight at once: Fido is not going to be pulled by the neck as you are not fastening his lead to the collar.  The neck of a cavapoo is small and delicate and, as is the case for most breeds of dog, an area which should not be under strain. The chief purpose of a collar is to carry identification.  This may be in the form of a disc, or there may be a metal panel on the collar on which you have your dog’s details engraved. Some owners prefer to omit the dog’s name as it can be used by thieves to lure your dog away. The standard wisdom is that you should be able to insert two fingers under the collar so that it will not slide off the neck but will be comfortable.

You may walk your dog after dark, in which case a collar with flashing lights or a luminous strip is a good idea, and a tracker.  The Welsh banned electric shock collars or collars designed to deliver a dose of chemicals to “control” your dog from a distance. Horrifyingly, shock collars were still on sale in England up until February 2020, in spite of assurances that they would be made illegal.  They have no place in your dog’s life or yours.  They are, quite simply, a form of animal cruelty.  Likewise, the choke chains and semi-choke collars on sale are abusive. The late Mrs Barbara Woodhouse might have employed them, but I wonder whether she ever noticed her dog’s bulging eyes and look of misery.

Face it: you take pride in your dog’s appearance. You like people to recognise Fifi as a little girl, so you buy a navy collar with pink roses. Fido favours a royal blue with patterns of bones and pawprints.  Just take a look at the price tag and run your fingers around the inside of the fabric. If the collar is cheap, the seams can be harsh and will rub against your dog’s neck. Buy a hard-wearing but well finished collar at a reasonable price. I tend to like nylon collars with the type of buckle that has to be squeezed at the sides to open as they are secure and can be adjusted if, after a time, they work loose. Leather collars may be soft to accommodate your new puppy (my first dog had a beautiful red one) or your adult cavapoo, but the drawback is that the type of buckle with a prong will pull on the leather, stretching the holes punched in the collar, and they are less easily adjusted.  Nylon collars wash well but leather hardens after becoming soaked in a rainstorm. 

Cavapoo in harness

Harnesses

These are going to take your dog’s lead so that you are not hauling him along by his neck, but there is more to consider than with a collar because of the different styles. My seven-month dog is still in her first puppy harness as she was the smallest in her litter and is unusually small for her breed. It has a bib at the front and a ring on the back between her shoulders, and as her forepaw has to be placed inside a leg loop before the harness is buckled under the stomach, she is very secure.  This harness is splendid for a smaller dog, but if your cavapoo remains very small as an adult, it is best to dispense with having to lift the leg in case of joint stiffness.  A harness which you slip over the dog’s head and buckle under the stomach is better for an adult. Check frequently that the harness still fits properly as it will work loose, especially if your dog wears it whilst roaming on a walk. It should not chafe, but it certainly must remain in place. Some harnesses can be personalised with your dog’s details, thus dispensing with the need for a collar.

There are much kinder methods of restraining dogs that pull than there used to be. An ordinary harness with a ring on top may well be enough, especially if your dog is light and you are reasonably fit. However, a dog that pulls can endanger you and others. Halti-type bridles placed over the nose certainly work, but most dogs detest them and could even injure their necks if they jerk the head to and fro. Why turn your daily walk into a battleground or an experience that your dog will dread when the correct harness can resolve the trouble? Some dogs are better controlled on a harness with rings on either side for a double-ended lead (see later), but my trainer has recently introduced me to yet another type with a ring that is placed midway between your dog’s forepaws across the chest.  The lead therefore has to be positioned on one side or the other, and if your dog pulls ahead, the harness will gently redirect him to walk alongside you. The dog barely notices. This works well with my big boy, who is, I must add, not given to pulling on the lead. It merely gives me the reassurance that, if he spies a cat or a….well….politician on the opposite pavement, he will not get far and I shall not be dragged into the road after him.

Dog garments and devices for the car

How do you keep your dog safe in the car, both for his sake and for yours?  I do not currently use special car harnesses as three of my dogs travel in the tailgate and the fourth in a crate on the back seat, but the safest, pleasantest way for your dog to travel is undoubtedly on the back seat, with the security of a seat belt.  My favourite harnesses for the purpose feature a loop on the back through which the car’s own seat belt is threaded.  However, there are also attachments which consist of a short length of lead with a clip at one end to attach to the harness and a universal seat belt clip at the other.  The manufacturers proudly declare that they will work in any modern car.  My preference is for the harness with the loop as I have used an attachment and the clip came out of the mooring in the car.  The car’s own seat belt and its clip have been designed and tested to offer the best protection possible for adult travellers. If you can, attach your dog’s harness to that as it is much more reliable.

For nervous pups

Aware that some dogs walked in public may have behavioural issues, a few companies have created matching harnesses and collars that indicate whether other dogs and their owners should keep their distance. They may state that your dog is nervous, or even that he should not be offered treats by another owner.

There is a risk that a dog wearing a harness whilst running may become trapped, and this happened to one of my dogs last week. She was close by but seemed unable to follow us when called, and I found that she had run into the limb of a fallen branch, which was holding her by her harness. I do not care to remove their harnesses as one of the advantages is the ease with which you can grab your dog during a walk if necessary, but they need to be watched and recalled at intervals.  

Leads

Your cavapoo is not a fourteen-stone Great Dane, and so you do not need a chain or rope the thickness of a ship’s cable. A normal nylon lead, capable of taking the weight of a medium-sized breed such as a cocker spaniel, should be fine. Double-ended leads are often more substantial, although you will not find the range of colours, black or red being the only choices. They are soft, despite their strength, and offer you several useful choices on a walk. You can use the rings on them to fasten the lead to itself, thus shortening it when you need more control.  You might even like to clip the lead to itself around your waist and attach the other end to Fido’s harness so that you have your hands free for taking photos or answering the mobile phone.  The lead can be lengthened by fastening the end to the nearest ring to form a handle, and this is excellent for a puppy on his first walk as you will want him to be secure whilst giving him enough lead to explore.

Retractable leads

If you want your dog to remain attached but to have some freedom, why not invest in a sixteen-foot retractable lead? Or allow him to run freely whilst sporting an even longer training line? Allow me to dissuade you. A dog at the end of a lead with so much slack can make a dash at something exciting and, before you feel any tension in the lead, the handle will have shot out of your hand. Worse still, you can be pulled over because you cannot immediately check your dog’s speed and he will have several seconds in which to build up momentum. I do not trust retractable leads enough to use them on a pavement as I am unhappy about the mechanism within the plastic handle. Will it malfunction just as a car approaches and release several feet of lead?  

Training Leads

Training leads are essentially very long lines without a handle. They have their place within a hall, barn or compound where your dog cannot build up speed; they allow your dog freedom, but you can put your foot on them and retrieve a dog with an unreliable recall. In an open field, these functions are merely academic. If your dog decides to encircle you– and your companion, for good measure – in a wild dance, the pair of you will be roped together like a couple of convicts (yes, this happened to two of us, and we were helpless with laughter, so extricating ourselves took quite a while). I have also fallen backwards on my head when my dog’s training lead shot from under my foot, and received a friction burn on another occasion because she tore away at a rate of knots, dragging the lead over my sandalled foot. Training leads are bad news. You can survive them, but unless you limit their use to actual training sessions or classes in the correct venue, you will not survive for long.

The wind is inviting, the sun is crisp and thin and the leaves are out in riotous colours. Walkies, Fido?