Dog Collars For Shih Tzus – Is A Harness Better?

Dog collars for shih tzus - is a harness better?

In this report:

Why Dog Collars For Shih Tzus Are Not Advisable

Other Likely Shih Tzu Injuries From Dog Collars

The Benefits Of Using A Dog Harness For Your Shih Tzu

It’s Important That The Harness Fits Well

The Best Harness For A Shih Tzu

The Most Common Dog Harness Designs

Shihtzuandyou Top Recommended Harness

Should You Meet Up With Any Resistance ……..

If You Still Want Your Shih Tzu To Wear A Collar ……..

The Best Dog Collar For A Shih Tzu

Why Dog Collars For Shih Tzus Are Not Advisable

Buying dog collars for shih tzus is not the best idea. If you are thinking of doing this, I urge you to think again and consider a harness instead. A dog collar can cause serious injury to a shih tzu, especially a shih tzu that pulls on the leash or if you have to suddenly yank the leash to pull your dog from danger. Your shih tzu may get lucky and never have an injury wearing a collar, but why take the risk?

The shih tzu is one of the brachycephalic breeds, that is they have been bred to have a very short snout. The internal parts of the mouth and throat are just the same size as for a long-snouted dog, meaning that everything is squashed into a smaller space. The palette overlaps into the windpipe slightly and the windpipe itself is close to the skin. 

This windpipe or trachea is protected somewhat by rings of cartilage but is still quite weak. Any pressure exerted upon it, such as that transmitted by a pull on a collar, can cause the trachea to collapse. This injury is usually permanent and can make breathing more labored as well as being very painful. It can be eased a little with medication but in severe cases will require surgery and in extreme cases euthanasia.

Other Likely Shih Tzu Injuries From Dog Collars

  1. The pressure exerted on the back of the neck if a shih tzu being walked in a leash and collar combination lurches forwards or to one side can lead to intervertebral disc disease and other spinal injuries.
  2. Over a period of time, a collar exerting pressure on the thyroid gland can develop into hypothyroidism.
  3. A shih tzu that pulls on the leash wearing a collar can suffer nerve damage to the front legs, usually demonstrated by excessive licking of the front paws.
  4. A scientific study by the American Animal Hospital Association has shown that dogs wearing collars have shown a higher incidence of eye problems such as glaucoma and disorders of the cornea than dogs that wear harnesses.

The Benefits Of Using A Dog Harness For Your Shih Tzu

  • Using a dog harness for your shih tzu will help prevent the injuries that could potentially be caused by using a collar, particularly neck and spinal injuries.
  • Your shih tzu will be more secure and safer in a harness.
  • In a harness, it will be much more difficult for your shih tzu to wriggle free when out walking than if wearing a collar. With a well-designed, well-fitting harness it will be almost impossible to wriggle free.
  • A dog harness will give you more control over your shih tzu than a collar. If you have a shih tzu that pulls you when out walking, a harness with the D-ring located in the chest area can tackle this problem.
  • It will be easier and safer to clip your shih tzu to a car seat when driving. There are harnesses available that are supplied with straps that connect to the seat belt anchor. For extra safety, I recommend using the harness in conjunction with a canine bolster seat.

It’s Important That The Harness Fits Well

A shih tzu wearing a mesh vest harness.

A badly fitting harness can also cause injuries and be a threat to safety, as can badly designed and worn-out ones. So it’s worth measuring your shih tzu first, paying attention to the sizing charts of your chosen harness and spending that little extra for quality. If you have a harness that is frayed or torn, particularly around the armpits area where it can chafe, replace it.

To measure your shih tzu properly for a harness, use a dressmaker’s cloth tape measure to determine the circumference of the neck, the circumference of the girth from behind the shoulder blades and around the tummy, plus the length of the back from the back of the neck to the start of the tail.

When you try the harness on your shih tzu, it should be a snug fit but not so tight that you can’t just get two fingers comfortably in between the harness material and your dog’s body without using force. For this reason, it is best to choose a harness with multiple adjustment points.

The Best Harness For A Shih Tzu

Materials used need to be lightweight and breathable. Lightweight because you don’t want your shih tzu struggling with a heavy harness. Breathable because your shih tzu has two coats, an inner one and an outer one. If you then cover these coats with a non-breathable material, it can cause overheating or hyperthermia, especially during hot weather.

The most common lightweight and breathable materials used in dog harnesses are nylon and polyester but you can also find cotton ones if you prefer naturally occurring materials. Nylon is the stronger, cleans easily and is water-resistant, but polyester is less abrasive and dries faster after getting wet. The lightness and breathability of all of these materials is increased when used to form a mesh. 

Many harnesses feature padding for the chest, back and sometimes on the inside of the straps. The padding is often made of neoprene, a soft, synthetic rubber that will mold itself to your shih tzu’s body shape. Chest padding will help distribute any forces caused by pulling on the leash evenly and away from the windpipe. Back padding will support the spine and help prevent intervertebral disc disease. Padding inside the straps will help prevent abrasions and chafing.

As I previously mentioned, it helps to find the perfect fit for your shih tzu if you choose a harness with multiple adjustment points. These adjustment points plus the fastening buckles should be made of strong plastic or strong steel. Strong steel should also feature for the D-rings and any rings joining straps together.

Some harnesses have the D-ring for connecting the leash at the back, either near the neck, halfway along the back, or both. Some harnesses have D-rings at the front in the chest area and some have D-rings in both locations, known as a dual-clip harness. 

The back-clip D-ring is probably the most common perhaps because it is in a convenient position to easily clip the leash on and off. The main issue with clipping a leash to the back of a harness is that it makes it easy for your shih tzu to pull you along.

If your shih tzu is a “puller”, it is perhaps better to choose a chest-mounted front-clip D-ring. With the leash clipped here, your shih tzu cannot pull you along. If he tries to pull you, instead of moving forwards he will be turned around to face you. After a few walks with this type of harness, the theory is that your shih tzu will realize that pulling gets him nowhere and he will stop doing it. The main disadvantage with the chest-mounted D-ring is that your dog’s legs can become tangled with the leash.

For the best of both worlds, choose a dual-clip harness. You can choose to connect the leash to either ring or do as a lot of dog trainers do and connect leashes to both rings at once for maximum control. 

If you walk your shih tzu in low light conditions, particularly along busy roads or unlit lanes and paths, reflective features incorporated into the harness will help your shih tzu be seen and increase both his safety and yours.

The Most Common Dog Harness Designs

A shih tzu dog wearing a harness over a coat.
Photo by Muffin

Stretch Mesh Harness

This style is good for shih tzus of all ages but is most suitable for puppies. Made from a stretchy, breathable mesh, it is soft, comfortable and cool for the dog. It is easy to put on and remove, this harness usually fastens with snap-buckles at the sides or the back. The adjustment will be at the chest and sometimes the neck as well. This type of harness is available in a variety of colors and most are machine washable.

Padded Chest or Chest Plate Harness

As the name suggests, this type of harness features a supportive, padded chest plate for comfort. This style will help prevent injury to a dog that pulls by spreading the load over a larger area. It is also good for preventing injury in the event of an accident when strapped into a car seat. The sides of this harness will have straps that the shih tzu steps into before securely fastening.  

Vest or Coat Harness

 If your shih tzu wears clothing when out in the winter months, this type of all-in-one harness and vestment may save you the struggle of having to put both a harness and a coat on your shih tzu before going out. You will probably need a second, mesh harness for the summer months, though, as your dog may become too hot in this one.

This type of vest, coat or other garment harness has a convenient D-ring fixed onto the back for attaching the leash. It is primarily designed as clothing and as a consequence is relatively weak compared to harness-only designs but is quite adequate for a small dog breed such as the shih tzu. It is certainly secure as it is almost impossible to wriggle out of when fastened up properly.

A large variety of designs and colors are available. You do need to be careful that you buy the correct size but when you do, it will be very comfortable for your dog. Most come with padding to decrease the risk of chafing, adding to the comfort.

Strap or Roman Harness

This harness consists of just a framework of straps typically made from strong nylon but, more unusually, could be of leather. 

Straps circumvent the back of the neck to the lower chest and also the girth, joined along the back and inside the front legs. The straps are formed in such a way that pressure is kept away from the trachea.

The better designs have the snap-buckle at the shoulder or under the tummy. They are difficult for a dog to wriggle out of although they are not as comfortable as other types of harness.

The straps can become tangled when putting on or removing and will then need unraveling. Some have a contrast color lower strap to help with this.

Designed for adult dogs rather than puppies, this is not the best choice for a shih tzu but it will serve its purpose.

Step-in Harness

This is similar to the strap harness in appearance. It lacks the neck strap of the strap harness, instead it has straps that circumvent each front leg. The dog steps in and the straps are pulled up to the armpits. It then fastens up at the back,

This harness needs to fit and be adjusted properly, otherwise it is easy for a startled dog to wriggle free from. However, if you have a laid-back hound, the lightweight and compact structure of this harness make it perfect for short walks.

No-Pull Harness

The typical no-pull harness looks similar to the chest plate harness in that it has a chest panel to spread the load. The difference is that the no-pull has two leash attachment points that gives the handler complete control.

The front attachment point on the chest plate allows the handler to steer the dog in the desired direction, while the attachment at the back prevents pulling. This harness is designed to be used with a double-ended leash.

Shihtzuandyou Top Recommended Harness

 EcoBark Max Comfort Dog Harness

At Shihtzuandyou, we not only think that this is the best shih tzu friendly dog harness for value, comfort and quality of build, we also like the ethics behind it. Not only are Ecobark’s products made from recycled materials wherever possible but also for every harness, collar or leash they sell, they also donate another harness or leash to an animal shelter.

This harness is ideal for shih tzu puppies and adults because it is lightweight and has a soft, comfortable fit. The main body is of a strong, padded, breathable double mesh manufactured in such a way as to discourage pulling and protect the dog’s trachea from injury. The mesh will stretch and move naturally with your shih tzu and the breathability helps keep the dog cool, even when running around.

The vest is easy to ease on and off over the dog’s head. It has two adjustable chest straps that fix the harness in place with a secure but easy to use snap-buckle. There is also adjustment at the neck as well as the chest to ensure that you get the best fit. 

The D-ring for the leash is positioned at the back, in between the neck and chest straps. It’s fixed securely in place with reinforced double stitching. The rest of the harness covering is stitched in such a way so as to prevent chafing, especially around the armpits area.

The Max Comfort is available in a range of colors and patterns. There are some bright ones if you often walk your shih tzu in low light conditions. Ecobark also sell leashes that match these colors.

The surface of the harness can be wiped down with a damp sponge or cloth, so keeping it clean is not a problem.

I recommend carefully measuring your shih tzu and paying attention to the manufacturer’s size chart before ordering, as their sizes may be different to those of other harness makers. The harness is virtually escape-proof so long as you order the correct size.

Click here to see the Ecobark Max Comfort Dog Harness on Amazon.

However, If you drive a lot with your shih tzu with you in your vehicle, you may prefer to buy an all-round harness that has been crash-tested for extra safety. The Max Comfort is not such a harness. In this case, Shihtzuandyou recommends:

The Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Dog Car Harness 

The Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Dog Car Harness has been crash-tested for dogs up to 75 lbs (34 kg) using dog-shaped crash test dummies. When this harness is used with the included seat belt tether, your shih tzu’s chances of surviving an accident and not injuring any of the other occupants of the vehicle are greatly improved.

What makes the Enhanced Strength a better choice for car journeys than standard Tru-Fit harnesses is the use of mountain climbing standard steel nesting buckles and hardware. The hardware includes a carabiner at the end of the seat belt tether.

The rest of the harness is of the same robust and durable build quality of all Tru-Fit harnesses. The “Tru-Fit” brand reflects on the five points of adjustment that ensure a perfect custom fit for almost any dog. The padded chest section helps prevent injury to the trachea and the sternum by absorbing and dissipating the shock of a car accident, so you know your shih tzu isn’t going to be hurt if he starts pulling you on your walks. You can eliminate pulling altogether as the harness has a D-ring at the front, as well as another at the back.

The harness comes with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturer’s defects.

Click here to see the Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Dog Car Harness on Amazon.

Should You Meet Up With Any Resistance ……..

Your shih tzu may not want to put on a harness at first. It’s better to get a shih tzu to wear a harness at the puppy stage when they are more open to learning new ways. 

If you have an adult dog it may be an idea to first leave the harness somewhere around the main living area of your home so that your shih tzu can sniff around it, play with it and generally get familiar with it. That way the harness will not be a total shock when you try to put it on him the first time.

You can further reinforce your shih tzu’s familiarization with the new harness by rewarding him with praise or a treat whenever he shows interest in it, so that he learns to associate good experiences with the harness. In a similar vein, don’t punish him if he gives you a hard time when you try to put the harness on him otherwise he will always associate bad experiences with it.

It can take around one to three weeks for a shih tzu to get used to a harness and around the same time for the owner, also!

If You Still Want Your Shih Tzu To Wear A Collar ……..

A shih tzu wearing a decorative collar.
ID: 214788448 © viclin | Depositphotos

Unless your shih tzu has been diagnosed with a collapsed trachea or another breathing issue, in which case you should never use a collar, there is no other reason why you can’t have your shih tzu wear a collar just for carrying his ID tags or because you think it looks good. I still recommend also using a harness for the leash, though.

Choose a lightweight material for the collar that preferably has a snap-buckle rather than a belt-buckle. 

The collar should be removed when grooming your shih tzu to allow for full, efficient brush strokes and thorough cleaning when bathing. 

For more information on grooming your shih tzu, click on the link below:

How To Groom A Shih Tzu Dog – Easy Home Grooming You Can Do

However, having said all of this, there is one harness that strips down to a collar when not in use:

The Best Dog Collar For A Shih Tzu


The Sporn Dog Training Halter

The beauty of this device is that your shih tzu can wear the detachable collar section of this harness all of the time, should you so wish. Then, when it’s time for walkies, just clip on the rest of the harness in three easy steps and you’re ready to go on your walk with you in complete control.

This is the one collar that does not put any pressure on the trachea, even when your dog is pulling. Even a dog that, unfortunately, already has a collapsed trachea or other throat injury can wear this. It is the only collar that Shihtzuandyou recommends.

The complete harness is made from sturdy, quality materials. Braided cord and nylon webbing combine with nickel plated steel fasteners to give a very strong construction. When your dog pulls, restraints under the front legs humanely stop him in his tracks. The restraints are sleeved with a synthetic sheepskin material for your shih tzu’s comfort and to prevent chafing.

The whole unit is weatherproof and machine washable. Sporn are so confident about this product that they offer a lifetime guarantee of satisfaction, so hold on to your proof of purchase even though I don’t think that you’ll need it. 

This is the perfect harness for those who like their shih tzus to wear a collar and want to train them out of a bad pulling habit. As always, measure your dog and use the manufacturer’s size guide before making your purchase.

Click here to see The Sporn Dog Halter on Amazon.

Thank you for your interest in this article. If you have any comments or questions about this subject, anything concerning the shih tzu breed or this website, please use the comments box below or, alternatively use the contact us form.

Best wishes,

Shih Tzu Steve.


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