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Collar & Harness

Shih Tzu Collars and Harnesses

Overview

While there are many accessories that you can get for a puppy or dog, there are only a few that are a ‘must’. And a collar and/or harness are items that are a necessity for every Shih Tzu. Finding the right one may seem easy: Just get something that looks durable, cute and fits correctly. Right? 

It actually goes far beyond that. And in fact, having the wrong accessories can have dire consequences.

When it comes to caring for a Shih Tzu, the issue of collar and harness is perhaps the one in which the majority of owners have either not been given the correct information or do not understand the seriousness of information that they may have gleaned. 

We encourage all owners to read why choosing the best collars and harnesses for a Shih Tzu is such a vital element of care. 
Already know why a harness is a must? Jump right to The Best Harnesses for a Shih Tzu.

The Anatomy of a Shih Tzu’s Neck

Before we start talking about collars and harnesses for a Shih Tzu, it is important to understand the anatomy of a Shih Tzu’s neck, after all, that is where the collar is going sit.
Anatomy of Shih Tzu neck
The neck of a dog is physiologically comparable to that of a human’s. As you can see from this image, the throat splits off into two canals. There is the esophagus, which is the tube that leads to the stomach. And there is the trachea, which is the breathing tube that leads to the lungs. 

The tissue of the trachea is surrounded by rings of cartilage, which as you may know is much softer and more pliable than bone. It is also much weaker.

There is little else protecting a Shih Tzu’s neck. There are some very muscled dogs, such as Boxers, that have a good amount of thick neck and shoulder muscle that can withstand pressure on the neck from a collar. However, not so for a little Shih Tzu. 

Of course, there is some tissue and skin. The skin on a dog’s neck is actually thinner than that of a human’s (3 to 5 cells thick vs our 10 to 15 cells).
And then there is the Tzu’s hair, which as you know is a single coat of fine silky hairs. 

Compared to many other dog breeds, the Shih Tzu (being a brachycephalic breed) has a more compact face and throat structure. The internal passageways are shorter, and can lead to breathing issues and increased risk of injury including collapsed trachea.

What You Need to Know About Collapsed Trachea

Going forward, you'll want to understand the basics of this. As we touched on, the trachea is surrounded by rings of cartilage. If the rings weaken or break inward, this is called collapsed trachea. It is an awful health condition that is very painful and as you can imagine, makes breathing difficult. It is hard to treat. Often cough suppressants, corticosteroids and sometimes pain medication is given, however it cannot be completely reversed. 
Some dogs are born with a congenital abnormality that causes those rings to be weaker and prone to collapsing. Other dogs (and particularly with toy breeds and brachycephalic breeds like the Shih Tzu) are much more prone to having this happen as a result of injury. What sort of injury? Pressure to the neck. What causes pressure to the neck? Collars. 

It is very important to note that once this sort of injury occurs, it can be lifelong. In severe cases surgery needs to be performed and in some cases, a dog struggles so badly that a veterinarian may recommend euthanasia. 

Can a Collar Really Cause Damage to a Shih Tzu?

You may have had 4 or 5 Shih Tzu in the past or have had your current dog for years, always wearing a collar when on leash and there have never been any problems. 

However, all it takes is one second. Just one brief moment for a Shih Tzu’s life to change drastically, sending him or her into a lifetime of breathing struggles and pain. Even spinal injuries are possible. Additionally, some problems develop due from years of wearing a collar connected to a leash.
The risks of the collar/leash combination:

1. Compression of the windpipe & resulting collapsed trachea (as we discussed). Any time a Shih Tzu lunges forward or jumps to the side, any sort of quick jerking motion when on leash and collar, this can instantly cause injury. 
Shih Tzu with good collar on, no leash
Niko, at 7 months
Photo courtesy of the Mulcahey Family
Collar for ID purposes, leash not attached: Perfect!
Even if a Shih Tzu never jumps, imagine that you are walking your dog and a car swerves by too closely… in an effort to protect your Tzu, you pull on the leash to bring him closer to you… just one incident of this can cause irreversible damage.

2. Breathing difficulties as pressure is put on the neck of a breed that is already prone to have these sorts of issues. 

3. Increased risk of disc disease and neurological problems. Any time that a Shih Tzu does not keep up when walked on leash and collar OR if the dog jumps forward or to the side, it puts pressure on the spinal cord and the vertebral discs.

4. Eye Problems. Cornea conditions and glaucoma may be caused by collars. In a study of leash and collar issues published by the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a direct correlation between a dog wearing a collar vs a harness showed that dogs leashed to collars had increased weakened or thin corneas and a higher rate of glaucoma. 
Shih Tzu with harness on
Jewel
Photo courtesy of Magalie and Mark Harvey
Soft mesh harness when on leash: Awesome!
5. Thyroid issues, paw chewing and other concerns. Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM, a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine who resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada has been studying the effects of dog collars for 2 decades. He suggests that long-term pressure of the collar on the thyroid gland can cause hypothyroidism and has made a correlation between pulling on a leash and nerve damage to the front limbs, resulting in excessive licking of the paws. 

Summary Thus Far

Hopefully, you now understand that walking your Shih Tzu with a collar is risky. The answer to help to avoid all of the possible problems is to slip a harness on your puppy or dog instead. 

Let’s go over some important facts first with choosing the best collar and then we will follow with vital information regarding choosing the best harness for your Shih Tzu. 

Overview of Harnesses for a Shih Tzu

One of the best gifts that you can ever give to your puppy or dog is the safety of a harness. 

It is an understatement to say that placing a quality harness on your Shih Tzu can prevent painful and lasting injury. 

Knowing what can occur if a collar is used, it does not make sense to do anything other than use a harness when walking your puppy or dog. There are other benefits as well. Let’s look at all of them:
1. Helps prevent all of the issues that collars can cause: Collapsed trachea, breathing difficulties and spinal damage. It may also help prevent certain eye and thyroid issues.

2. You will have better control of your Shih Tzu when he wears a harness. Keeping your puppy or dog near you (to your left side is the correct positioning for proper heeling) and guiding your puppy or dog is much easier with a harness. 

3. Any time that you take your Shih Tzu for a drive, he should be placed in a certified canine car seat. A raised booster seat is best. There is a strap inside the seat that is meant to be connected to a dog’s harness (connecting it to a collar is very dangerous). If your Shih Tzu is used to wearing a harness, it makes for an easy transition into the safety of the canine car seat.

Barriers to Break

There are some common hurdles that some owners must get passed to make the move from collar to harness. Here they are, along with some tips:
Shih Tzu puppy with safety harness
Bailey at 8 months old
Photo courtesy of the Ramos Family
Cute  harness? Check!
Cute Shih Tzu? Check!
Preventing neck injury? Check! 
best harness for shih tzu
Bunny at 3 months old
Photo courtesy of Bonnie Olivier
Harness instead of leash? Yes! The Shih Tzu is happy?Yes!
The Shih Tzu is protected from neck injury? Yes! 
1. My Shih Tzu will (or does) put up a fuss with a harness. 

Anything that is new to a dog may cause an initial fuss. However, to give proper care, we must not tiptoe around the whims of a dog. When an owner makes the decision to have their Shih Tzu wear a harness, and the right one is obtained, the puppy or dog will get used to it. It can take 1 to 2 weeks for a Shih Tzu to get acclimated to it. 
Proper type (more ahead) and proper fit will make things much easier. In addition, there is a learning curve for owners too; after the first few days, it’s a much easier process. 

2. My Shih Tzu is so small, not much pressure is put on the neck. So is a harness really needed?  

When you think about the force that is put on a dog’s neck, it is all relative. The force would not seem much to you, however you must look at the force and pressure relatively speaking to the size of the dog. The tracheal tube and windpipe of a toy breed dog is fragile. Small dogs do not have thick muscle to protect the area. 

Having the neck restricted in any way can cause issues and it only takes one jump or lunge to cause damage. 

3. Will the harness be detrimental to the coat?

A breathable harness, when fitted properly, will not damage a Shih Tzu’s coat. As always, we suggest using a leave-in spritz to protect the hairs from contact friction and static. 
Check out this slide show of Shih Tzu in harnesses! We're very happy to see these owners taking proper care of their Tzu!
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    Leo & Jake, 6 months old
    Photo courtesy of Debra Dodd

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    Pita, 3 years old
    Photo courtesy of Linda Geatrakas

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    Penni
    Photo courtesy of Concetta

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    Teddy Bear, 2 years old
    Photo courtesy of Rosalie and Peter

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    Romeo and Redford
    Photo courtesy of Deborah Singley

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    Sophie at 8 months old
    Photo courtesy of Marilyn Carmichael, Buffalo New York

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    Russ, wearing a Voyager harness (his owner cuts a small hole in his outerwear for the leash to connect)
    Photo courtesy of Max & Ted

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    Vivienne Grace, at 9 months old Photo courtesy Meg

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    Charlie Boo
    Photo courtesy of Dahlia Tessy

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    Rusty
    Photo courtesy of Maxine

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The Best Harness for a Shih Tzu

There are 3 different types of harness that work well for the Shih Tzu breed:

1. Stretch mesh. The pros of these are that they are breathable and flexible. Many dogs find this type to be very comfortable and can come to really love wearing these. Some slip on similar to a shirt and some have a Velcro closure that makes it incredible easy to put on a dog. 

When on, it looks like the puppy or dog is wearing a cute vest. Be sure to look for a quality mesh that will stand up to washings and last a long time. You'll want flexible fabric that makes it slip easily onto and off your puppy or dog. These can be found in a wide range of colors to keep your dog looking dapper. 
2. Strapped Harness. A nylon comfort wrapped, strapped harness is a great choice for most Shih Tzu. 
These are super easy to put on. One of the best types are those in which the bottom strap is a different color than the top ones, which makes it easy to know what goes where. Look for one with ‘quick snaps’ buckles on the shoulder or stomach. A martingale loop on the chest piece will help prevent the harness from twisting. 

3. Clothing harness. For those of you who enjoy dressing up your Shih Tzu or during the winter when your Shih Tzu needs an extra layer of warmth to be comfortable, a vest/shirt/dress harness is a great choice. 

With these, the harness is built into the clothing with the leash loop attachment located on the back. There are tons of choices for all sorts of looks and with this type, it fulfills two purposes at the same time. 
Shih Tzu dress harness - clothing with harness
Minnie Pearl, photo courtesy of Tomi Clements
Adorable dress/harness combination. This Shih Tzu is classy & safe!
Below are our top recommended harnesses. These can be found in size XS for puppies and S for adults. If you do not see the images, try a refresh. On mobile, you may need to turn your screen horizontal to see all 8 picks. 

The Best Collars for Shih Tzu Puppies and Dogs

Though walking your Shih Tzu with the leash connected to the collar is unarguably risky, you will still want your dog to wear a collar. A collar is an accessory that is best used for identification purposes to hold your Shih Tzu’s ID tags. 

Some states require the tag to show proof of rabies vaccination and/or registration information. At any rate, you will want it to display your contact information in the event that your puppy or dog ever becomes lost.

There are several collars that are flat-out horrible for any dogs to wear and while we are quite sure no one would place these sorts of collars on a tiny Shih Tzu, we must mention that choke and prong collars are highly unethical and cause terrible damage. 
Though flat buckle collars (those that look like miniature belts) are a common type that is placed on dogs, there can be some issues with these. The biggest being that it can take a while to remove it. Should there be some sort of emergency, you will need to fuss with the buckle to release the prong from the punched hole. If a Shih Tzu were caught on something and choking, this can waste precious seconds.

For this breed, the two best options are:
Flat collar, quick release - This consists of one flat, adjustable strap that fits around the neck. It closes with a clasp that is ideal for fast removal. By directing pressure to the side of the clasp, it instantly releases. You'll want it to be lightweight yet sturdy, weather resistant and with stitching only on one side to prevent irritation.
Flat collar, break away - Similar to the quick release collar, this is a flat, adjustable collar in which the clasping mechanism will break apart if excessive force is placed upon it the event of an emergency. Examples would be if the Shih Tzu’s collar got accidentally caught on an object such as a piece of metal fencing, a part of a safety gate or even a tipped over chair, in which the dog would otherwise be strangled.
  • Material – It is suggested to stay away from polyester which is an inexpensive material that can wear down quickly and also easily absorbs a dog’s body oil which can cause it to emit a bad odor. Leather has a nice look to it, however they are not waterproof and can stretch out over time. For these reasons, nylon webbing is best as it is sturdy, washable, waterproof and resistant to picking up odors. A padded collar is always helpful, as this will help prevent irritation.
  • Sizing – Ideally, the best collar for a Shih Tzu will be adjustable. Even just a haircut can lend to needing the collar to be adjusted to a smaller size. You’ll want to be able to slip 2 fingers under the collar; this is the best method to ensure that it is not too constricting but also not so loose that the puppy or dog can slip out of it. 
  • Extras - Some neat little extras include reflective material to help your Shih Tzu be visible and the options to have the ID information embroidered into the collar itself, so that there does not need to be a tag hanging down or the possibility of it snapping off. 
Therefore, the best collar for a Shih Tzu is a flat breakaway or flat quick release nylon webbing adjustable collar. 

Quick Collar Tips

1. Some owners choose to keep a collar off their Shih Tzu when home, and this is fine as long as you are very careful in regard to watching the dog when exit doors are opened. Intact dogs (both male and female) are most prone to darting off, however a dog of any age, intact or not, can run out when you least expect it. It can help to have a rule that those entering the house rap on the door before doing so and those exiting announce this so that the dog can be held while the door is opening. 

2. Do remove the collar when brushing your Shih Tzu. If not, it will impede long strokes to brush the face, neck, shoulders and chest. It should also be removed when bathing your dog to properly clean the coat. 

3. Any Shih Tzu diagnosed with collapsed trachea or any other sort of breathing issue should never have a collar placed on him, even when off leash. 
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