A dog harness is a great tool when used correctly. Unfortunately, few people know how to select the correct harness for their dog, how to measure for it and fit it. Choosing a dog harness means knowing what type of harness to buy, what size harness to buy, and how to use the harness selected.
Table of Contents
- Dog Harnesses: A Dog Owner's Buying Guide
In this guide, we'll cover absolutely about everything a dog owner should know about harnesses, from the types of dog harnesses and how to choose the right one for your dog to measuring your dog for a harness and fitting one perfectly for him.
Why consider a dog harness over a dog leash?
Dogs that pull on the leash run the risk of straining or spraining their neck or even permanently damaging their trachea. A dog harness is better than a dog leash because it redirects and redistributes force from pulling more evenly to prevent this type of injury.
Dogs that are hard to control require specific leash pulling training. But until they can be trained, a dog harness gives you more control of your dog during walks. A collar, which only provides a singular point of control, allows very little safe control. A harness, however, redistributes your dog’s force and momentum over multiple points of control.
A dog harness is also less likely to break away or slip off when your dog is compelled to run. Less confident dogs can find comfort and security from the way that a harness wraps around their body. This increased confidence makes your dog more receptive to your commands and less fearful of new environments.
The bottom line is that a dog harness is safer and more comfortable for the dog and the owner than a regular dog leash, and is often the best choice for most of us. With that out of the way, here's everything you should know about buying a harness for your dog.
ULTIMATE LIST: The 50 Best Dog Harnesses for Walking Your Dogs
Dog Harnesses: A Dog Owner's Buying Guide
Back-clip harnesses are BEST for:
- Small dogs
- Dogs with respiratory or trachea problems
- Dogs with neck injuries
For example, a 14-year-old Yorkshire terrier with a collapsed trachea would benefit from a back-clip harness, because it does not pull or strain the neck area.
Back-clip harnesses are NOT for:
- Dogs that pull excessively
- Large dogs with a high prey drive and little training
- Dogs with a lot of power
For example, 200-pound bull mastiff who has not yet been trained to walk on a leash and who pulls excessively would not benefit from this type of harness. The back-clip dog harness offers little control and creates a single anchor point for the dog to pull their owner behind them.
Front-clip harnesses are BEST for:
- Dogs that pull
- Dogs that jump
- Dogs that get distracted and are hard to direct when walking
For example, a Labrador retriever that walks moderately well on a leash but gets excited and pulls when they see other dogs would benefit from this type of dog harness. A front-clip allows more control of the dog’s forward motion and direction.
Front-clip harnesses are NOT for:
- Dogs with serious behavioral concerns like aggression or uncontrolled prey-drive
For example, a golden retriever with dog aggression would not do well with a front-clip harness. The front clip harness does not provide enough control over a dog with serious behavioral issues.
READ THIS: 6 Best Dog Harnesses For Dogs That Pull
What Type of Dog Harness Should I Buy?
Besides the location of the clip attachment on the harness, there are a few different types of dog harnesses available, all of which may serve a different purpose and work differently in how they allow you to control your dog. Make sure you're familiar with all of them.
The choice you make will be determined by your dog's need as well as your personal preference. It's best to take your dog with you while shopping for a harness. This way you can try each type on and see which is easiest for you to out on and take off your pet.
The Tightening Harness
Tightening dog harnesses are BEST for:
- Stubborn pullers
- Regular jumpers
A Pitbull that regularly jumps to greet strangers while on a walk needs a tightening harness. The tightening of the harness discourages jumping by creating slight discomfort as it tightens.
Tightening dog harnesses are NOT for:
- Timid dogs or dogs with a history of abuse
- Dogs that do not respond well to corrective training
A poodle that has a history of abusive treatment prior to being rescued would not want to wear a tightening harness. Although minimal, the discomfort caused by the harness tightening can cause a formerly abused dog to regress or act out.
The Head Harness
Like the tightening dog harness, the head harness creates pressure to discourage negative behavior. This harness also provides more control over a dog’s direction by controlling head direction and movement, much like a horse’s bridle.
Just like with all dog muzzles, there is some controversy over the potential of a head harness to cause damage to a dog’s neck. Like most training tools, however, when used correctly without force, a head harness can be a very effective, safe method of training.
Head dog harnesses are BEST for:
- Patient and experienced dog trainers
- Persistent pullers
- Dogs that are easily distracted
For example, a golden doodle that consistently pulls during walks but does not respond to a traditional tightening harness would do well with a head harness. The head muzzle creates more control and direction for a dog that lacks both.
Head dog harnesses are NOT for:
- Owners who are quick to get frustrated
- Dogs with respiratory difficulties
- Dogs with short muzzles
English Bulldogs are not suited for this type of harness. The small muzzle of this dog breed does not accommodate a head harness well.
The Mobility Harness
A mobility dog harness, also known as dog sling harness, is a harness designed to assist a dog with limited mobility.
This type of harness can feature a hip-lift handle, a back handle, wraparound handles or a strap that passes from the front to the back of the harness. These handles and straps are designed to support a dog with hip dysplasia, joint degeneration, limited mobility, or joint injuries.
Mobility dog harnesses are BEST for:
- Larger dogs with joint injuries
- Dogs recovering from surgery
- Older dogs with limited mobility
A 90-pound German Shepherd that has recently undergone a CCL repair surgery would be the perfect candidate for a mobility harness.
Mobility harnesses are for all dogs, but certain types of mobility harnesses are best suited to certain types of dogs. A mobility harness with a strap from front to back is best suited for a small dog or dog with short stature like a beagle.
A mobility dog harness with a hip lift handle and back handle is best suited to a medium to large breed dog with stiffness in all joints or injury in the hind legs only. Such a dog would be a 12-year-old Bernese mountain dog with arthritis.
A mobility dog harness with only a hip lift handle is best suited to a large breed dog with difficulty with their hind legs. For example, a bloodhound with hip dysplasia would benefit from this type of mobility harness.
A mobility harness with wraparound handles is best for a large female dog with difficulty with all four legs or the hind legs only. For example a female Great Dane with spine damage could use this type of harness.
The Fit of a Dog Harness
Different types of harnesses will fit your pet differently. Depending on your dog's build, there may be a certain type that fits him better than others.
Some common fit types of dog harness you'll find at most pet stores include:
The Roman Harness
A Roman dog harness has two straps – one that fits around the dog’s chest and one that fits around the shoulder blades. These two straps are joined along the back and under the chest. You can see an example of a Roman harness in this dog harness review video.
Roman harnesses are best for the same dogs as the back-clip harness. Roman harnesses are NOT for dog owners with difficulty with fine motor skills, arthritis or confusion. The Roman harness proves more of a challenge to “untangle” and put onto a dog.
The Step-In Harness
A step-in dog harness resembles a figure eight in design. The dog simply steps into the harness and it clips at the back. Step-in harnesses are best for:
- Smaller or lighter breed dogs
- Older dog owners with less manual dexterity
Unfortunately, step-in harnesses are almost exclusively made for small breeds. They can be found for larger dogs, but there isn't much of a selection.
The Durability or Strength of a Dog Harness
There are two common levels of strength and durability of a dog harness.
A single-ply dog harness is constructed with a single layer of material. This material is most often nylon webbing, but it may also be leather.
A two-ply dog harness is constructed with two layers of material. As with the single ply harness, this material can be nylon or leather.
Obviously, the 2-ply dog harness is much stronger than the single-ply dog harness and is recommended for large dog breeds or dogs with a significant amount of pulling force.
How Do You Measure Your Dog for a Harness
It’s crucial to measure your dog correctly for their harness, otherwise you're running a risk of many problems and injuries. A dog harness that is too loose provides little control and the possibility of escape. A harness that is too tight creates discomfort and pain.
There are two measurements you need for most harnesses – the lower neck and chest.
Below, you can watch the video and read Samantha's extensive guide on how to measure a dog for a harness. But the process itself is very easy and straightforward.
Here how you do this:
Using a soft measuring tape, measure around the lower portion of your dog’s neck. Place the measuring tape just above the breastbone and around the back of the neck.
Using a soft measuring tape, measure around the widest part of your dog’s chest. For most dogs, this means placing the measuring tape just behind the front legs and wrapping it around to your dog’s back.
It is always best to account for a little “give” when fitting your dog’s harness to prevent chafing and pinching. The general rule of thumb is to allow for no more than “two fingers” of space between your dog and the straps of their harness.
Some harnesses for dogs are sold based on weight. Avoid this type of harness since it will not fit optimally. Buy your dog’s harness based on their measurements instead. For example, a mixed breed terrier that weighs 45 pounds but has a 27” chest may require the same size harness as a 60-pound Dalmatian that also has a 27” chest.
VIDEO GUIDE: How To Measure For and Choose the Right Dog Harness
Good Quality Dog Harnesses to Consider
Due to the popularity of this product and how harnesses are now becoming more common than dog leashes, there are hundreds of different types and designs of dog harness from many manufacturers available to purchase today. Thus, it can be very confusing.
With the above information, you should be able to decide which dog harness type and fit will be best for your dog. Once you've made the decision, you can take a look at our round-up of best overall dog harnesses as well as those for dogs who pull a lot. To save you some time, below I've listed some of the most popular dog harness options and information to help you to choose the right type of harness for your dog.
|Dog Harness Brand||Dog Harness Type||Notes|
|Freedom No-Pull Harness||Front-clip and back-clip, tightening, Roman harness||Good for pullers and a large size range (XS – 2X)|
|PetSafe Sure-Fit Harness||Back-clip, Roman harness||Good for pullers, limited size range, confusing to fit.|
|PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Harness||Front-clip, head harness||Good for pullers and easily distracted dogs, confusing to fit.|
|Dog Lifting Aid Mobility Harness||Back-clip, rear and hip lift mobility harness||Expensive but top of the line mobility harness.|
|Kurgo Tru-Fit Walking Harness||Front-clip and back-clip, Roman harness||Chest plate for force distribution, quick release side buckles.|
|No-Pull Harness Lead||Back-clip, tightening, over-the-head harness||Escape-proof, confusing to fit.|
|Gooby Escape Free Harness||Back-clip, tightening, step-in harness||Escape-proof, limited sizing (up to 23.5” chest and 21.75” neck).|
Who to Ask About Dog Harness Fitting and Harness Types
If you have any more questions about which type of dog harness is right for your dog or how to correctly fit your dog’s harness, the best place to ask is your vet, a professional dog trainer or you can also contact a dog harness manufacturer (like Ruffwear).
Sometimes, pet stores may or may not give you good advice. However, instead of seeking help from a pet store employee who has limited training in selecting and fitting dog harnesses, go straight to an authority source and get it right the first time around.