The first step in choosing a harness for your dog is deciding what you need it to accomplish. There are a variety of reasons to choose a harness:
- You know that a collar can put stress on a dog’s sensitive neck and trachea, so you want to go for walks without that risk.
- Your dog pulls a lot, and you need a little leverage while you’re working on training.
- Your dog is an escape risk, who might try to slip out of a collar.
- You’re looking for bright colors!
- You need something for a particular function, like helping a dog who has some mobility issues.
I’m a big fan of using harnesses for all the reasons above. But there are a ton of options out there, and it can be hard to know what to choose. Here are a few things to consider.
Pulling on Leash
If your dog pulls like a freight train, you want to be working with a positive reinforcement trainer to help fix the problem. A front-clip harness can help give you a little more leverage in the meantime, though. A front-clip harness has a leash attachment on the dog’s chest. This means that when they pull, the tension on the leash ends up pulling them toward the side. This prevents them from being able to keep pulling straight ahead, so it interrupts their forward momentum. Make sure you fit your harness snugly; you should be able to slide a couple of fingers underneath the straps, but no more. If the harness isn’t tight, the front clip will just slide around, negating the no-pull aspect and potentially rubbing your dog’s chest and creating abrasions. Fun fact: harnesses do NOT cause dogs to pull! But a regular harness can absolutely give them extra leverage to pull harder, so for strong pullers we recommend a front-clip harness until you can get some training.
A few recommendations:
- Freedom Harness: They’re pretty hard to slip out of, and come with soft straps for the sensitive under-armpit area. They have both a front and back clip, too! And bonus: they come in lots of amazing colors.
- Balance Harness: These are even harder to slip when properly fitted (good for dogs who like to escape!). They’re also considered a Y-shaped harness, which avoids restricting movement in the shoulder joints. They also have a front and back clip and come in fun colors.
- Easy Walk Harness: These are cheap and easy to find in a pinch but could move around a bunch, depending on your dog’s body type.
There are tons of great options out there depending on your style. It’s important to consider your dog’s body shape. If they have a deep chest, you may need to choose a different option than a narrow dog. If your dog often doesn’t fit in harnesses, look for something with many adjustable straps! In general, we recommend looking for a Y-shape harness versus a T-shape. When you look at your dog’s chest, some harnesses have straps going straight across the shoulders (T-shape), and these can restrict the movement of your dog’s shoulders and in some cases cause issues, especially in puppies or growing adolescents. A Y-shape harness has straps that go around the head instead of across the shoulders and doesn’t restrict movement.
A few recommendations:
- I love Ruffwear harnesses, since they have a bunch of different versions suited for different body shapes. They come in many colors and have nice padding.
- PetSafe 3-in-1 harness is another Y-shaped harness option but offers fewer colors. These can even work for tiny dogs!
- For dogs with mobility issues, Ruffwear Web Master harness is a great option This one has multiple straps to divide pressure evenly across the chest and belly, and a sturdy carry strap if you need to help your dog with walking or getting up into the car.
- For car rides, check out the Sleepypod ClickIt Sport and Sleepypod ClickIt Terrain. These are some of only a handful of successfully crash-tested dog harnesses! For more information on car harnesses and safety, look at www.thecarseatlady.com
- For dogs who are sensitive to handling, you’ll want to consider which motions are uncomfortable for them. Step-in harnesses clip in the back and require moving the dog’s feet and legs into the straps. Many harnesses slip over the head, which can be uncomfortable for dogs who are sensitive to things moving over their head. Some harnesses require reaching over the dog to clip a strap under the belly. So, consider which movements will be easiest for your dog, and choose a harness based on that. And if your dog is struggling with handling or putting on their harness, contact a positive reinforcement trainer.
- Regardless of type, look out for spots where your dog’s harness might be rubbing or causing discomfort. Every dog is different, and they may just need a different type.
- We do not recommend harnesses that constrict when the dog pulls. This can be very uncomfortable for our dogs!
- Head harnesses (like the Halti or Gentle Leader) have gained some popularity recently. Head halters can be a valuable tool, but they require some additional training and can cause significant damage to the dog’s neck if used incorrectly. Before choosing a head harness, work with a positive reinforcement trainer.
- If your dog is a serious escape risk, consider a harness-to-collar safety clip or connector. These just clip the harness and collar together, so if your dog manages to slip one off, you’re still connected to the other!
- We always recommend using a 6-foot flat leash or long-line flat leash versus a retractable leash with your harness for a variety of safety reasons.
A harness can be a great option for your dog. You know your dog best, and like so many products out there, the most important step in choosing one is to match the product to the individual characteristics, physically and mentally, of your dog.