Choosing the Right Dog Harness

No word gets a dog more excited than “walk”  (although “food” might run a close second!) - and with most dogs needing at least 20-30 minutes of physical activity a day (depending on age, weight and condition),  it’s important to have equipment - such as a dog harness -  that will keep your pup safe and comfortable while you’re both out and about. 

Collar, or Dog Harness?

Dog walking equipment comes in many shapes and sizes - as do dogs, which is why not all are suited to wearing a collar. Certain types of collar, such as pinch or prong collars must never be used, as they can cause pain or distress, while choke chains could injure your dog if used incorrectly. Use choke chains with caution - and never leave one on an unattended dog, as it could strangle them.

Although suitable for some sizes and breeds of dog, even collars traditionally sold by pet shops may cause spinal and neck injury depending on the size of your dog and how hard they pull. This type of collar is best used for identification (rather than as a leash attachment)  - though if you’re concerned it might be a choking hazard use a breakaway collar.

Harnesses are arguably the safest, most secure way to walk your dog - reducing pulling, tangling and giving you greater control. These come in a variety of styles, so the first step to choosing the right type of harness for your particular pup depends on a range of factors including shape, size and breed and whether or not  they have a tendency to pull. Other considerations include durability, comfort and style but as always - being a responsible dog owner comes first.

Safety Matters

On average, dog’s owners walk their pets an amazing 870 miles a year - so ensure you get a good quality, durable harness  that will stand up to extensive use.  A dog harness should be an investment - so don’t just go for the cheapest one you see - or the “prettiest”, either: in this case, function goes before fashion - most canines don’t care for appearances anyway (especially if they love a hearty roll in the mud!) 

Always remember that allowing your dog to sleep in their harness - or even leaving them in the car with it on is especially risky, as the harness can get caught and become a choking hazard. Avoid leaving harnesses on for long periods, particularly when wet - as this can lead to skin infections. Most importantly, a sturdy, well-made harness that fits your dog to a tee should keep them safe, secure - and in sight, without irritating them or posing a health risk.

Pulling Power

With patience, consistent training and well-earned treats, most pulling habits can be tackled - but in the meantime, a non-pull harness is best - especially for large, excitable dogs. This type of harness places pressure under the dog’s armpits, rather than your dog’s neck.  

For dogs that pull, a back clip harness can induce that infamous “opposition reflex”, turning your daily stroll into an unintended run -  while a front clip harness creates resistance, helping to slow the pace.

If your dog doesn’t pull, standard or vest harnesses are a great option - particularly for smaller dogs. Coming in a range of adorable designs, they distribute pressure evenly across your dog’s chest and back and are also less likely to chafe. In this case, back clips are also generally easier to use.

Measuring Up

Fit isn’t just about comfort -it’s about keeping your dog safe. Too loose, and your dog might wriggle free.  Too tight, and the restriction could cause them discomfort.  A properly fitted harness should stay put as your dog walks, without restricting movement. 

Fit can depend on the shape and size of your dog, so weight isn’t always an accurate indicator of best fit. Instead, you can use tailor’s measuring tape. When measuring your dog, first consider enlisting someone to help, as this can be a tricky process (especially if Fido just wants to chew the tape):

  1. Wrap the measuring tape around the widest part of the dog’s torso - usually right behind the armpits, under the front legs. 
  2. Next, take measurements from around the lower neck, as this is where a harness or coat usually sits. 
  3. Collars normally sit on the upper neck, so if this is a consideration, measure around here too. 
  4. Lastly, measure from the front of your dog’s chest to their rear end (not including the tail).  
  5. A good rule of thumb is to see whether you can fit two fingers under the harness - but if you’re still not sure, ask your vet for advice.

Check your dog’s armpits and under the chest a few times a week for skin irritation. If it’s causing your dog discomfort, it may be time to consider trying another type or brand of clip harness. If your harness leaves marks in your dog’s fur after removal, or if it causes skin to bunch up around your dog’s neck, it’s probably too tight.

Depending on the shape of your dog (for instance, if they have a broad chest), you may find getting the right fit somewhat tricky - in which case some dog harnesses come with a back and front clip - and some have adjustable belly straps, allowing for a better fit.

Also remember that if you have a puppy or juvenile dog they may have outgrown their harness - in which case you may need to measure them for a new harness.

Raring to Go

Before you set foot outside, get your dog used to their new kit - whether it’s a collar, a harness or both.  Leash training is recommended from 4-6 weeks and is best begun indoors, particularly if they are as-yet unchipped. Most dogs feel a bit strange wearing anything over their coats, so use a clicker and a treat so your dog associates the harness with something positive. Then, as they adjust to wearing it around the house, gradually fade out the treats so you can replace them with something even more exciting - the great outdoors!


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