How to Choose a Harness for Your Dog

Want to get a harness for your dog but not sure where to start? Let us explain the types of harnesses and how to choose the best one for your dog.

Choosing a dog harness can be frustrating. Pet stores and retail sites stock dozens of brands, sizes and styles. How do you choose the right one for your dog?

Let us help you figure that out. Here we’ll explain the major types of harnesses, how to choose one and how to make sure it will fit your dog. From browsing the shelves to walking in the park, this guide has you covered every step of the way.

Is a Harness Good for a Dog?

The short answer is, yes. A harness works great for all types of dogs — especially big ones. Whether your dog pulls on their leash or not, every breed can benefit from the comfort and safety of a harness.

The Five Types of Dog Harnesses

Dog harnesses fall into one of these categories:

Back-Clip Harness

If your dog doesn’t have an issue with pulling on their leash, then a back-clip harness is a great choice. It takes a lot of the pressure off their neck compared to a traditional dog collar because the leash attaches to a metal loop on the back of the harness. Dogs are less likely to get tangled in or try to chew on a back-clip harness.

Front-Clip (a.k.a. Anti-Pull) Harness

A harness that clips in the front at your dog’s chest helps discourage them from pulling and gives you more control over their movement.

Dual-Clip Harness

You get the best of both worlds with a dual-clip harness. Because it has metal loops in the front and back, you can vary the point of attachment based on your dog’s behavior, or use two leashes.

Step-In Harness

A step-in harness is perfect for dogs anxious about being handled, or those who won’t stand still enough for you to put the harness on them. Some dogs do not like a harness lifted above their heads, so step-ins work best.

Safety Harness

A safety harness is best used for transporting your dog in the car. They usually have back clips that attach to the seat belt, keeping your dog safe and secure in the moving vehicle. A safety harness can easily transition for use during regular walks.

How To Choose a Dog Harness

The harness that works great for your neighbor’s pug may not be the best fit for your golden retriever. To choose the best harness for your dog, think about how they tend to behave on walks.

  • Do they pull you every which way across the sidewalk? Or are they calm and not likely to tug at their leash? Decide between a front- and back-clip harness based on that. If the answer depends on the day, choose a dual-clip harness.
  • Do you often take your dog with you in the car? If so, a safety harness might be the right choice.
  • Is your dog skittish about having things put over their head? If so, a step-in harness is a great option for them.

Before you shop for a dog harness, make sure you know roughly your dog’s weight and measurements. Look for a harness that is adjustable in size (most are). If in doubt, get one that’s slightly big than too small.

The most important measurement will be your dog’s chest/girth. To measure, wrap a non-metal measuring tape around your dog’s body just behind their front legs and coming up around their shoulders. If no measuring tape is available, use a piece of string and then measure the string with a ruler.

How To Put On a Dog Harness

If you are putting on a harness for the first time and don’t have a plan, you may find yourself overwhelmed by a confusing tangle of straps and buckles.

Precisely how you put the harness on your dog depends on the type and style. Some harnesses your dog will need to step into. Other harnesses go on over their head.

Putting on an over-the-head harness can be broken down into two simple steps:

  1. Place the loop over your dog’s head.
  2. Reach underneath your dog to buckle the strap around their chest.

If you are using a step-in harness:

  1. Lay it flat on the ground and have your dog stand with their front legs in the two holes on either side of the harness.
  2. Pull up the sides and buckle them together around your dog’s back.

Both styles will take some practice and getting used to. One is not inherently better than the other. In almost all cases, using a dog harness will be safer for your dog than going without one.

Your dog will not be comfortable if the harness doesn’t fit properly or if you put it on incorrectly. Make sure it is not too tight — you should be able to fit just two fingers under the harness.

Also, recognize that a harness is not a substitute for training your dog. It can be a great help in the process, but be sure to reinforce good behavior with praise. And do not punish your dog if they are not perfect with the harness at first.

Harnesses can help every dog be more comfortable on their walks, and give you peace of mind knowing that your pup won’t hurt themselves by pulling on their dog leash.

John Woods
John Woods is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and has been a dog lover since he was 13 years old. He is also graduate in animal welfare and behavior and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.