Dog harnesses may seem like a cumbersome tool for controlling Fido, and it may seem to us pet parents that a dog harness is very uncomfortable for our pups. However, harnesses don’t just look good on a dog. They actually serve a purpose, and for some dog breeds, they are much safer than even the best dog collars.
Why should you choose a harness for your dog?
There are two chief reasons that pet parents should consider a dog’s harness rather than a collar. First, a harness gives you more control over your dog as you’re out and about on a walk. If you have an energetic dog or one that tends to pull, you will find a harness that gives you much more control over Fido.
The second reason you would want to consider a harness is Fido’s health. If your dog likes to pull on his collar a lot, the risk of injury to his windpipe goes up exponentially . While this is a health hazard for any dog breed, it is even more significant when your dog is considered a brachycephalic breed.
A brachycephalic dog is one that has the “smushed face” look—Pugs, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Pekingese, and French Bulldogs are just a few of these breeds. These dogs have shortened, flattened faces. They have a much shorter nose, and breathing is already a little more difficult for a brachycephalic dog than a long-muzzled dog. Brachycephalic dogs also have a tendency to get choked when they are wearing a traditional collar and start to pull. They can also do great damage to their windpipe. As a pet parent myself, I would highly recommend a harness to pet parents with any brachycephalic dog, regardless of whether Fido pulls or not.
What dogs does a harness work best for?
Other than brachycephalic dogs, there are three types of dogs that seem to do better behaviorally with a harness.
1. An older puppy that is just learning how to walk with you while leashed.
If you are just starting Fido out with leash training, it’s a really good idea to get a harness for him. If you are still working on commands such as “sit” and “stay,” the harness makes it so much easier to control what your dog is doing. Keep in mind, with a harness, you will have control of Fido’s front legs as well as his chest and upper abdomen. The harness allows you to be completely in charge of your young pup, and you can stop and go over positive reinforcement dog training while Fido is safe.
2. An older dog that was not properly taught how to walk on a leash (this is known as “leash etiquette.”)
An older dog that has never learned to “heel” or to “stay” can be a real annoyance, particularly if the dog pulls away from you. Some older dogs really don’t like being leashed, even with a retractable dog leash, and they may roll or otherwise try to misbehave. A harness will help you to keep the dog near you at all times.
3. Stubborn dogs that haven’t quite gotten the idea of leash “etiquette.”
Most pet parents should begin leash training as soon as the puppy has had all its shots (particularly the one for parvovirus). However, even if we do start pups out at a young age, some pups simply want to fight walking on a leash. Again, the harness gives you control over a pup that isn’t having any of that leash.
Straps vs Vests
There are actually two different “sub” kinds of harnesses. One is the strap version that you’ve likely seen in the local pet store. They’re not expensive, and they function fairly well. The strap harness wraps around Fido’s belly, chest and back. There is typically a clip on the top of the harness to which you’ll attach Fido’s leash. (Pro tip: If you get a step-in strap harness that has two clips on the top, be sure to buckle the leash to BOTH of the clips.)
The strap harness can be a little difficult to get on to Fido, especially the first time. You may want some assistance, as you’ll need to make some adjustments to the strap lengths. Yes, you can get this type of harness in a small, medium, or large (even giant) size, but, even so, you will likely need to put it on your dog and make adjustments so that it fits snugly (read—make sure you give Fido at least enough room to move. You want to be able to easily put your finger between Fido’s skin and the strap.)
Other harnesses look like a vest. There is usually some mesh on the underside of this type of harness, while the top may be of various types of material. This harness will also have a clip-on top with which you’ll attach Fido’s leash. Keep in mind that vests typically close around Fido’s belly with Velcro.
Pros and Cons of Straps
- less cumbersome
- weigh less than a vest harness
- not comfortable during very hot weather
- could be described as “minimalist”
- may chafe your dog’s legs
- can be confusing to put on initially
Pros and Cons of Vest Harnesses
- Reduce chafing of your dog’s legs
- can double as a “calming” vest
- great for skittish dogs or those in a cold climate
- can be bulky
- some dogs feel “too contained” in a vest
A Harness Made Specifically for Pullers
The Martingale harness or the no-pull harness is made just for dogs that, well, like to pull. The Martingale harness will tighten (but not too tight) on Fido’s chest when he gets ready to bail off after a squirrel, a favorite person, or anything else he wants to chase while on the leash.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that some pullers will actually have the opposite reaction intended when the Martingale harness tightens down on their chest—yes, they actually pull even harder!
The Four Basic Types of Harnesses
1. Back-clip harness
The back-clip harness features the clip (or D-ring) on top of the harness for easy leash access. You’ll have more control over Fido than with a traditional collar, and since the leash is above Fido’s back, you won’t have to worry that he’ll get the harness tangled in his legs. Plus, the back-clip is situated on the harness so that you don’t have to worry that a puller will hurt himself (the placement of the D-ring is purposed so that Fido won’t hurt his neck or windpipe).
Like the Martingale harness, a back-clip harness can sometimes have the same effect on a pulling dog—it can actually make it worse.
2. Front-clip harness
The front-clip harness is much like the Martingale—the clip or D-ring is in the front of the harness, on Fido’s chest. This is designed to put pressure on your dog’s chest (gentle pressure, however). The natural instinct of a dog is to get relief from the pressure, so it is meant to help curb a dog’s desire to pull.
The front-clip harness is actually like the Martingale, but the Martingale harness puts more pressure on the dog’s chest than a regular front-clip harness. You’ll definitely have more control over your dog than you would with a traditional collar.
One thing to consider with the front-clip harness is the possibility that your dog’s legs could get tangled in the leash. The front-clip harness is more prone to causing your dog’s legs to chafe, as well.
3. Dual-clip harness
This is the strap harness that has two clips on top. It is important to always buckle both clips. The dual-clip harness will allow you the most control over your dog. The only drawback to this harness is cost. Some of these dual-clip harnesses are more expensive than other harness outfits.
4. Head halters
If you have an “extreme puller,” you may want to consider the head halter. The head halter allows you to have a great amount of control over your dog without having to use a great deal of force.
The drawback to a head halter is it looks a lot like a muzzle, and no pet parent wants to use that type of correction on our fur babies! However, this is definitely NOT a muzzle, and it does wonders for dogs that love, love, love to pull.
Your dog can still eat, drink, bark (and bite) while wearing a head halter, so don’t feel that you are muzzling your beloved fur baby—you’re not!
The head halter works great for smaller people with large dogs (especially when that large dog may act like it has a mind of its own!). What the head halter does is put pressure on a natural pressure point under the dog’s jaw. This does not hurt the dog in any way; it simply makes him a tad uncomfortable. This way, Fido won’t be able to get all his weight behind a good pull. With this, you’ll have the most control over your adventurous pup without hurting him—or pulling you down in the process.
The head halter can be uncomfortable for dogs at first. You may have to try it on Fido several times and allow him to get used to it before he completely accepts wearing it.
A Few Tips Before Buying
It’s important to get Fido’s exact measurements before purchasing any type of harness. You may want to research sizing guides before you get the best dog harness you have in mind; you’ll need to measure Fido according to each harness’ particular fit.
Make sure the harness is snug, but not too tight. You should be able to get your finger between the harness strap and Fido’s body with ease. You’ll need to pull a Martingale or a front-clip harness tight to do this part of the fitting.
Be sure to look for wetness, redness, and any other signs of chafing. If the harness ever gets wet, take it off as soon as possible and let it dry before putting it back on Fido.
1. What are the different types of dog harnesses?
There are four basic types: the front-clip, the back-clip, the head halter, and the dual-clip.
2. What is the difference between a Roman harness and a step-in harness?
Basically, the design is the only difference between the two harnesses. A step-in harness is often better for dogs that have already experienced head or neck issues.
3. Is a front or back harness better for dogs?
That really depends on the personality of your dog. If your dog pulls or may otherwise get tangled in his leash, you should consider a back harness rather than one with a clip in the front.
4. Why are harnesses bad for dogs?
Some harnesses can chafe a dog’s legs. Other harnesses can actually make an “extreme puller” worse than before a harness. Overall, however, a harness is a good idea for many types of dogs, including brachycephalic dogs or those with a tendency to have windpipe collapse.