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How to pick the perfect dog harness for your pet

west highland white terrier wearing a blue harness © CokaPoka - Shutterstock

If you’re taking a walk with your dog in a busy area, attachment on a lead is usually mandatory and is certainly safer. But what kind of attachment is the best for your pet?

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

Over the past few years, dog harnesses have become pet owners’ favourite type of attachment when it comes to walking their dogs. 

This is very good in fact, because dog harnesses tend to be safer than collars. Typically, collars can cause choking for dogs who like to pull and dogs who have trouble breathing (such as brachycephalic dogs). However, collars can cause damage even to dogs who don’t pull on the lead. Because they do not offer balanced direction, leads attached to collars will usually cause dogs to correct their stride, which can throw off their physical alignment long-term. 

So, sure, dog harnesses are a good choice. But which dog harness is the best fit for your dog? Picking a random one off the shelf can be just as harmful as using a collar. So here’s a guide to picking the perfect harness for your dog. 

What is the best harness for a dog?

There are several things to look for in a dog harness when you’re trying to find the perfect fit for your pet. 

Firstly, for optimum comfort and safety, you should be looking for a harness with straps which go around the dog’s neck, and around the dog’s chest.

Secondly, it’s a good idea to look for harnesses with buckles on both straps (i.e. on the neck strap portion and on the chest strap portion). Many dogs can feel stressed when their owners try to place something on or over their heads. By having a harness which can unbuckle itself completely, there is no need to pass the collar portion of the harness over your dog’s head. In addition to being less stressful for your pet, it also makes it easier for you to place the harness on your dog.

Thirdly, you should be looking for harnesses with straps which are easily adjustable - again, on the neck portion as well as the chest portion. This is very important because dogs, just like humans, have very different body shapes, and one size will not fit all. Yet, fit is one of the most important factors when it comes to using a dog harness properly. If your dog’s harness is too loose, your pet could easily pull out of it. If it’s too tight, it could cause matting, irritation and even pain. 

Finally, depending on the kind of breed you have, you may want to look for padded harnesses. Breeds such as Italian Greyhounds or Chinese Cresteds for example, have very thin coats and sensitive skin, so many harnesses can be quite uncomfortable for them. Harnesses with paddings, however, are comfortable to wear and avoid any unnecessary irritations.

What are the worst harnesses for dogs? 

Harnesses with straps placed over the dog’s joints (the shoulders, for example), can be harmful for your pet. Not only does it impede your dog’s movement, but it can also cause long-term joint damage. Some no-pull harnesses have straps placed on the shoulder-blades and this should be avoided if possible. There are other no-pull options which are safer for your dog.

Harnesses with no neck strap are generally very easy for dogs to slip out of, so these should be avoided as well as they are not secure.

What are the top 10 dog harnesses?

It can be quite overwhelming choosing a dog harness as there are so many different options available on the market. However, with a little research, and by applying the rules mentioned above, you should be able to find the best harness for your individual dog! Here are the 10 most popular dog harnesses currently on the market:

1. Step-in harnesses

Step-in harnesses, as the name suggests, are harnesses which can be easily “stepped-into” once unbuckled and placed flat on the ground. This is a great option for dogs who are stressed with collars or harnesses going over their heads.

2. Vest harnesses

These are a popular option because there are many different designs available, and usually, the “vest” portion of the harness is quite soft and comfortable for dogs with delicate skin. However, the neck portion of vest harnesses are not always adjustable, so if you do opt for a harness like this, make sure you’ve properly measured your dog’s neck before purchasing.

3. Padded-chest harnesses

Padded-chest harnesses, are, as the name suggests, harnesses in which the chest strap is padded. This can be a very good option for active dogs who love to pull - the padding ensures minimal discomfort for them.

4. Dual-strap harnesses

The dual-strap harness is similar in shape to the step-in harness, but is simply placed on your dog in a different manner. Unlike the padded-chest harness, it is made of very basic straps. This is good for dogs who love to run and swim and therefore need a more “sportswear” type of harness. 

5. Halti front-pull harnesses

This harness has an attachment for a lead at the front and at the back. This means it can be used with a double-ended lead, two leads, or just one lead at the front, depending on your preference. These harnesses are often used for dogs who pull too hard on the lead and need some pressure at the front as well as the back to walk correctly. As mentioned above, however, it’s very important to find the right fit for these types of harnesses. Some halti front-pull harnesses have straps placed directly on the dog’s joints, and this can be quite damaging to them.

6. Extra-strap harnesses

The bare minimum to look for in a harness is a strap on the neck and one on the chest. However, some dogs are real escape artists and can easily wiggle their way through classic dog harnesses. That’s why if your dog is particularly cheeky, you may want to look for harnesses with an extra strap (sometimes known as a triple-strap harness), which can guarantee a more secure hold on your pup. 

7. Personalised harnesses

Personalised harnesses can be a fun way to make your dog’s look unique! Many companies are now offering to personalise the colour and design of their harnesses according to their customers’ request. If you choose to purchase such a harness, however, please make sure they are safe and comfortable for your dog by following the above guidelines. 

8. Harnesses with handles

Many types of harnesses today have handles at the top. This is a popular choice for pet owners whose dogs are particularly rough-and-tumble. It enables owners to quickly grab and lift their pet at any given moment if they feel they are in danger - all this without discomfort for the dog. 

 9. Mobility harnesses

These types of harnesses are not for every-day use. They usually strap around various parts of your dog’s body depending on their needs, and have a sort of handle which enables the owner to lift and support their pet while they move around. A mobility harness could be used for a senior dog, a disabled dog, or a dog with orthopedic issues, for example. 

10. Harnesses for cars

Finally, other popular choices for dog harnesses are those specifically designed for attachment to cars. It is illegal in the UK to drive with an unsecured animal in the vehicle. It is therefore very important to keep your pets in a crate or buckled on a seat. Some dog seat belts allow attachments to classic dog harnesses. However, to be on the safe side, you should have a harness for walks and a specially-designed harness for the car. These are usually more secure and safe for your dog in case of an accident.

Remember, the most important thing to consider when looking for a harness is your dog’s comfort and safety! Best of luck!

Frequently asked questions

Why you shouldn’t use a dog harness?

How do you put a harness on a dog at home?

Is it ok for a dog to wear a harness all the time?

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