You’d think finding a dog harness perfect fit would be simple. Not quite. Continuing our ultimate series on dog collars and harnesses, we now turn to the process of choosing, fitting and using your dogs harness.
Walking your dog forms a special bond between the both of you. You get to spend quality time together, enjoying the great outdoors and putting in some exercise. Along with food time, it’s probably your four-legged friend’s favourite part of the day.
However, nothing spoils a good walk than a dog that pulls on the lead or is difficult to control. Some dogs can wiggle out of a traditional collar, for example. Walking then becomes a chore at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
Dogs can cough and choke their way through a “stroll”. An owner who tries pulling back will find the dog pulls even harder the other way. It’s the dog’s instinct to do this, which is why you have to train it to walk at heel or to your pace without pulling.
For a variety of reasons, the training does not always end well. Purchasing a dog harness becomes a viable solution at this point. Some owners like to use a harness during training, then move on to the leash.
When used correctly, the harness fits nicely around the frame of the animal, without being tight. It then spreads the pressure by pulling across the dog’s chest and shoulders. Straps make it easier on the dog, which senses the pressure when it pulls and is likely to back off a little.
When used correctly, the harness fits nicely around the frame of the animal, without being tight.
Then you can both enjoy your walk so much more without risk of yanking your arm out of its socket, or you being tangled in the lead and injured. Everyone’s a winner!
How to measure your dog for a harness
You want to find your dog harness perfect fit. The first thing to get across here is that one size of dog harness does not fit all. Can you imagine buying a harness that would fit a German Shepherd and trying to put it on your Chihuahua? Or getting hold of a small harness for a Pug and expecting it to fit a Labrador? Of course not.
Similarly, you can’t expect to purchase a harness based purely on the weight of your dog. Using this measurement alone throws up some more silliness. For example, a chunky Bulldog might be the same weight as a large greyhound, but that’s not to say both should have the same harness.
Instead, there are a couple of measurements you should note down, then take this to your pet store or seek the guidance of your online supplier. They will recommend the ideal size based on the measurements you provide.
1. Measure the chest.
First up, measure around the widest point of your dog’s chest. Take a tape measure and then find the widest part. As a guide, this is usually a couple of inches, or the width of four fingers, behind the dog’s front legs. Make sure you wrap the tape measure all the way around, then take a note of the figure.
2. Add two inches to your total, which allows for future weight gain or coat growth.
Getting a harness at what appears to be just the right size now could quickly become an issue if it becomes tight and uncomfortable. Be sure to jot down your final figure in inches and centimetres as there’s no telling which version your store will use!
3. Measure the circumference of the neck.
Not all harnesses need this as the head does not go through them. But some do, so unless you know which type you’re opting for, measure the neck just in case.
4. Get your dog’s weight.
You might have this to hand from your last visit to the vet. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to get your dog to stand on your bathroom scales. So how do you weigh your dog? Providing you’re strong enough, and it’s safe to do so, lift your dog up and then stand on the scales. Write down the weight, then stand alone on the scales. The difference is the exact weight of your dog.
The weight may not be required when you study the options on the shelf, but when discussing harnesses with a sales assistant, it’s good for them to know the weight, and therefore the potential pulling power of your dog is taken into consideration.
Selecting your perfect dog harness
You’ve followed the above and found your dog harness perfect fit. Now what?
While it’s clear control of larger animals is one reason to get a dog harness, many people will want one to stop their dog pulling. There is a school of thought that these are unfair to the dog since they might cause discomfort, forcing it to stop pulling. But you have to weigh this up against the pain and danger of injury to the neck that your dog faces while pulling relentlessly on a normal lead and collar.
Of course, successful training would save you this aggravation. Unfortunately, not all dog-owner combinations work together well enough to achieve successful walking with no pulling. It’s not necessarily the fault of one or other, but sometimes things don’t work out the way you hope!
There are three main types of no-pull dog harness, each with different uses, as explained here.
This common harness fits around the front of the dog and also around the chest. You can then clip your leash into the top part of the harness, about halfway along your dog’s back. This type of harness will reduce some of your animal’s pulling. However it is more about protecting its neck, preventing injury that a traditional collar and lead might otherwise cause.
Here the harness fits the dog in a similar way to the back-clip harness – around the chest and across its front. It is, however, better at preventing pulling since it forces the dog’s head more in your direction when it starts to pull.
Back and chest-clip harness.
For dogs that are much harder to control, either because they are boisterous or likely to bolt, then a back and chest-clip harness might be the answer. Here, the leash attaches to two clips on the harness, effectively doubling the constraint upon the dog. Even if a dog does not pull, this option might be better. Particularly for owners who are not strong enough to guide the dog away from danger or other situations you want to avoid.
Comfort for your pet is a primary concern. By sticking with the better-known brands, you’ll ensure the quality of materials is good enough, and not likely to cause discomfort or even injury to your pet. Because all dogs vary in shape, size and behaviour no two dogs will fit a harness in the same way.
Ensure it is not snagging on the skin or twisted, causing pinch points. After all, you’d be horrified if your dog is not comfortable.
The key is getting a harness that is not only the right size (that will be simple enough if you follow our earlier instructions) but can be adjusted.
Most will allow you to make changes to the straps. It’s important to get this process right. Ideally, you should be able to fit two fingers under the straps at all points.
Make the straps too tight, and the dog will feel constrained. It might also lead to chaffing, particularly around the ‘armpit’ areas behind the front legs. Go the other way and make the harness too loose and you won’t have that instant control. The strapping will wave about, and this will be off-putting to the dog. Further, if the dog likes nosing around in bushes, it’s likely to get tangled up pretty quickly.
Training to reduce pulling
Use you harness as part of a training regime if your dog pulls. Armed with a bag of doggie treats, start young and each time your dog pulls, stop, call it back and reward with a treat. Repeat this process, so the dog realises that if it walks to a loose leash, it’s going to get a reward.
Slowing down is totally against a dog’s nature, of course. The animal normally walks twice as fast as a human, and furthermore, on a walk, it wants to get ahead quickly to get to the best bits!
Other things to consider when selecting a dog harness
You get what you pay for regarding quality. Is one harness made of a more durable material than another? Not only might one be more likely to stretch over time, but it might also fray or wear. Another might be more resistant to dog chewing! Yes, we know some animals like something in its mouth more than others.
Some harnesses come with a padded chest plate. This is a sturdy addition that further spreads the pressure from pulling, or from your control, across the front of the animal’s chest. There’s no hard and fast rule about when you should consider one of these. While clearly, they can be more comfortable for some animals, others don’t like wearing what can seem to them like a little layer of clothing.
You might opt for the vest harness, which fits more like a, well, vest. These are not suited to those dogs who pull or who are untrained. You’ll often see them on service dogs, or they might be used to keep a dog warm or even as fashion accessories.
Then there are the training halti. These are more of a head collar with a strap around the muzzle, a bit like you might see on a horse. The halti makes it easier to control the movement of your dog’s head, thereby making training easier. Keep in mind that some dogs don’t like the halti. Also, be sure to use a halti as part of a training regime, not instead of it.
It’s trial and error. That’s fine if you have the spare money to try various contraptions out. Otherwise, start with what you need first, rather than what might be an added luxury.
How to put a harness on your dog
It might be best to do this alone the first time you try it. It’s because, for those who have never tried to put on a dog harness before, things do not always go according to plan.
First, the harness itself looks a little confusing when you get it out of the package and hold it up. Which bits go where on the dog? How do you get the dog’s front legs through and, wait, is that even the right part of the harness for the legs?
Once you’ve got your head around which way up it goes, and you can tell front and back, you have your second task to master. And that’s putting the harness on the dog.
Comical results might ensue.
It may end in unwanted licking of the face by a dog who might think this is play time. If it’s already associated the harness with a lead, then the animal will also be excitable, thinking it’s about to go on a walk!
It’s a recipe for chaos. But persevere! Your hound will soon get used to having the harness put on, and it will be increasingly easy for you after a few attempts. That licking, incidentally, happens when bending down and trying to get the legs through the harness. This writer knows. This writer was that person.
You might be one of those people who studies the instructions to the letter. Or, you might be the type who prefers trial and error.
Some people find having some doggie treats handy might help persuade your pet that playing along with this kerfuffle is probably a good idea.
Many dogs will have what is known as a step-in harness. That is, when the harness is laid out flat on the floor, with one section of the fastening buckle on either side, there are two large spaces. Put your dog’s feet in here. So, encourage your dog to stand over the harness. Note, a few harnesses suggest which paw goes in which side, but others can be used either way around.
Once standing correctly, lift the harness up by both sides at the same time. You’re most likely to get a face lick at this point! Now, bring both ends of the harness over the sides of the dog, meeting in the middle of the back, where you can snap the buckle together. You’ll likely have two rings from both straps which you then hold together and clip the lead around them.
Check and adjust the straps for tightness, and if everything is smooth. Ensure the front strap is below the throat and that the side straps go up and around each shoulder, allowing for a full range of motion.
Now, you’re ready to go!
How to remove your dog harness
You’ve got your dog harness perfect fit, your dog is chuffed, the pulling has stopped and everyone is happy. You could leave a harness on all day if you wanted to, but it’s more comfortable for the dog to take it off. Further, it could easily chew the harness if left unattended.
After the trials and tribulations of putting the thing on in the first place, taking it off again is a breeze. In most harnesses, you can ‘unbuckle’ in one place at the top of the back, and the straps will loosen instantly. You’ll still need to remove the front legs from the straps. Alternatively lift the harness over the dog’s head to complete the release.
Hopefully, however, after a long walk, your dog will be less ‘playful’ at this point, and you won’t have any more bother. Or any more face licks.
Harnesses for all reasons and all sizes
As we’ve seen, there are many reasons for wanting your dog to wear a harness. The first is often to reduce pulling or to help when training your dog not to pull. Secondly, harnesses make it easier to control your dog. If it’s large and liable to try and bolt, this makes handing much easier.
Go to any pet store or search online and you’ll see there’s a huge variety of dog harnesses. Different types according to your requirement (pulling, training, comfort) and also the type and size of your dog.
What is abundantly clear is that you must size up your dog correctly. You want your dog harness perfect fit. An ill-fitting harness will cause considerable discomfort to your dog. It will inhibit its stride and could cause severe chaffing to the skin.
Once you get the correct size, learn how to put the harness on without too much hilarity (or frustration). Dog treats can help! Then tweak the straps to ensure everything fits snuggly but is loose enough for two fingers to get under each strap.
Finally, enjoy stepping outside, safe in the knowledge that you are in control and your dog isn’t the one who is taking you for a walk.
We’ve made light of how tricky it can be to put a harness on for the first time. If you need further tips, there is no end to YouTube ‘how to’ videos. Rest assured things do get easier. Soon you and your dog will be used to the harness, and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about!