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Dog harnesses have loops that go around a dog’s torso and the widest part of their neck. In addition to keeping dogs secure, a harness applies less pressure to their neck, compared to a dog collar. Using a harness can be helpful for senior dogs and puppies that are still growing, as well as brachycephalic dogs with a broad head and neck.

Even if your dog doesn’t fit into one of these categories, there are several reasons to consider purchasing a dog harness. But with so many options available, you might wonder how to choose the best dog harness. Read on to learn more about the different types of dog harnesses, how to properly fit a harness, and tips for keeping them clean.

Which Dogs Should Wear a Harness?

The idea behind a dog harness is that it “secures the dog with multiple contact points which helps distribute pressure around the chest and shoulders,” says Dr. Amy Attas, VMD of New York-based practice City Pets. She recommends a harness for brachycephalic dogs like the Bulldog, French Bulldog, and Pug. Since their neck is almost as wide as their head, it’s easy for dogs with this shape to slip out of a collar.

She also recommends harnesses for older dogs and dogs with neck pain, breathing issues, and heart disease. Harnesses are a good option for puppies so long as you adjust the size or purchase a bigger harness as your puppy grows. Moreover, if your dog has a habit of pulling on the leash, a harness can help prevent them from straining or injuring their neck if they tug too hard.

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How to Properly Fit a Harness

It’s important to choose a harness that fits properly so there’s no chance of the dog wiggling out of it, Dr. Attas says. If possible, she suggests bringing your dog to the pet store so they can try on the harness. A knowledgeable sales associate can also help you adjust the harness to make sure it fits securely.

If visiting the store isn’t an option, there are two key measurements you need to take. The first is the area at the base of the neck where it meets the shoulders. The second is the widest part of the chest, which is usually behind the front legs, she explains. You can take your dog’s measurements with a cloth measuring tape. You can also use a piece of string and place it against a ruler or tape measure to determine the length in inches or centimeters.

Typically, harnesses have more than one closure, making them more secure and allowing you to make size adjustments as needed. Dr. Attas recommends putting the harness on your dog at the approximate size you think it would be, erring on the side of making it loose. “Once it’s on, you can tighten it so that it fits snugly, but not too tight,” she says.

You may have heard that a good rule of thumb is to see if you can fit two fingers between a dog collar or harness and your dog’s body. “I think that might be just slightly too much,” notes Dr. Attas. “Instead, it should be that you have to squeeze two fingers underneath, but not so tight that it’s uncomfortable.” If your dog has a long or fluffy coat, you may need to tighten the straps a bit more to keep your dog from slipping out of the harness.

Here are some additional tips for keeping your dog safe in a harness:

  • Try walking your dog around to make sure their legs can move freely, and the harness isn’t restricting their movement
  • Pull at the harness in different directions to make sure your dog can’t slip out of it
  • Keep an eye on areas where the harness may cause rubbing or chafing
  • When your dog moves forward, try going backward and see if the harness has room to go over your dog’s head. If so, that means your dog can slip out by going in the opposite direction, and you’ll need to tighten the harness
  • Check the fit of the harness when your dog comes back from the groomer or if they’ve had any weight loss or gain

Types of Dog Harnesses

Harnesses come in various styles, materials, and closure types, each with advantages and disadvantages. Below we get into these features to help you decide on the best dog harness.

Pug in a step-thru harness eating a treat.
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Comfort Dog Harnesses

There are different materials to choose from to maximize comfort and durability, including the following:

  • Nylon harnesses are inexpensive, durable, and lightweight. The downside is that this material isn’t breathable and may trap heat and water.
  • Leather is attractive, durable, and long-lasting. However, it can be expensive and needs regular maintenance to avoid drying and cracking.
  • Mesh harnesses tend to be breathable and lightweight, which can help keep your dog cool. But, they’re less durable and have less padding, which can result in chafing or rubbing against your dog’s skin.
  • Neoprene harnesses are a good option for dogs who enjoy swimming. They’re padded for comfort and can be soaked in water to cool your dog in warm weather. The downside is that this material isn’t breathable and may trap heat and moisture.

Reflective Dog Harnesses

Some harnesses have reflective stitching or material that can be seen in low light. If your dog’s harness doesn’t have reflective material, Dr. Attas suggests buying double-sided reflective tape, which you can cut into strips and stick onto the harness. Another option is reflective harnesses that come with LED lights, which can increase your dog’s visibility on nighttime or early morning walks.

Front and Back-Clip Dog Harnesses

There are pluses and minuses to where a harness clips, Dr. Attas says. Front-clip harnesses are helpful if your dog tends to pull. As the dog moves forward, the harness pulls them back to the person holding the leash. But, if your dog already has the harness on, it may be harder to attach the leash in front because the clip is under their chest.

She recommends back-clip harnesses for well-trained dogs. When the harness is on, the clip is close to the middle of a dog’s shoulder blades. One advantage of back-clip harnesses is that you can easily clip the leash on and go.

A third type is a dual-clip harness, which has two clips, one underneath and one on top. “These are nice when you’re teaching your dog to use a harness,” adds Dr. Attas. You can start by clipping the leash to the front for better control of your dog. As they improve with regular walks, you can switch to using the rear clip.

No-Pull Harnesses

The no-pull harness is a variation of the front-clip harness. But instead of having a clip, the no-pull harness has a D-shaped ring at the front. “When the dog starts to pull, the D ring will constrict the harness a little bit and stop the dog from pulling,” explains Dr. Attas. “These harnesses are helpful for dogs that are larger than the person walking them, a person wheeling a stroller, or someone with a mobility issue.”

Over-the-Head and Step-in Dog Harnesses

Some harnesses slip over the head and neck and attach underneath or on top of the torso. Another style is a step-in harness, which resembles a figure eight. You can help your dog step in and clip the harness at the back. Similar to an over-the-head harness, a step-in harness goes around your dog’s neck and torso.

But the difference is that you don’t have to slip the harness over their head, which can be helpful for dogs who have headaches or pain in their ears or neck or have a sensitivity to anything touching their head, Dr. Attas says. Step-in harnesses also work well for “dogs that are escape artists, because they’re harder to get out of if they fit properly,” she says.

Labrador retriever puppy wearing a harness being carried outdoors.
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How to Clean and Maintain Dog Harnesses

Whether the closures are made of Velcro, plastic, or metal, it’s a good idea to inspect them and clean them regularly. Check the hardware for cracks or areas where the fabric may be frayed or damaged. Make sure the Velcro fastens properly since fur and other materials can get stuck in the hooks and loops, making the harness less secure.

Harnesses can get dirty and smelly with use, so it’s important to keep them clean, especially if your dog goes swimming or rolls in the mud. The cleaning method depends on the material. You can wipe the leather with a damp cloth to loosen dirt. For an inexpensive cleaning solution, create a mixture of water, vinegar, and baby soap to clean and condition the leather.

To clean harnesses made of nylon or neoprene, use a mild detergent, such as the kind for handwashing clothing. Dilute the detergent in warm water. Soak the harness, rinse it well, and let it air dry to keep it in good condition.