Leashes are fine for most dogs. But there are times when you might want to switch to a harness. A harness can take pressure off the dog’s neck and help him breathe more easily. The right harness can also be a training aid if your dog needs better leash manners.
Because of the differences between harness designs, getting it wrong can do your furry friend more harm than good. Before you buy, use this guide to help you understand the different types of harnesses, and how to use them correctly.
Which style harness is best for your dog?
Before you shop, here’s some guidance on the different styles of harnesses, and why they’re used.
For dogs with good leash manners that would benefit with less neck restriction, try a back-clip harness. Here, the leash fastens on a clip on the dog’s back. Unlike a traditional collar, a harness redistributes pressure along the dog’s back.
This style of harness is ideal for smaller dogs with delicate throats. In fact, if you have a brachycephalic breed, a short-nosed dog such as a pug or bulldog, a back-clip harness is the safest option. Collars restrict their ability to breathe, plus the pulling on the facial skin can cause eyeball displacement, a condition called ocular proptosis.
For geriatric dogs, a back-clip harness with a handle lets you gently guide and assist your furry friend.
The upside to a back-clip harness is you can control your pet without the worry of injuring your dog. As a bonus, because it clips right on the back, you’ll also spend less time unwinding the leash from your pet’s legs.
However, the downside of a back-clip harness is they can make it more difficult for you to keep the dog under control. As the dog pulls and lunges on a leash, he gains extra pulling power from his shoulders.
So, if teaching your dog better behavior on the leash is your goal, you may want to look at other harness designs.
For larger dogs that pull and tug and need to learn better leash manners, a harness with a clip attachment at your dog’s chest offers the assist you need. When the dog pulls, the dog can’t move toward her target, but rather the pressure pulls her toward you. Eventually, she learns there’s no advantage to pulling and lunging, so walking calmly becomes a way of life.
Because a front-attaching harness is more likely to chafe, plus it’s easier for the leash to get tangled in your pet’s legs, a front-clip harness is not a long-term solution. Reward calm responses with treats.
[Find out more about front-clip harnesses and leash pulling by checking out episode 5 of Raising Your Paws podcast, and read the accompanying article.]
This harness is ideal for dogs that need a firmer hand in training. As the name implies, the leash clips to both the front and back. The rear clip provides the main attachment to the leash, making it easier for guiding and walking. But if the dog starts lunging and tugging, the front attachment kicks in to restrain your dog.
If your dog has serious behavioral issues, a harness may not give you adequate control. Read our guide to collars to help you find the right solution for your dog.
[For more on training collars, read our guide.]
What to know before you use a dog harness
Before you start using the harness, here is some guidance for safe and comfortable daily use.
Get the right design for you and your dog
Design is everything. Some harnesses snap on easily while others are not so obvious and take a little know-how to get them fastened on correctly. Too many clips and buckles can be confusing to humans and require a dog that’s willing to sit still. So before you buy, consider your patience level and that of your dog.
Keep your dog’s comfort in mind
When choosing a harness, you’ll want one that’s comfortable for your dog. For small dogs, opt for soft lightweight materials and for larger, muscular dogs, sturdier materials. Mesh materials are less chafing, especially if you plan to use the harness for long hikes or your dog is a short-haired breed.
Ensure a custom fit
An ill-fitting harness can chafe or injure your pet. Of course, dogs can escape from loose or improperly fastened harnesses. Use a soft tape measure around your dog’s lower neck as well as the wide part of their torso. Many manufacturers of pet leads should have instructional videos to guide you. Better yet, bring your dog to your independently owned brick-and-mortar pet retailer. A sales clerk will have the training to assist with a perfect fit.
Train your dog to wear a harness
There are two reasons to train your dog to wear the harness. One is to help your dog get used to these unfamiliar sensations on their back and chest. Also, you’ll want to teach your dog to be calm while you pull it on and fasten straps and buckles. Start with brief sessions around the house, working up to heading outside for a short stint to the end of the block. Of course, you’ll want to dole out plenty of treats along the way.
Don’t skip the collar and tag
Even if your pet is microchipped, keep your dog’s regular collar and ID tag on. If your dog becomes separated from you, you don’t want to delay their return.
Can dogs wear their harnesses all the time?
This depends on the type of harness and your dog’s coat. Follow the recommendations of the manufacturer and talk to your pet’s vet. As a rule of thumb, constant harness wearing is not recommended, so remove the harness after the walk, or at minimum, at the end of the day. This will let your dog’s skin breathe and prevent fur matting. Harnesses can also catch on objects, so it’s recommended they be removed before active play.
Don’t forget to keep a few training treats in your pocket. NutriSource Soft and Tender treats provide an enticing reward for good behavior. They come in chicken, lamb or salmon, all sourced from our trusted U.S. suppliers, but without packing extra calories. Shop local and pick up a bag at your independent pet store.