Harnesses For Dogs: How To Choose A Harness Your Dog Will Love
Harnesses for dogs are a key ingredient in training your pet and building a relationship that makes walks and adventures fun and safe.
But choosing the perfect harness for you and your dog involves considering style, size, and material which can be daunting. All brands claim to have the Best Dog Harness, but it may not be the best one for your pet’s particular needs.
Why does my dog need a harness? What size harness does my dog need? What is the best dog harness style? Can I walk my cat? These are just a few of the questions I receive on a regular basis and am happy to answer because a well-designed properly fitted harness will be a game changer for both you and your pet. In this article I answer these questions and others, plus I will walk you through finding the right style harness and the perfect fit for your dog.
This article focuses on Companion Dogs, not Working Dogs, Guide Dogs or Tactical Dogs who have very specific harness needs.
WHAT IS A DOG HARNESS?
Harnesses for dogs are a garment made from straps, fabric or other material that wraps around the dog’s shoulders and/or chest and has a place for a leash to be attached. It enables the walker to guide and control the dog in a comfortable and safe way without putting pressure on the dog’s neck.
TERMS TO KNOW:1. Hook & Loop (AKA Velcro) One side is all loops on a backing and the other size is tiny hooks. When the two sides are put together, they create a secure bond that holds tight. You must deliberately pull them apart to separate the two sides. At Spoiled Dog Designs we use industrial strength hook & loop for strength and safety.
2. D Rings/ O Ring – D & O rings are sewn onto a harness so that you have something strong for attach the leash. D rings tend to turn sideways and are usually not welded so eventually the pressure of pulling on the side of the D ring separates it enough for it to come off. O rings can turn all they want and still hold the leash strongly. Spoiled Dog Designs uses welded O rings, so it will never separate and never slide off. It is the strongest and safest leash attachment available.
3. O Ring Placement – Wherever the O ring is placed is where the pressure will be when you pull on the leash. So, if it’s high up by the neck, the pressure will be on your dog’s neck, and it will not be much different than a collar.
Spoiled Dog Designs puts the O ring in line with the belly Hook & Loop so that if you need to pull your dog up and out of harm’s way, you have all the strength of the belly Hook & Loop to hold tight. On a dog vest harness, if the O ring is in the middle of the back, you have very little fabric/ Velcro to pull against so there is little strength. You can see if the picture below that the O ring on the back of Bruno’s harness is directly in line with the Velcro around his belly.
WHO NEEDS A HARNESS?
Here’s just a few of the best candidates:
4. Breeds prone to neck injuries - Small dogs like Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese, and other tiny breeds are especially prone to neck injuries and trachea collapse. And if you feel your dog’s neck, you can tell how delicate the bones are and how tiny the trachea is. Imagine how one sharp pull can injure them. And how the repeated pressure of walking on a collar can cause gradual deterioration. For tiny breeds, the cartilage that makes up the trachea can be weakened or malformed from birth. A small dog harness takes that pressure off the neck and disperses it around the body.
5. Pets who need protection - Last year, I sold a small dog harness to a customer who had previously walked his small dog on a collar. He came back the following week to tell me that the harness had saved the dog’s life. On an evening walk, he was confronted by a coyote and turned to see a pack of them behind him. He quickly pulled up on the leash, gathered his dog in his arms, and escaped the danger. He couldn’t have done that if his dog had been wearing a collar or a harness that wrapped around the neck. I had a similar thing happen when a large dog ran up to Bruno and grabbed his neck. You can read about it in my blog post “Bruno’s Close Encounter – How His Harness Saved Him."
DOG HARNESS STYLES:
There are as many styles of harnesses for dogs as there are dog breeds, so let’s review a few of my favorites that will accommodate the pets we just discussed.1. Vest Harness - Also called Velcro Wrap Dog Harness, have hook and loop closures, so they’re adjustable and don’t have plastic clasps. They’re easy to put on—you simply lay it on your pet’s back and wrap it around the chest and belly.
Check that the Vest Harness goes around the chest/shoulders, not the neck, and that it has adequate overlap of the Velcro to be strong and safe. If only half or less of the Velcro overlaps, you need a larger size.
If your dog pulls to the side, rather than forward, this is not a good harness for them. The constant sideways pull will put too much tension where the webbing is sewn to the fabric and in time it will tear. For sideways pullers, one of the styles below is a better choice.
With lots of fabrics available, from light meshes to heavier winter fabrics, you’ll be able to find one that fits your dog’s needs. Vest harnesses for dogs are a great small dog harness, and good for medium-sized dogs and cats.
- are some of the most adjustable, making them ideal for growing puppies or kittens (just check to make sure all the straps, not just some, are adjustable). You can create a perfect fit (for those escape artists) and the harness can adjust as your pet grows. The straps work well for pets with full coats because the straps sink into the coat instead of wrapping around it. If you have a fluffy pet, whose coat gets matted under a layer of fabric this is a good choice. However, pets with very short fur might experience some rubbing from the straps, so take that into consideration if you choose this style dog harness. This style of harness usually comes in a range of sizes so it’s a good small dog harness as well as a good large dog harness.
4. Chest Harness - Some manufacturers, including EzyDog, make a step-in harness for large dogs with an EVA foam chest plate that conforms to your pet’s chest for comfort and better control. With adjustable straps at the shoulders and belly, this harness creates a secure, custom fit to keep the harness firmly in place. This is good choice for large/giant dogs who pull.
HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR PET'S PROPER SIZE:
- Different brands size differently – Sizes of Harnesses for dogs are not uniform across brands so it’s important to carefully check the size chart for each brand you are considering. Your dog may be a Small in one brand, a Medium in another and an XSmall in a third. Compare your pet’s measurements to each size chart to see what size they are in a particular brand.
How to measure your pet for a harness– Use a soft measuring tape, not a metal or hard one. If you don’t have a soft tape, use string or rope then hold it against your metal one. Gently wrap the tape around the dog, not tight, not loose. If your dog is nervous, I like to hold the tape there for a few seconds until they take a breath, and I can be sure the measurement is correct. You will need to take three measurements:
- Neck – measure around the lower neck at the shoulders
- Chest – around the body 2-3” behind the front legs
- Length – from the base of the neck to the base of the tail.
Then compare those measurements to the Spoiled Dog Designs size chart.
- Two Finger rule – A harness that is too loose when you use the leash will shift and pull on your pet. And it gives them a chance to slip out. If the harness is too tight, it will be uncomfortable all the time and they might fight it. The way to make sure the harness is adjusted correctly is if you can put two fingers between your pet and the dog harness comfortably. Not four fingers, not just one, but two. That will tell you the harness fits well and your pet will be comfortable and safe.Bring the dog to the store– The best way to get the right style and size is to bring your dog to a local pet store, preferably a local small business. Then you can try on different styles and sizes of dog harnesses to make sure you get the right fit.
- Bring their old harness – If you can’t bring your dog, then bring their old harness so it can be measured to get the correct size.
- Bring their measurements – no old harness? Measure your dog as described above and bring those measurements.
- Custom Made – sometime pets, like people, are not a perfect size. They may need a little more or less room here or there. And most harnesses are made for dogs, not cats. A cat’s body is shaped differently, so a dog harness will rarely fit well. And a good fit is critical to your pet being safe and comfortable and keeping your escape artist in check! At Spoiled Dog Designs, we make our harnesses for dogs and cats one at a time, locally, so we are happy to make one with Custom Sizing. We will adjust our patterns to your pet’s measurements and make it to fit.
HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT HARNESS STYLE FOR YOUR PET:
The chart below shows the most common Issues that customers have and the most popular styles of harnesses. See which styles fit the issues you deal with for your pet.
WHAT FABRIC IS BEST FOR YOUR DOG HARNESS?
- Mesh – cool, lightweight, it’s perfect for warm weather or hot climates. It might not be strong enough for a medium dog that pulls strongly or a large dog. Think about the difference in fabric strength between a gauzy linen shirt and a denim shirt. The gauzy linen is not as strong. But it’s a lot cooler.
- Air Mesh - also called sandwich mesh – it’s a layer of mesh, a layer of knit and fibers sandwiched in between. You get the coolness of mesh, lots of breathability but a lot more strength than plain mesh dog harness. That’s why we use Air Mesh for our Air Mesh Dog Vest Harness.
- Cotton – 100% cotton or cotton/polyester are strong, washable fabrics that come in lots of great colors and prints. Just be sure that it’s a high-quality cotton, like the quilting cotton we use for our dog vest harnesses, or it might shrink when you wash it. For Winter, we use heavy brushed cotton with cotton flannel lining for a soft, comfy and warm Velcro wrap harness for chilly days.
- Synthetics – Strap harnesses and many other styles are made from synthetic materials. They are strong, washable, and durable. Just be careful that they are not rubbing on your dog causing irritation.
HOW TO PUT ON A VELCRO WRAP DOG HARNESS:
- Wrap and Hug - lay the open Dog Vest Harness on your dog’s back and “Wrap and Hug”. Wrap the sides around your dog and give them a little hug to make sure the “Hooks” attach firmly to the “Loops”.
- Bib Approach – For dogs with full coats, like a Pomeranian, or a wiggly pet, I like to open the Dog Vest harness and hang it under the dog’s chin like a bib. Then bring the straps around and connect them at the back of the neck. This way, I can easily avoid catching a lot of fur in the straps and can see that I am fully overlapping the Velcro. Then easily spin the harness around to the back and “Wrap and Hug” the belly straps.
- Overlap the Velcro –Customers have come in saying that the harness opened on a walk. A scary situation for sure. When I look at the way it is attached on the dog, the sides have been connected in an “X” instead of being fully overlapped one over the other. If there is 5” of Velcro and only 1” is overlapped, you won’t have any strength and I can see how it would open when it’s pulled. Be sure the sides are overlapped straight over each other and not in an “X”. Spoiled Dog Designs uses industrial strength hook and loop and lots of it for safety and strength but you want all the hook & loop to be matched up and secured to take advantage of that strength.
Wrong way to overlap
Correct way to overlap
MY DOG FREEZES IN A HARNESS
This is something I hear a lot. You put a harness on your dog for the first time and they freeze. But don’t stop there!
- Put the harness on in your home before dinner. When your dog freezes, serve dinner. They usually forget about the harness and run to the dinner bowl.
- Put the harness and leash on and go for a walk. Use treats, kibble, verbal praise to coax the dog on the first harness walk. Soon your dog will associate the harness with going for a walk and love it.
- Don’t leave it on all day. A dog or cat harness is for walking or tethering in a car. It should not be left on all day and night. Put it on to go out, then take it off. A puppy can get their mouth caught in the harness and be in danger. Any dog or cat can get their leg caught in the harness. And there are too many opportunities for them to get in trouble when you aren’t looking.
As I said above, there are as many styles of dog harnesses as there are breeds. And each pet parent and dog have different needs. So hopefully, I have given you enough information for you to consider style, features, construction quality, and fit to select the dog harness that is right for you and your pet.
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Now that you’re ready to pick out a new harness for your pet, check out what we consider to be the best harnesses for dogs and cats.