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. 


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.


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.
hook and loop velcro2. 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.
                                    Welded O Ring on harnesses by Spoiled Dog Designs D Ring, not welded and not safeD Ring vs Welded O rings used by Spoiled Dog Designs 
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.

Bruno in his Blue Air Mesh velcro wrap dog vest harness by Spoiled Dog Designs



Here’s just a few of the best candidates:

1. Puppies/ Kittens - Puppies/Kittens are delightful and give you lots of laughs when you start to train them to a leash. But they are still uncoordinated, and their bodies are soft and delicate. Walking them on a small dog harness gives you good control without putting too much pressure on any one part of their bodies.
2. Dogs who pull - When a dog pulls on a leash and is allowed to move forward, they’re learning that pulling is the way to get where they want to go. 
    Some breeds are natural pullers, especially some working breeds so they will naturally try to pull any person or thing.
    In contrast to pulling against a collar around their neck, a harness spreads the pressure around the dog’s body, and they feel that pressure when you hold them back. You’ll be more likely to pull back and control them if you know the dog harness is not putting undue pressure on your dog’s throat.
    3. Escape artists - I hear stories all the time about a dog or cat slipping out of its collar or harness—a scary situation if your pet gets loose and runs away. This usually happens when the collar or harness does not fit well and is too loose around the neck or body. Min Pins and Dachshunds are great escape artists. Both have thin necks and deep chests so if a harness does not fit properly, the neck will be too loose, and they can wiggle out. Check the chart below to find the best dog harness for your escape artist.
    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."



    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.

    Hawaiian mesh dog vest harness by Spoiled Dog Designshawaiian mesh velcro wrap dog harness by Spoiled Dog Designs

    Shop Vest Harnesses

    2. Step In Harness - with this dog harness style, your pet’s legs slip into the leg holes of the harness, which then wraps around the shoulders with plastic clasp closures. Step-in harnesses are great for dogs who pull, because it places all the pressure on the dog’s chest, giving you much more control. If your dog is older and needs support getting up stairs or curbs, you can easily pull on the leash and give the dog extra lift with this style harness for dogs. They are also extra strong and safe for tethering your dog in a car. My favorite brand is Plush Step In Harnesses. A great company that stands behind their products, loads of sizes and colors. Strong and safe.

                                   Red Plush harness on white dog.Red Step in Harness by Plush USA

      Shop Plush Harnesses

      3. Strap Harness - 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.

        Read more about harness styles in our blog post “Harness That Energy!”



        1. 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.
        2. 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:
          1. Neck – measure around the lower neck at the shoulders
          2. Chest – around the body 2-3” behind the front legs
          3. Length – from the base of the neck to the base of the tail.

        places to measure your dog for a harness by Spoiled Dog DesignsThen compare those measurements to the Spoiled Dog Designs size chart.

        1. 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.
        1. 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.
        2. Bring their measurements – no old harness? Measure your dog as described above and bring those measurements.
        3. 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.

             Learn more about Custom Sizing.



        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.


        Choosing a Harness Style that is perfect for your pet by Spoiled Dog Designs



        1. 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.
        2. 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.
        3. 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.
        4. 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. 


        1. 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”.
        2. 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.
        3. 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.

        Dog Harness attached the wrong way. Spoiled Dog Designs

             Wrong way to overlap 


        Velcro wrap dog harness attached the right way Spoiled Dog Designs

         Correct way to overlap



        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!

        1. 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.
        2. 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.
        3. 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.

        Stay on our mailing list to know when we post a new blog with new information. We continue to find more things to say on the topic of Harnesses For Dogs.

        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.


        Shop harnesses at Spoiled Dog Designs