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I’ll be the first to admit that I spent an embarrassing amount of time and money trying to find a decent harness for my dog. I really did not think it would be that hard.
The thing is, if you’re reading this, you know how painful it is to watch your dog choke while pulling on a leash that’s attached to the dog collar. You’re questioning if the pulling is bad for your dog, and you’re wondering if there’s a better way. You’re an awesome human being for doing that.
I myself have a dog who has a tendency to pull, no matter how much leash-training I do with him. I’ve done lots of research online and purchased several different types of harnesses, but I wasn’t fully happy with most of them.
They would be too big, too small, would ride around his middle or up his neck and into his mouth for chewing. Some would be a struggle to get on in general or to keep on for any length of time. I was worried that some of the materials would cause skin issues due to the rubbing and be uncomfortable. We even had the odd harness from which my dog would hide away from rather than being excited to go on a walk.
I was beginning to think that I would never find anything that would work, and I started questioning if maybe I was worried for no reason. I then looked up scientific studies on dog anatomy as well as research papers on the use of collars and harnesses. I basically went full geek-mode on it. So much so, that I got confident enough on the topic to discuss the issue with my local vet and local dog trainers, and then finally – I found the miracle dog harness that worked wonders for us!
In this article, I’ll share with you everything I’ve learned on the topic of dog harnesses.
This is a really long article so I’ll give it to you straight – here’s a link to the miracle harness that worked for us: The Perfect Fit Harness
Their website is a bit all over the place and way too confusing (for me), so I would recommend to look up a local stockist through the link above rather than buying through their website. The Perfect Fit dog harnesses are often sold through local vets which means that when you buy it, the harness can be fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing.
It’s a modular dog harness, so the idea is that if your dog outgrows it, you just buy the bigger module that you need rather than a whole new set. The harness wasn’t cheap, but it was cheaper than the sum total of money I spent on other harnesses that weren’t a good fit previously.
Some of the benefits I’ve noticed compared to other harnesses:
1. It’s easy to put on once you’ve figured it out
It was a bit confusing to begin with, but once you remember how to put it on, it seems to be a more pleasant experience for your dog. That’s because it clips together on all sides, which means that you don’t need to get it over your dogs head or get him to put a foot through which many dogs don’t like (which is why step in dog harnesses are a thing).
2. No escaping
Because of the modular design in different sizes, it fits perfectly which means my dog can’t slip out of it and run off which has happened before with other harnesses.
3. Front- and Back-attaching D-ring
This means that you can use the harness with a double-ended lead, which can be helpful for leash-training, so it’s a great dog training harness.
4. Soft-fleece padding that’s machine-washable
The soft fleece padding prevents the harness from rubbing against your dog’s skin.
If you keep reading this article, you’ll learn that all dogs are different, which is why I would strongly recommend asking your local vet or force-free dog trainer for advice on which harness to buy for your dog.
That said, I understand that sometimes you’ll just need something quickly for one reason or another. If that’s the case, I would recommend you to buy the Kurgo Dog Harness from Amazon.
I’ll be honest – I haven’t had a chance to try it myself, but it’s been recommended to me by other dog owners as a reasonably-priced alternative (plus it also includes a dog seatbelt, so it can be used as a car harness).
Now having said all that, keep reading below for the Ultimate Dog Harness Guide where I’m hoping to answer most of the frequently asked questions on the topic.
Dogs need to be exercised to assure their well-being, and in most public places the law requires us to have our dog on a leash. The leash needs to be attached somewhere, and that’s typically a collar or harness.
If you’re wondering why someone would use a harness for their dog rather than a collar, the answer is to prevent potential health issues further down the track.
Collars can be bad for dogs that pull. The area around a dogs throat is one of the most vulnerable parts of their body. The neck contains many veins, glands and muscles, which collars can both irritate and damage, especially when your dog pulls.
So, if your dog tends to pull, dog collars can lead to the following problems:
There are various results from clinical studies that show how tension in the cervical spine in dogs can lead to the same symptoms as in humans, e.g. dizziness, headaches, and pain.
Dogs can’t tell us about their pain, at least not by using words, so it’s possible that reactive behaviour on walks can be due to a bad choice of collar or harness (a harness needs to be well-fitted, I’ll explain this in more detail further down below).
Many people will also look for a harness to get their dog to stop pulling. If that’s you, keep in mind that not all harnesses are automatically no-pull harnesses. Quite the opposite actually, depending on what harness you choose, you could make it easier for your dog to pull forward.
When looking for a dog harness to stop your dog from pulling, you want to look for a front-attaching dog harness. That’s because if you can attach the leash in the front, you’re redistributing your dog’s weight to help prevent pulling. In other words, when your dog pulls, he’s turning towards you rather than pulling forward.
Keep in mind that while a front-attaching dog harness can be helpful, they’re certainly no miracle cure and you’ll still need to actively train your dog to walk on a loose-leash. There are different training methods, and I would always recommend positive dog training, where you focus on reinforcing good behaviours.
Furthermore, some studies suggest that dogs can react to the presence of a harness against their legs by pushing harder against it. This means that pressure is exerted on a dog’s forelimbs in an activity where the dog is supposed to be extending his forelimbs, which could potentially cause injuries. This makes it even more important to focus on properly training your dog to walk on a loose leash rather than letting him pull while attached to a leash.
Keeping that in mind, note that no-pull harnesses appear to be the least harmful way out of all our known options to train our dog to walk on a leash without pulling.
A harness is far less likely to damage our dogs as opposed to a dog collar, but it’s all in the fitting. When fitting a harness, it’s important to to ensure that when there is tension on the lead, the strap over your dog’s chest does not impinge on their windpipe or gullet.
You also need to make sure that the harness is not impinging your dog’s shoulders. It can cause issues if the straps of a harness do not allow for the shoulder blade to ‘float’ over the body as it should.
To fit a harness you want to measure your dog in two places:
You can do this with a tape measure or with a piece of string and measure against a ruler if you don’t have a tape measure.
When I did my research, I looked up many scientific research papers and concluded that even though many dogs commonly wear a harness, not much is understood regarding the biomechanical impact of their use.
Overall, there appears to be consensus that a harness is more comfortable for dogs and better for their health by putting less stress on a dog’s neck than a collar.
Most modern dog harnesses are divided in two groups:
These Harnesses are positioned between the neck and shoulder joints of our dogs. That’s because the most stable and robust part of a dog is the chest. So, with a Y-Harness the strength of the spine and chest muscles can be used to the fullest extent, which means he can pull in an efficient, ergonomic manner.
Breast Strap Harnesses (also known as Chest Harnesses)
This type of harness connects a dogs two shoulder joints horizontally at the level of the chest bone. They are often easier to put on than a Y-Harness, but need to be well-fitted as it will otherwise pull over the head easily.
Yes, in some cases a harness can hurt your dog. The harness must be well-fitted, as incorrectly fitted harnesses can have a bad impact on your dog’s mobility. Incorrect mobility can lead to joint conformation and function, which in turn can lead to abnormal wear, which can cause inflammation and arthritic conditions.
Always make sure that your dog’s harness is well-fitted, and teach your dog how to walk on a loose-leash as soon as possible to avoid pulling, which will otherwise cause a negative impact on your dog’s body.
Be cautious of harness reviews. All dogs are different, so there isn’t one fit or make for all. For example, long-legged dog breeds will need differently adapted harnesses than other dogs. The length of the back of your dog plays a decisive role in the right choice of dog harness.
That said, there are a few things to watch out for when buying a harness:
You can harness train your puppy as soon as possible. Training a dog is an important thing to do in his early years. Make sure it’s a positive experience and use lots of treats as it can take your puppy some time to get used to the concept of a harness. Furthermore, focus on leash-training once you have your puppy in his well-fitted harness, to avoid potentially damaging impact from pulling.
I hope sharing my research and experience on harnesses for dogs has been helpful for you. In summary, I wasted lots of time and money trying different harnesses that I found online and in pet shops.
What helped me the most, was to have a chat to my local vet and go by their recommendation. Knowing that all dogs are different, I would recommend you to do the same thing. Rather than google-ing what harness to buy for your dog, just ask your vet about it.
You can also ask your dog trainer, although I would suggest making sure that it’s a dog trainer who uses positive training methods, rather than aversive ones before asking for their recommendation. You can learn more about what to look out for in a dog trainer in Australia in this article: What You Need To Know: Dog Training in Australia