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How To Pick The Best Harness For My Dog 

Written by FOTP Team

Updated

dog with healthy sensible harness

Choosing the right method of restraint for your dog can seem like a daunting task, especially in a market rife with options, all of which claim to be the best there is! With a whole manor of different shaped and sized harnesses and collars, choosing the wrong option is not only bad for your wallet, but can also have serious consequences for the health and welfare of your dog. 

Just like collars and harnesses, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. All collars and harnesses have their generalised pros and cons, but what suits one dog, won’t suit the next. To help you on your way to solving the collar VS harness dilemma, let’s consider some important factors. 

Collars are not only a means of identification for your dog but are an ideal method of restraint for dogs that are trained on the lead not to pull because they don’t restrict movement in any way. For any collar, a proper fit is essential. As a good rule of thumb, you should be able to fit two adult fingers between your dog’s collar and neck. Additionally, ensure that the collar is not too thin as this will create a reduction in the contact area between the collar and dogs’ neck, concentrating the pressure and force into a smaller area. 

When should I not use a collar? 

  • Dogs who pull: Research shows that even at relatively low forces, the pressure at the neck has the potential to cause damage to muscles, nerves, cervical vertebrae, and the trachea if applied consistently over time. If your dog is a chronic puller, of course training not to pull is always the best option, but in the meantime consider alternatives to collars to protect them from potential harm.
  • If you have a brachycephalic breed: Dogs with shortened snouts (such as pugs) should never be walked with just a collar. A collar not only has the potential to restrict already narrowed airways, further impacting breathing, but also increase eye pressure. Brachycephalic breeds already have weak corneas, but the elevation in eye pressure increases the risk of cornea rupture and optic nerve damage potentially resulting in vision loss. For brachycephalic dogs, opt for a well-fitting harness. 
  • Growing dogs: Much like adult dogs, puppies that pull against their collar place their trachea, cervical vertebrae, spinal cord, and surrounding muscles at risk of injury. However, puppies are much more vulnerable to injury and resulting chronic orthopaedic conditions, given significantly weaker musculoskeletal systems compared to that of their adult counterparts. In general, a well- fitting harness is better than that of a collar for the growing dog.

Harnesses Are Best?

In many cases harnesses are ideal, whether it be providing more control, reducing pressure to the neck (and the chance of a multitude of potential related injuries and health problems), training to discourage pulling or for work purposes, they definitely have their place. 

Ongoing research is revealing that poor choice of harness can completely undo these advantages. There’s a wide range of harnesses available on the Two Main Factors to Consider, 

1. Harness fit

A correctly sized harness for your dog is essential. A harness that is too big is liable to slip, and too small may cause pinching, movement restriction, pressure points and rubbing. Much like a collar, a good rule of thumb is ensuring that you can fit two fingers (and no more) between your dog and the harness. 

A well fitted harness will not pull, chafe, or irritate your dog and will stay put with minimal movement. If your dog is young, regularly recheck harness fit to ensure they aren’t outgrowing it.doggy market, with differing designs, shapes, fabrics, and amount of padding. So, what makes a harness good or bad? 

2. Harness design 

Unfortunately, there are many harnesses available on the market that seem to have been manufactured with a disregard to the dog’s anatomy. Be sure to choose a harness that doesn’t restrict your dog’s movement and range of motion. 

Harnesses that have straps that run across their shoulder (such as the ‘no pull’ harness) are undoubtedly ones to avoid. Although they can be effective at reducing pulling, the straps that run across their shoulder and chest sit on some important muscles for shoulder function, restricting shoulder extension and forelimb protection.

Dog with bad harness

This harness is sitting over the dog's shoulder which is inadvisable

Long term abnormal and restricted movement can have a large impact on the musculoskeletal health of your dog. Imagine walking around with the ends of your shoelaces tied together for long periods of time. You adjust your walk to reduce discomfort and after a while you begin to feel tight, sore and uncomfortable as your body compensates. Eventually you get abnormal wear and tear on joints, tendons and ligaments. Now consider this analogy to your dog and its ill-fitting harness. 

Whilst almost every harness design has its advantages and trade offs, in general Y-shaped harnesses restrict your dog’s movement the least. Not all Y-shaped harnesses are made equal so be sure to do your research and ensure that straps don’t restrict the following regions,  

  • Shoulders: Straps should run in front of the shoulder (and not lay on the shoulder). To be sure, if the harness sits on the part of your dog’s shoulder that moves when they walk, then the straps are sitting too far back! 
  • Chest bone: This is the spiky bone that you can easily feel on your dog’s chest. You want the middle of the connection of the Y to be on this bone. 
  • Armpits: Straps should not be too far forward as to dig into their armpits.

Dog wearing non restrictive harness

This is an example of a great non-restrictive harness

Unfortunately, whether your choice be harness or collar, there is nearly always a trade-off, so always choose a method of restraint that best suits your dog! Many problems regarding restraints arise in dogs that pull excessively, so training your dog not to pull will lead to the best outcomes.