How to Choose a Dog Harness

Reviewed by Vanessa Farner, DVM on July 07, 2021

Whether you just got a new dog or are looking for a better way to train them to walk alongside you instead of pulling ahead, a dog harness can make all the difference. 

Collars and leashes can cause strain on your dog's neck and throat. A dog harness, however, can help prevent injury and things like choking or hacking. In addition, a dog harness can be a perfect tool to use when you're walking, running, or hiking with your dog because it helps makes these activities safer and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

What to Consider When Choosing a Dog Harness

Dog harnesses come in many different sizes and styles. It's important to consider all of your options and choose the harness that works best for you and your dog.

Dog size and temperament. Consider your dog's weight, character and breed to determine what size dog harness is best. Different styles of dog harnesses fit differently. You can measure around your dog's rib cage to ensure that you're buying the right size. Harnesses that are too tight can be painful for your dog, while harnesses that are too loose might be easy for your dog to slip out of. 

You want to be able to fit two fingers under all the straps on your dog, but you don't want to be able to pull the harness over the dog's head. You can test the dog harness by having your dog walk around your home with it on so you can make sure the harness isn't moving around on their body, loosening, or rubbing uncomfortably against their skin. 

Harness design. When choosing a dog harness, consider how much or how hard your dog pulls. The wrong harness can make it easier for your dog to pull you around. The most common types of dog harnesses include:

  • Flat-buckle collar. This common dog collar uses a plain design with a simple snap or buckle closure. This is a great fit for dogs who walk next to you without pulling or trying to escape. 
  • Martingale collar. This collar was designed for dogs with narrow heads. It helps prevent anxious or fearful dogs from slipping out. The collar is designed with a length of material with rings on each end. The leash attaches to one of the rings and tightens when your dog tries to back out, without choking them  
  • Body harness. A harness with a back attachment is a great option for smaller dogs. It can offer you more control than you'd have using only a leash, but it also prevents throat damage if your dog pulls. If you are using a long-line training leash for your dog when running or hiking, it's highly recommended to attach it to a body harness. 
  • Front-hook harness. This harness has a clip on the front of the dog's chest. It helps give you leverage as you walk with your dog because it's attached to the front of your dog's body. 
  • Head halter. The head halter is designed to fit around your dog's head just behind the ears, while another strap fits around your dog’s muzzle. This style is good for large, strong dogs who like to pull. Because the head halter is placed around the dog’s muzzle, having it properly fitted is essential. It is not meant to be used to jerk or aggressively pull your dog. Rather, it’s intended as a tool to help gently guide your dog in the direction you want to go  

If your dog is well-behaved, a harness with a clip on the back is good. However, if your dog pulls, a harness with a clip on the front is better. This gives you more control so you can help your dog learn to walk next to you instead of pulling ahead. 

Cost. Features, size, design, and materials all contribute to the cost of dog harnesses. You can expect to pay $15-$30 for the most basic, small dog harnesses, and around $35-$45 for fancier, large dog harnesses. The larger the dog harness, the more expensive it will likely be.

If you're unsure of what dog harness is right for your dog, consult your veterinarian. 

Benefits of Choosing the Right Dog Harness

Dog harnesses have many uses and benefits. They can help you:

  • Have better control of your dog, especially when walking along a busy street or in a crowded area
  • Discourage your dog from pulling
  • Stop your dog from jumping up on you or other people 
  • Train puppies who might otherwise get tangled or hurt by a regular collar and leash
  • Keep your dog safe when hiking by preventing the dog from getting distracted 
  • Walk multiple dogs whom you need to have control over at the same time 

Dog harnesses can also be a great way to help dogs get up without causing them discomfort or pain. Another great advantage is that dog harnesses are unlikely to come off accidentally. Sometimes when dogs pull, their collar or leash may come loose. Because a harness embraces the dog’s entire body, you’ll be able to maintain control over your dog more efficiently — even when they pull hard. 

Show Sources


American Kennel Club: "Best Dog Harnesses," “Choosing the Right Collar or Harness for Your Dog.” 

Harmony Animal Hospital: “The Pros and Cons of Using a Dog Harness.” 

Orchard Road Animal Hospital: “How to Decipher the Leash, Harness, And Collar Code for a Happy Hound.” 

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