The Beginner's Guide To Picking A Dog Harness
If you’ve got a heavy puller, you should be trying a front-load harness right now!
February 16th, 2019
Dog harnesses are becoming an increasingly popular way to walk your dog.
Perhaps you’ve read Should You Be Using A Collar Or Harness For Your Dog and decided that this was the route to go.
There is quite a variety of different dog harnesses out there on the market. These range from traditional harnesses to more innovative ones designed for specific purposes.
This article will introduce and guide you through some of the dog harnesses you’ll come across.
Our goal is to narrow your choice down to the type of harness that best suits you and your dog’s needs.
But in order to do that properly, let’s first explore an essential question.
Why Are You Getting Your Dog A Harness?
We have covered a lot of the pros and cons and reasons you might want to get a harness in Should You Be Using A Collar Or Harness For Your Dog.
I won’t repeat those, but after seeing some of the pros and cons many readers may conclude they want the harness because their dog loves pulling on the leash.
It makes sense, right? If your dog cannot maintain a loose leash while walking, you don’t want all that stress on your dog’s neck.
Yes, getting a harness is a good solution to redistributing that stress across your dog’s body, saving potential neck injuries.
However, realize that getting a harness with the expectation that it will solve your dog’s leash walking problems is simply incorrect.
Loose leash walking is a behavioral issue that can only be corrected with proper training.
So while getting a harness is definitely be a healthier option for a dog that loves to pull, you still need to put in the work to improve your dog’s leash walking!
Types of Dog Harnesses
Still with me? Now, we’ll look at types of dog harnesses. There are two main types, distinguished mainly by where the leash clips on.
A body harness contains an attachment point on the back of the harness where you attach your leash.
A front-load harness contains an attachment point on the front of the harness right at your dog’s chest.
Certain harness have rings on both sides so you can pick where your leash goes.
All variants of harnesses are usually just enhancements to these two major types, such as better materials, better comfort, or small modifications to tighten the harness as the dog pulls harder.
Special harnesses such as those won’t be covered in this article, though we may add reviews and best practices for those in the future.
For now, let’s take a closer look at the two main types.
Regular Body Harnesses
Body harnesses with a back attachment are often the “default” choice that store assistants will guide you towards.
These come in all shapes and sizes.
There are the ones made of nylon that simply fit around your dog’s front paws and join at the top where the back attachment is.
Leather harnesses are usually similar in design but can give off a more stylish look.
Still others may feature soft, breathable fabric designed to cover more surface area, as well as for comfort.
Some fabric harnesses don’t require your dog to step through the openings at all. Check out the one below, which simply fits in front of and behind your dog’s paws.
All body harnesses serve the same function—to walk your dog without having to worry too much about neck strain.
So heck, which material should you choose?
Nylon – this is usually the budget option, and good for testing out a harness for your dog if it’s their first time wearing one. Not all dogs enjoy the feeling of harnesses and getting a simple one that doesn’t necessarily cover their entire body too tightly could be a good way to introduce one to them.
In addition, nylon is waterproof, so if you live in a humid area or your dog seems to have a knack for becoming damp, a nylon harness is a more practical option.
Leather – this is usually the stylish option, good for making your dog stand out among the crowd. Leather is thicker and tougher, and may be necessary on larger dogs who easily power through their more lightweight nylon counterparts.
Leather may not be a good option if you live in a very humid environment. You’d need to regularly use a leather conditioner.
Fabric – this is usually both intended to be stylish as well as comfortable. Fabric harnesses usually cover a larger surface area on your dog, so while it may be more comfortable, dogs can also get weirded out by it if they haven’t had such a harness on before.
Fabric harnesses often also include special features such as a handle, useful for grabbing onto your dog if you need to get him back on leash while outside.
For these reasons, fabric harnesses may come out to be a little more expensive than the others, but it could be a worthwhile investment for your dog.
When Should You Get A Body Harness (And When Should You Not)?
Recall the discussion at the beginning of the article.
A body harness will not solve your dog’s leash walking problems.
In fact, there’s reason to suggest a body harness could even encourage pulling.
Certain breeds, such as the Husky, were specifically bred to be guard dogs and help pull sleds for humans.
Putting a harness with a back attachment on your dog is identical to that! Except they won’t be pulling a sled, they’ll be pulling you all over the place.
Dogs have this natural reflex called the opposition reflex. A dog has a natural tendency to push or pull against pressure.
If you can’t curb that pulling, you’re actually no closer to preventing your dog from getting injured. Many harnesses can actually rub or get caught near your dog’s armpit area, causing cuts or scrapes.
So while a harness will redistribute pressure across your dog’s front body, only proper leash walking training will readily fix the behavior.
If you’ve got a dog that already walks decently well outside, a body harness is a nice option. The occasional pulls and bursts of energy are acceptable and the harness will do its job and prevent neck injuries.
Small dogs with thinner, more delicate necks can greatly also benefit from a harness.
For more active dogs (i.e. frequent hikers, dogs that join you on jogs, agility dogs), definitely use a regular body harness.
For a dog that is an extreme puller, a regular back-attaching body harness will not give the walker enough control and may worsen the pulling.
Luckily, the other class of harnesses actually CAN temporarily discourage your dog from pulling.
The problem with body harnesses is that they do not discourage pulling.
The harder your dog tugs on the harness, the closer he inches toward his eventual destination, thus positively reinforcing the fact that he should pull.
This is the exact opposite of what we want.
Cue the front-load harness. It really is a genius solution that takes a different approach at solving leash walking problems.
Whereas the body harness positively reinforces pulling, the front-load harness does not. How?
By moving the attachment from the back of the harness to the front, any pulling on the dog’s part will not cause him to go forward, but will cause a more sideways, rotational motion.
Thus, if your dog lunges toward something, his body will actually turn and he will move away from where he wants to go. This essentially discourages pulling—the positive reinforcement is no longer there.
So if you’ve got a heavy puller, you should be trying a front-load harness right now!
A front-load harness along with proper positive leash walking training can greatly accelerate your dog’s progress.
When Should You Get A Front-Load Harness (And When Should You Not)?
We’ve covered the most compelling reason of why you should get a front-load harness.
There are instances where you should definitely not use a front-load harness in favor of a body harness.
If your dog already walks very well outside, I’d discourage the use of a front-load harness simply because it’s actually easy for your dog to trip over the looser the leash hangs.
Secondly, if your dog really enjoys chewing on leashes, a front-load harness will only cater to your dog.
Third, if your dog wears a harness for long periods at a time (i.e. tied to a post outside), you should prefer using a body harness.
Finally, you should take note of the fact that a front-load harness is merely a training tool.
It should not be used as a “shortcut” or “excuse” to not train your dog the proper way to walk.
If you intend on using a front-load harness to curb pulling for the rest of your dog’s life, this is a huge wasted opportunity for your dog to learn and bond with you.
I strongly recommend using a front-load harness to aid in your training. But you should slowly phase out of the harness once your dog improves their walking.
We’ve now covered that with harnesses, really the main choice you need to make is whether you’re getting a body harness or a front-load harness.
Then, you should consider the material given your living situation as well as you and your dog’s needs and preferences.
There are a few other considerations you may want to make with your dog’s harness.
Ease Of Use
Because a harness should fit your dog relatively tightly, I’d generally recommend being able to try a harness out in person at a store so you can test for fit and ease of use.
While you’re testing it, note how long it takes to get it on or off your dog. How easy a harness is to slip on and off can save lots of time and hassle.
Here are a few other questions in this realm.
Does the harness need to be adjusted often? If so, is it easy and intuitive to adjust?
Does the harness need to be washed often? Fabric harnesses can pick up a lot of your dog’s shedded fur and need to be cleaned on a regular basis.
Finding a padded harness is a good idea for certain breeds.
Wearing a non-padded harness for an extensive period of time can irritate fur and skin caused by rubbing. As a result, short-haired breeds could benefit from extra padding on a harness.
Padding in general adds comfort to the harness experience, but is not strictly necessary for all dogs.
Don’t forget that ultimately, a harness is used in conjunction with the particular carabiner or locking system on your leash.
In addition, length of the leash matters. For example, if you’ll be using a front-load harness, you may need a longer leash compared to if you’re using a body harness.
As we briefly touched on earlier, some harnesses have an extra handle. This is usually a feature of fabric harnesses.
The main advantage of having a handle is while you’re trying to leash your pet. Sometimes, your dog gets very excited in a new environment and can’t stay still while you’re trying to get the leash on.
The handle gives you a reliable way to hold on to your dog, quite literally.
I hope that this article shed some light on the types of harnesses out there and what you can expect to find when you walk into the store looking for one.
We hope that you are now more informed to make the best choice of harness you can!
Yuna sports a nylon harness as well as a fabric harness. As of this writing she is a mild puller on the leash, and we may consider getting a front-load harness to try it out ourselves.
Keep up with her developments on Yuna’s Instagram! We give free dog tips every two days which you can’t miss!