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The Right Way to Use a Dog Harness – And Why It’s Important

A dog harness can be a great asset when you take your dog for a walk, especially if your dog likes to try pulling the leash.  It is important, however, that you use a harness correctly in order for it to be effective and safe. 

A dog harness is good for certain breeds, a dog who is still learning to take walks, likes to pull on the leash, or if the dog has congestion, as a collar may make it harder to breath.  If a harness is to be used, it must fit properly, be comfortable for the dog, and should be taken off after walks, especially for puppies.

A dog harness can be a great option in many situations, but of course, every dog owner will want to make sure that they are using it properly.  In this article, we will explore the benefits of harnesses, identify when they should be used, look at finding the right harness and making sure you have a good fit, and the right way to use them for various dogs.  We will also take a look at why all that matters so much. 

What are the benefits to using a harness?

One of the biggest benefits to using a harness is the amount of control that you can have over your dog when you are out walking, even if your dog is not yet fully leash trained.  The harness will help you keep your dog close, even when they want to pull on the leash, without causing undue neck strain or potential injury to the dog. 

If you have a dog that especially likes to pull and run when you are out for walks, the added control of a harness can be a life saver, since some breeds in particular, can pull right out of the collar, if it is not tight enough.  The problem is that if you make a collar too tight, you will inhibit air flow.  A harness can give you clear peace of mind that your dog will stay close to you, rather than get loose and run into traffic. 

The added control of a harness can aid in the leash training process.  A dog may not understand why the leash is jerking his neck when wearing a collar.  That can make the dog agitated and frustrated.  When a dog is more comfortable, they can more easily focus on what you are trying to teach. 

There are still other benefits to harnesses.  For smaller dogs, who can be particularly fragile, a harness can disperse the pressure when using a leash, so that it is not only in the area of the neck, but rather along several points in the shoulders, back and torso.  This dispersion eases the strain on the dog, making it less likely to be injured. 

Injury can also be lessened for dogs who have chest congestion, if they wear a harness.  The harness will keep the airflow from being restricted, and lessen potential coughing as compared to a collar around the neck.      

Certain breeds, called brachiocephalic, will also do better with a harness as compared to a collar, due to a condition called ocular proptosis, which is when it appears that their eyes are protruding from their head.  Brachiocephalic dogs have short muzzles and noses, making their throat and breathing passages undersized, and also making them more prone to ocular proptosis, where there is forward displacement of the eyeball beyond the eyelids.  A dog pulling on a collar could cause this ocular condition in this type of dog.  These brachiocephalic breeds include Pugs, English Bulldogs, Pekinese, Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso.

When Should My Dog Wear a Harness?

While in many cases, it would be fine for your dog to wear a harness all the time, there are some exceptions.  For any dog, you may want to consider taking the harness off at night, for the sake of their sleeping comfort.

If your dog has long hair, it may be best for you to only have him wear the harness when you are out for walks.  Leaving it on all the time may cause his hair to get caught, creating discomfort, or it may cause his hair to get matted underneath, meaning you have even more brushing to do than normal. 

For puppies, it is best to only have them wear a harness when you are out for walk.  It is generally recommended that a puppy have short periods of time in the beginning, to wear a collar or a harness, so that they have time to get used to it.  Wearing a harness may be uncomfortable for a puppy, and they may start to chew it. When the harness has been weakened by chewing, it has the possibility of breaking when you attach it to the leash, creating the potential for your dog to get loose, and possibly injured.   

How Do I Get the Right Harness?

The first step to finding the right harness for your dog is making sure you get the right fit.  A harness that is too tight will be painful for your dog, but a harness that is too loose could allow your dog to break free.  So, it’s important to get this right.  Measure around your dog’s ribcage, just behind his front legs.  Look for this measurement when you purchase a harness in order to make sure you will get a good fit.    

Next, it is important to realize that there are multiple styles of harnesses.  A back-clip harness allows you to attach the leash to a ring on the dog’s back when he is wearing the harness.  This is less favorable if you are trying to teach a dog not to pull on the leash, since the sensation created in the dog when you pull on the leash with this type of harness can create opposition reflex. It is an instinctive reaction where the dog will revert to a freeze, fight, or flight reaction to what you do.  In the case of walking, and you pulling on the leash trying to get your dog to stop pulling you down the street, the back-clip harness may trigger this instinct, causing an opposite reaction to what you are trying to accomplish. 

A front-clip, or chest-led harness has a ring in the front where the leash will be attached.  This is often a better style harness for dogs that pull on the leash, since when the dog tries to pull, if you stop, it will just cause the dog to turn around and face you.  It is a pain-free way for you to get the dog’s attention in the midst of this unwanted behavior. 

A front-clip harness can also be a great tool if you have a fearful or very reactive dog.  If your dog struggles with things that you encounter when you are out for a walk, pulling on the leash with the front-clip harness will turn your dog toward you, giving you the opportunity to provide comfort and reassurance. 

The third type of harness is a tightening harness.  It is similar to the front-clip harness, but with an added feature that will cause it to tighten when pulled. This is good for dogs who are excessive pullers, since it will put a little pressure on them when they try to pull away from you.  Keep in mind, however, that some of these types of harnesses will cause restriction in leg movement or create pain in the chest area under the legs.  This could be very uncomfortable for your dog.  If you are going to choose a tightening harness, it is best to choose one that will only tighten a small amount, without restricting movement.  You are looking to get your dog’s attention with this type of harness, not make walking something that he cannot enjoy. 

Finally when choosing a harness, look at the general design.  Some harnesses will only use simple straps, while others will use more material covering the back.  Consider the comfort for your dog.  If you intend to have your dog wearing the harness for long periods of time, something will only straps may be increasingly uncomfortable.  It may be better to go with something that has soft material up against his body.  For a good, all-around choice, consider the My Fun Dog “No Pull Front or Back Clip Dog Harness.”

Why Does a Harness Matter?

Ultimately, choosing to use a harness for your dog is about safety, and of course, everyone wants to keep their dog safe.  Although we have already discussed much of this, here’s a quick review of how a harness can keep your dog safe:

  1. No painful neck jerking, and potential associated injury.
  2. No airflow restriction.
  3. Far less potential to get loose from a harness versus a collar.
  4. Lessened possibility for ocular proptosis in brachiocephalicbreeds.

Closing Thoughts

In many cases, a harness has definitive benefits over a collar for your dog.  Safety is a key component of those benefits, and it will be an even more critical factor for certain breeds.  That does not mean that your dog should necessarily wear a harness at all times, however. 

How you choose a harness matters greatly, and the way it fits is the most important element of the selection process.  Make sure that you choose a harness that will work for the needs of your dog, and not merely base your selection on how it looks.  Once you choose the right type of harness, however, you will no doubt also be able to find a look that will match your dog’s individual personality. 

Rebecca Chesonis

Rebecca Chesonis is a business professional with a lifelong love for dogs. She has owned and worked around dogs since she was a child. She has a love for all breeds, and a particular fondness for large dogs. She loves to write articles and create videos that will help you take care of your dog and find activities to make life with your dog even more fun!

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