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In the past, harnesses were for sled dogs or service dogs—and not much else. Now that we have a better understanding of how dog harnesses can protect your pup’s neck and give you more control, they have become a popular choice for both urban and adventure dogs alike. I own a few different harnesses for each of my three pups, and I much prefer them to a collar in most situations.
A lot has changed in tandem with the positive reinforcement movement in dog training, and naturally some of the negative punishment tactics of the past have gone away. This means fewer choke or prong collars and an emphasis on more gentle control through the use of harnesses. Dog harnesses more evenly distribute pressure created by a leash, and they help you avoid placing force directly on your dog’s throat and neck.
Dogs prone to tracheal collapse (typically smaller breeds) should use a harness. My smallest dog, Murphy, is about 20 pounds, and he turns into a hacking mess if I try to use a collar on him. Instead, a dog harness helps me safely control his little-man energy. And for my bigger pups Benny and Rio (85 and 50 pounds, respectively), I opt for harnesses over collars because they feel more stable when I need to redirect their strength, especially when running. Plus, I love harnesses on hikes because they make it easier to pick up my dogs and help them navigate through difficult terrain.
You might also use a dog harness for dog sports or other special circumstances. Sports like skijoring and canicross utilize a harness so that your pup can safely pull someone behind them. In addition, some harnesses can be used as a car restraint and are tested to protect your dog in the case of an accident. Not to mention, many dog backpacks have integrated harnesses so that your pup can carry their own water or supplies when hiking.
I suggest considering the breed, size, and behavior of your dog when choosing a harness. Because I have three dogs who are vastly different in shape and size, finding a single perfect option for all of them isn’t realistic. A lot of my recommendations are great for most dogs, but certain breeds or temperaments may require a more specialized harness.
To get an idea of what your dog needs, grab a string and gently wrap it around your dog’s chest/shoulders, neck, and stomach/shoulders—roughly corresponding to the places a harness’s straps will go. Then stretch the string along a tape measure to get an accurate fitment.
Is your pooch a puller? If so, definitely prioritize something designed to curb that behavior, or at the very least one with a front leash attachment point to help redirect their energy. The first time I hooked a leash to Benny’s front attachment point, I was amazed at how much it helped. Ease of use and durability are also important. Harnesses made with cheap materials or confusing designs are often more hassle than they’re worth.
Because everybody’s pup is different, I have included dog harnesses for a variety of situations, breeds, and sizes in this guide. As someone who used to walk dogs as a side hustle, I highly recommend all dog owners have at least one dog harness for general use. Many of these choices have a front and back attachment point because I love the versatility that each can provide. Read on to learn about the best dog harnesses below.
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