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Are Harnesses Bad For Dogs

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Wednesday 17 November 2021
Last updated on
Sunday 12 March 2023
harness for dogs
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Many new pet parents find themselves worried when making this choice: collar, or harness? Owning a new puppy can be as exciting as it is daunting, and it’s common for owners to wonder, “are harnesses bad for dogs?” In short, harnesses are not inherently bad, and neither are collars. The best option for your dog, however, depends on their own leash manners, their prey drive, and their breed. For example, if you jog with your dog a lot, they will need a dog harness specifically designed for running.

What makes dog harnesses bad is when they do not fit properly or are inappropriate for the breed. A poorly-fitting harness can rub on the skin and cause injuries to your pup. Similarly, a harness made for a large breed is not suitable for a small breed, allowing dogs to wriggle free with ease. So, are dog harnesses better than collars? When is a harness not a good option for a dog? And what are the most common types? Read on with us to find out more!

What Exactly Are Dog Harnesses

A dog harness is a piece of equipment made up of straps that loop around the dog and fasten together using side release buckles. Dog harnesses usually consist of a strap on the chest and a strap behind the forelimbs, with straps connecting the two. They are also usually made with a D-ring for a leash to clip on to. Some harnesses come in different sizes or may be adjustable. Others may be reflective, adding an extra measure of security for your pup.

Among the most common types of dog harnesses are:

  • Back-clip harness: D-clip on the back of the harness, most common type
  • Front-clip harness: D-clip at the front, best for teaching leash manners
  • Dual-clip harness: D-clip at the back and front so that both options are available
  • Safety harness: Attaches to a seatbelt and is best for travel
  • Spooky harness: Made with three straps for breeds with slender bodies

Benefits of Harnesses

Dog harnesses offer several benefits. Perhaps the most important benefit is its ability to help owners to control their dogs. A front-fitting harness gives more control than a traditional collar does, by helping you to redirect your dog’s movement and attention. This brings us to the second benefit – the extra security! While collars can be easy for dogs to slip out of, a harness poses more of a challenge to escape from. Not all harnesses are escape-proof, however, so many owners opt to combine both a collar and a harness and to use a double-ended lead. If anything happens, your dog cannot slip out of their collar without also having to slip out of their harness.

Lastly, a harness reduces pressure on a dog’s trachea, giving a lower risk of strangulation. This is because, while a collar wraps around the neck, a harness typically fits around the thorax. This allows for a more even distribution of force. Some breeds greatly benefit from walking equipment that does not restrict the airways at all. Such breeds include the English Bulldog, a brachycephalic breed that is prone to breathing difficulties when over-exerted. Similarly, the force of a collar can increase pressure in the eyes. Ditching the collar in favor of a harness helps to take this pressure off and reduces the risk of eye damage. This is particularly important for dogs with glaucoma or eye injuries, or breeds with shallow eye sockets like Shih Tzus and Pekinese.

Some breeds benefit from specialized harnesses. The Greyhound, for example, typically only needs a martingale collar, as this type of collar fits dogs whose heads are narrower than their necks. However, some Greyhounds tend to “spook” when walking easily, causing them to bolt or freeze. This is where a “spook” harness comes in. These harnesses have three straps that fit around the Greyhound’s slim body shape. Other breeds with a similar body type, such as Galgos and Whippets, can also benefit from this type of harness. It’s important that these harnesses are not too tight and do not rub on the skin, as these breeds often have delicate skin that tears easily.

Potential Risks

Harnesses do not come without their own risks. However, many of them have a lot to do with how owners fit them on their dogs! A wrongly fitted harness can cause pain and irritation to dogs. If the straps are too tight, the harness may rub against the skin, causing redness and irritation. If fitted too high on the neck, your dog risks strangulation. When a harness is too tight across the chest, it blocks shoulder extension and abduction. Restrictions on your dog’s shoulders will, over time, cause joint problems and soft tissue damage.

Lastly, a harness that is not breathable can contribute to overheating in the summer months. Be sure to check your dog’s harness fit as they sit, stand, and lay down. Your dog must be comfortable in all positions, and you should be able to fit two or three fingers under the neck and girth straps of the harness. You must also check that the straps do not dig into your dog’s elbows – the belly belt should fit about three fingers or more in width behind your dog’s elbows.

appearance of dog harnesses
Dog owners opt to use a harness on their dogs to avoid using flat collars in fear of their dogs choking.

Harnesses For Dogs: FAQ

So, are harnesses bad for dogs? If you’re still wondering about the answer to this question, feel free to check our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your dog’s safety or health, always ask your vet for advice.

Why do dogs pull on leashes?

In short, dogs pull to get where they are going faster. Your dog wants to engage with their environment, and the speed that humans walk at is slow. Wearing a collar and leash and being tethered to a person is not a natural thing for dogs, either. As well as this, many dogs naturally lean in upon feeling pressure on their collar, rather than letting up. These three factors combined mean that leash training takes time and patience, and is a complex skill that must be learned.

Do harnesses stop dogs from pulling?

A harness does not stop dogs from pulling because a harness does not cause pulling. A harness is just safety equipment that dogs must be trained how to use and walk with. The only way to stop your dog from pulling is to teach them that pulling is undesirable. When your dog pulls, stop. Change direction or turn in a circle, rewarding them as they follow you. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Can I leave my dog wearing his harness?

A dog cannot be left wearing their harness, especially unattended. While a harness poses less of a strangulation risk than a collar, a harness can still be dangerous in its own ways! Firstly, wearing a harness for too long can cause painful sores and irritation to the skin. Your dog may associate their harness with discomfort because of this. Also, harnesses can become stuck on objects which may cause your dog to panic and injure themselves. It’s important that your dog’s harness is easy for you to put on and take off, especially in an emergency!

Can a collar and harness be used at the same time?

A collar and harness together can provide more control and security. To get the most out of using both a collar and harness for your dog, consider using a double-ended lead. This type of lead can connect to both the collar and the harness at the same time, keeping your dog from running away if they slip out of either their collar or their harness.

How old does my dog have to be to start using a harness?

The ideal age to start using a harness for your dog is eight weeks old. You’ll want to introduce the harness as early as possible to your puppy, to reduce the risk of bad leash behaviors developing. The risk of strangulation is also reduced with a harness – any frightening situations like accidental strangulation can have a life-long effect on your puppy.

Are harnesses bad for dogs? No, not when they fit correctly and are appropriate for the breed. While a harness offers more control to an owner with a pulling dog, it’s important to keep in mind that a harness itself cannot stop your dog from pulling.

One comment on “Are Harnesses Bad For Dogs”

  1. Jacky Cutler

    I see a lot of owners lifting their dogs in the middle of their back to control them when wearing a harness which can cause serious problems for their spine. Do not think a harness is the answer to a pulling dog, a dog that pulls in a collar will pull in a harness. Train the dog to walk properly in both or risk injury.

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