For some, one of the best parts of having a dog — aside from puppy eyes and endless enthusiasm — is taking them for walks. It’s good for your body, too. According to a study from BioMedCentral’s Public Health Journal, dog owners walk on average 22 minutes longer each day than non-dog owners, logging nearly 2,800 more stepsy. If you fall into that camp, congratulations. If you’re using a traditional leash to walk your dog, you might want to reconsider. The pressure leashes exert on dog collars might be harmful for them. The most popular alternative — a harness — is much safer and has other benefits, to boot.
“I always prefer harnesses,” says Natalie Marks, DVM, the medical director at Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. She’s talking about full body carriages that fit dogs like a vest might, the leash then connecting to one point on them and reducing the harms of pulling back on it. “They limit pull and pressure on their windpipe, and disperse that pull across the front of their body in an even distribution.”
How to find the best dog harness for your doggo?
There are lots of options for dog harnesses out there, though there are two main styles to choose from:
- Back clip harnesses clip at the top, over your dog’s back.
- Front clip harnesses clip at the chest.
Depending on your dog’s size, training, and demeanor, one of the styles may be a better option than the other. For example, moving to a harness might change the way you walk your dog, so there may be an adjustment period — which is especially true for front-clip harnesses. The leash can get under your pooch’s paw, says Khara Schuetzner, a member and board chairwoman of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers. “Some dogs are aggravated by that,” she notes.
While harnesses are suitable for all sizes and breeds, for example, Marks noted they can provide better control over larger dogs (or especially strong ones). On the other hand, choose one that’s proportionate to their size. It’s not necessary to have a thick, heavy-duty harness for a chihuahua, Schuetzner said, who believes a harness isn’t necessarily the best solution for everyone — the choice between a harness and collar-leash is a matter of personal preference and what works for your lifestyle.
Finally, ask your vet or trainer for a bit of help fitting your dog with the best harness for it (and for you). “A poorly fitted harness can only be painful, cause skin abrasions, and can create a negative association with the harness itself and walking in general,” Marks said.
Check how it’s fit regularly. Here’s how: You should be able to get two of your fingers between your dog and the harness, says Schuetzner. Finally, Marks encourages dog owners find a harness that’s machine-washable for better canine hygiene.
Best dog harnesses to shop
Marks encourages clients who are transitioning to a harness to choose one that locks in the front across the chest. These are better for dogs still leash-training or those that tend to pull, as the front clip allows owners to “steer” the dog, she explains.
This harness has clips in both the front and back, so you can start them on a front clip and then transition to the back if necessary. It has padded straps for cushioning, plus a handle at the top, should you need to grab it in response to a dog park skirmish.
Look for a lightweight mesh or breathable harness if your dog is small, you have a puppy, or they’ve suffered a previous neck injury, Marks suggests. This option is available in a range of smaller sizes, is made with soft mesh and comes in four colors (pink, red, blue, black), which are all outfitted with a reflective bands around the chest and sides.
Have an especially calm and leash-trained dog? Go for a back-clip harness, which is more comfortable for dogs to wear, according to Marks. This style from Ruffwear goes on over their head, clips around the sides, and is designed for easy adjusting. A handy sewn-in ID pocket keeps their tag secure and it’s available in a rainbow of colors, depending on your dog’s style. Keep in mind that if your dog’s a puller or tries to dart after squirrels on walks, a back-clip harness is not ideal for you.
A harness that has a reflective strip offers good visibility for nighttime walks, Marks noted. Take it one step further with this LED illuminated harness, which make them visible up to a quarter-mile away. The LEDs are rechargeable and can be removed when you toss the harness in the wash.
Stretchy and soft, the harness from stylish pet products brand Wild One comes in six colors. This harness allows you the adjust at both the chest and neck to fit most dogs and three leash attachment points let you choose your preferred control style. It’s made with polyester and nylon (and isn’t machine-washable).
One of the most popular and bestselling dog harnesses on Amazon, this relatively affordable style is breathable with padded mesh for comfort, front- or back-clip options for attaching the leash, and adjustable straps to help adjust the fit.
If you’re in the thick of training, a no-pull harness will tighten around the dog’s chest to reduce tugging and dragging you around. This harness comes with a leash that clips to the front and to the back, allowing you to steer them as needed. While no-pull harnesses have their place, Marks recommends using one for training and then transitioning out of it.
Another Ruffwear harness is the adventure-ready, performance harness for the extra active dog. It comes with three leash attachment options, a reflective trim and a loop to attach a safety light to. The harness itself allows for six different ppoints of adjustment and a padded handle is especially designed to make it easy for you to lift your dog over obstacles it can’t handle alone.
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