How Should a Dog Harness Fit? [Avoiding the Dangers of a Poor Fit]

Are you interested in replacing your dog’s collar with a harness but not sure how to choose one with the right fit? Measuring is just the beginning of what you should consider when looking for the best harness for you and your dog’s lifestyle.

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how should a dog harness fit

How Should a Dog Harness Fit?

When adjusted properly, a dog harness should fit snugly while not being too tight against its body. A snug fit is one that your dog cannot slip out of, but that allows you to fit two fingers between the harness and your dog at any one point in the straps.

rabbitgoo Dog Harness, No-Pull Pet Harness with 2 Leash Clips, Adjustable Soft Padded Dog Vest, Reflective No-Choke Pet Oxford Vest with Easy Control Handle for Large Dogs, Black, L

Choosing the Right Harness Size for Your Dog

The most important thing when it comes to putting a harness on your dog is to be sure you use the right size. There are a few particular measurements that you should get right before going shopping.

  • Neck – Measure at the thickest point of your dog’s neck. This should be the area of the neck just above the dog’s shoulders.
  • Chest – Using a soft cloth tape measure, measure around the widest part of your dog’s rib cage. Place the end of the tape at the center of the dog’s rib cage, extend over your pet’s back, and meet the end underneath to find the correct measurement.
  • Weight – Measuring neck and chest size are the most accurate, but most harness makers give you a head start with listed weight guides. Weigh your dog and check the label on any harness you’re considering.

bulldog in harness with happy face

Veterinarian Dr. Carla demonstrates how to measure your dog for the five most popular varieties of dog harnesses in the video below. She shows how to measure properly with clear instructions.

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Why Use a Harness Instead of a Collar?

For dogs that tend to pull when you’re walking them, a collar can cause problems. This is the case even when pulling is minor or infrequent.

Pulling at a collar can put pressure on your dog’s neck, affect their breathing, and a dog with a stronger pull may even injure their neck or spine. Using a harness for your dog allows any pressure from pulling to be distributed more evenly across a larger area, keeping them from experiencing discomfort or injury.

german shepherd in harness for training

Training Your Dog for a Harness

It’s important to take the time to introduce your dog to a harness and train them. Making this a positive experience will allow dogs to associate putting their harness on with good things.

Begin with putting their harness on while providing something that they enjoy. This might be a particular treat or toy – anything that they associate with fun.

If your dog is sensitive to sounds, it might take time to get them used to the clicking sound of the buckle opening and closing. You might also consider choosing a harness that closes with velcro.

Are All Harnesses the Same?

Not every harness will be right for every dog. You may have to go through some trial and error before finding the harness that works for you and your pet.

When looking for a harness, it’s important to consider the size of your dog vs. the material that the harness is made of. While nylon strapping or nylon tubing can work for almost any dog, mesh harnesses are more appropriate for smaller pets.

maltese in car seat belt and harness

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Harness Features to Consider

  • Buckle Material – Plastic buckles are fine for less active dogs or for harnesses that will be used only for walking calm pets, while metal is appropriate for more active dogs. For dogs that might have issues with sound sensitivities, consider velcro closures.
  • Adjustment – Select a harness with as many points of adjustment as possible. The more ability a harness has to adjust, the more comfortable and safe it will be for your dog.
  • Method of Application – Step-in harnesses are usually easier to get a dog into, but they aren’t as secure. An over-head harness is safer for dogs that are larger, more energetic, or need more points of adjustment.
  • No Pull Function – Some harnesses are designed with a ring in the front to attach this leash. When a dog pulls they feel it in the front and this is awkward for them, making them stop pulling. We recommend this no-pull harness.

rabbitgoo Dog Harness, No-Pull Pet Harness with 2 Leash Clips, Adjustable Soft Padded Dog Vest, Reflective No-Choke Pet Oxford Vest with Easy Control Handle for Large Dogs, Black, L

The Importance of Proper Harness Fit

In the same way, you aren’t happy with clothes that fit you badly, a harness that doesn’t fit your dog can be uncomfortable for them. An improper fit can inhibit your dog’s movement, as well as cause injuries.

Too tight, and a harness can cause rubbing to the point of creating sores. It can also cause stress on their joints and bones by forcing them to move awkwardly.

Loose harnesses can cause injuries by snapping against the dog with sudden pulling. They also put your dog at risk of slipping out of the harness and getting away.

How To Fit 5 Common Dog Harnesses

Signs of a Poorly Fitting Harness

  • Slipping out of the harness and escaping
  • Fur loss or skin chafing or injury around harness area
  • Dog resisting going for a walk or refusing to continue a walk partway through
  • Harness pieces moving around during a walk


Is it okay to let your dog wear its harness full time?

It is safe to allow an adult dog to wear a harness all the time. When it comes to puppies, however, it is better to only put the harness on for walks and outings and take it off when you come back inside.

Could a harness hurt a dog?

It is possible in cases when a harness doesn’t fit properly that it could injure the dog. Make certain that your dog’s harness is not too tight or too loose.

Can a dog wear a harness along with its collar?

It’s safe to let a dog wear a collar and harness both. In this case, however, a dog should not wear the harness full time to avoid pinching or injury.

How Tight Should A Dog Harness Be?

A dog harness should be snug enough to fit no more than two fingers between the harness and your dog’s body. This makes it tight enough that your dog can’t back out of it and loose enough that it won’t chafe your dog’s skin. If using a no-pull harness, the leash ring should sit high on the chest.

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