Why Are Harnesses Bad for Dogs? (Solved & Explained!)

It is for the happiness of our beloved pets that we provide them with the highest-quality foods, but so often even the most caring owners utilise improperly positioned or designed dog harnesses that cause joint damage and breathing issues to dogs with extended use. Pain caused by harness use can also imprint a negative association between the harness, and the subsequent activity itself (such as walking) in your dog

How do harnesses impact the happiness of dogs?

Dogs have been our companions through the ages, using their great strength and stamina to help many historical figures. For example, George Washington was a keen dog-lover, exercising impeccable animal husbandry skills in the raising of his hunting hounds at his Mount Vernon estate. He knew the importance of letting dogs do what they do best: exploring. Incidentally, this is what is most negatively impacted by extended use of improper dog harnesses.

Why are harnesses bad for dogs?

An improperly fitted or designed harness is dangerous. The activity of walking a dog includes a lot of pulling on the leash, which can cause dangerous pressure on the back, shoulders and withers of your fluffy friend. Not only does this particularly pose a risk to dog breeds more prone to ligament damage, any extended pulling on the leash is likely to act as a Pavlovian stimulus, wherein pulling on the leash is correlated with pain in the dog. This can exacerbate pre-existing stress, meaning that barking is a more likely occurrence.

Why do dogs need exercise and exploration off-harness?

All dogs need the opportunity to exercise and explore their surroundings. Some dogs need this freedom far more than others; a German shepherd would lament being stuck close to their owner during a walk more than potentially a King Charles Spaniel would. Some dogs simply need the freedom to go wherever they’d like for a while more than their less exercise-focused counterparts.

This doesn’t mean that the less energetic dogs benefit from walking on-harness however- it means that they’d be less likely to protest, but this is no indicator of benefit. No matter whether you use collars or a harness while exercising your dog, you should always allow your pet the freedom to explore off-leash every once in a while.

Are all harnesses bad?

No. A properly-fitted harness can actually be a beneficial companion in specific situations. For example, in the case of walking a dog with idiopathic ocular issues, care should be taken to use a harness instead of a collar to avoid the increase in intraocular pressure caused by collars.

Why do improper harnesses impact dogs so negatively?

The neck of a dog is a delicate region that is particularly implicated in the causation and exacerbation of ocular issues. Furthermore, in asthmatic or obese dogs, harnesses can also be utilised to lessen the load on the dog’s epiglottis, which can make it much harder for the dog to breathe.

Should you use a harness on your dog?

If your dog suffers from obesity issues, asthma or is of a breed prone to breathing issues such as BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome), which is common in breeds created through selective breeding to have a flat face – then the answer is yes, you can. It is a safer option than using a collar with a leash in that situation, assuming the harness is properly fitted. These dog breeds are referred to as brachycephalic breeds.

Which breeds are prone to BOAS?

Examples of brachycephalic breeds include the following:

  • English and French bulldogs.
  • Shih-Tzus.
  • Pugs.
  • Pekingese.

Other breeds prone to BOAS, but to a lesser extent include:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

The two breeds listed above are technically not considered brachycephalic breeds due to statistically lower incidence of BOAS within the breed.

Should I use a leash on my dog if they belong to a breed prone to BOAS?

The brachycephalic breeds of dog always benefit from the use of properly positioned harnesses. However, the use of a harness isn’t always the best option for breeds less prone to BOAS. In fact, there are various reasons why harness use would be contraindicated in breeds likely to suffer from BOAS.

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How can I tell if I should use a harness on my dog?

The best way to tell whether your dog would benefit from the use of a harness is to check their breathing at rest. If their breathing seems laboured or heavy, then they likely would benefit from the use of a harness instead of a collar while walking.

Should I use any harness on my dog if they have breathing issues?

No. One of the most detrimental costs of harness use is that many modern pet harnesses are unsuited and unsafe for the pets they were designed for. This is the case with the front-clip dog harness, where the dog is restrained with an area of harness around the throat.

Why are the throat attachments in front-clip harnesses so detrimental for dogs?

This attachment means that there is a heightened risk of choking when the dog pulls on the leash. This would be of a great risk to brachycephalic breeds, wherein breathing is often negatively impacted.

Which other dog breeds are negatively impacted by dog harnesses?

Breeds with long, bushy coats can be badly affected by wet harnesses. This is because the increased moisture can cause matting in the coats of these dogs. This is particularly implicated if the dog wears the harness for an extended period of time in a wet environment, such as during rainfall or when walking through marshland.

When should harnesses be removed after use?

Harnesses should be removed as soon as your dog is back inside to reduce the risk of matting. In dogs with longer coats, harnesses should be avoided entirely. An exception to this rule is when the dog also has BOAS; for example, many Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have long coats but also suffer from BOAS. A harness can be used in this circumstance.