How to Choose a Harness That Won't Hurt Your Dog

How to Choose a Harness That Won't Hurt Your Dog

Have you ever been choked?

I have.

Okay, so it was in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class, but we were working on how to break free from actual force.

Controlled environment or not, it did not feel good.

It got me thinking about upcoming walks with the dog I’m adopting. I’ve always loved watching dogs and their humans stroll past my house in the afternoons. Now, I watch them with a different set of eyes.

I’m a champion fretter, and pretty soon it’ll be me and my girl out there, too!

After reading many articles like this one, I decided to go with a harness over a collar for walks. She walks perfectly fine on a leash, but as her owner I’d feel better about our adventures around the neighborhood if she wore a harness. She might ignore 10 squirrels along the way, then decide the 11th is where it’s at. I don’t want to risk hurting her when I stand firm and hold the leash to keep her with me.

This quest wasn’t as daunting as researching leashes, but I’ll admit I was a little frazzled. But once I was able to identify the different types of harnesses, the choice was super easy!

So, let’s talk about the three main types of harnesses — along with their pros and cons — so that you can make the best decision for your dog’s needs.

Back-Clip Dog Harness

Like the name implies, the D-ring for the leash rests over your dog’s back. You’ll find this harness in a variety of styles, like comfort wrap vests or step in harnesses with straps.

Because this harness distributes pressure evenly across the chest and back, it’s great for smaller dogs with delicate throats. But if your dog is still learning how to walk on a lead or is highly reactive, a back-clip harness isn’t the best option.


  • Easy to put on, and dogs adjust to the harness quickly
  • Protects their neck; less risk of choking compared to a collar
  • Less chance for the leash tangling in the dog’s front legs
  • Popular among pet owners, so there’s lots of styles available


  • Not enough control over larger, reactive dogs who pull or lunge
  • Does not allow any directional steering

Front-Clip Dog Harness

Although less common, these harnesses are a prime choice for dogs who are pullers. The leash attachment rests at the middle of the dog’s chest so it’s harder for them to pull or lunge where they want to go.

Front-clip harnesses provide more directional control, too. All you have to do is pivot with the slightest pull or cue, and your dog will turn toward you! It’s vital that a front clip harness is fitted properly — not doing so could alter your dog’s gait, causing discomfort or injury.


  • Directional steering; helps turn the dog when necessary
  • Discourages pulling and jumping


  • Leash is more likely to get tangled around front legs
  • Can cause stress on front legs and shoulders if fitted poorly
  • Not all dogs adjust to this style of harness

Dual-Clip Dog Harness

Also called a multi-clip harness, this option provides the best of both worlds and is growing in popularity. The back clip allows for normal walks, and the front clip is at the ready if your dog starts to pull or lunge.

While two leash attachment points are most common, there are some designs that have up to four D-rings! Others have a handle in the middle of the back for immediate control over your dog. You’ll see this most often on service dog harnesses.


  • Evenly distributed pressure prevents injuries due to yanking motions
  • Discourages pulling while allowing for gentle guidance
  • Easy to adjust, comfortable for dogs to wear


  • Can be more expensive than other types of harnesses
  • Easy to get dependent on the level of control, which can discourage proper training

What about fitting styles?

I’m glad you asked! Whatever harness you choose, it’ll come in one of two styles:

Over the Head Harness

As the name suggests, this style of harness goes over your dog’s head first. It’s quick and easy — as long as your dog is fine with things passing over their head! Some dogs might need a little more coaxing and patience.

This style offers better weight distribution, total body control, and is easy to adjust for the most comfortable fit. Over the head harnesses can have front, back, or dual clips.

Step-in Harness

You guessed it: your dog’s front legs go into this harness first! Lay the harness flat and have your dog walk forward to step into each opening. Then, just pull the sides up over the shoulders and secure the closures.

Although this style can be tricky for dogs who get over-excited, a little patience and some positive training and reinforcement will go far.

Get those measurements!

Once you’ve chosen a harness that best suits your dog, you have to make sure it fits right! One brand’s medium could be another brand’s large, so it helps to have all these measurements on hand while you’re shopping.

Nearly every harness will call for one or all of these measurements:

  • Girth: circumference of the widest part of the ribcage (chest)
  • Neck: circumference of the center of the neck
  • Lower neck: circumference of the lower/wider part of the neck
  • Chest: distance from one front leg around to the other
  • Back: distance from base of neck to base of tail

When you take these measurements, make sure the tape lays flat along their body, and that it’s snug — but not too tight.

Although rare, some harnesses ask for your dog’s weight. You can get their weight at home if you’ve got a scale — and if your dog is willing to be picked up! Then, subtract your current weight from that of you and your dog.

But if your dog isn’t having any of that, you can call your vet and ask what their weight was on their last visit.


After several afternoons with my almost-dog and the staff at Bellwether Harbor, I went with a standard step-in harness with a back-clip. My dog walks extremely well on lead and she’s not a puller. It ticks off every checkbox I needed to feel confident about our walks:

  • Sturdy (double layered)
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Won’t cause chafing in those tender armpits

Plus, it comes with a free leash! But don’t worry if you’ve already bought a leash — having a backup for your home or car is always a smart idea.

The American River Choke Free harness is another popular choice. From durability to reflective stitching, Doggie Design left no stone unturned on this one! Here’s some other awesome features:

  • Patented trachea-safe design
  • Strength tested up to 386 pounds
  • Safe to use as a seat belt harness

It’s strong, it’s comfortable, and it’s easy to put on your dog. There’s a huge variety of colors and sizes, too!

Look, I was born a worry-wart. I fret about more things than most people I know. I can’t predict everything that’s going to happen, but I can make sure I’m taking the best possible steps to keep my dog safe.

With that said, I’m looking forward to afternoon strolls with my new girl!

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