How to fit a dog harness – all you need to know

How to fit a dog harness – all you need to know - PracticalPaw.comWith the overwhelming amount of equipment available for our canine companions, it can be challenging to choose one piece over the other. However, a dog harness is an investment that is well worth making. In fact, it’s one of the most critical pieces of equipment you will buy, and getting the fit right is essential. Let’s explore how to fit a dog harness and why you should choose one for your dog.

Historically dogs got a collar and lead, which was the total sum of a dog owner’s walking equipment. However, as our interest and knowledge of dogs have increased, it has led to innovations in training and equipment. A walking harness for your dog is one of them, designed to make our daily walks not only enjoyable and comfortable for us but also for our dogs.

Why use a dog harness?

Even if it’s occasionally or gently, a dog that pulls in its collar experiences an unpleasant pressure on its neck. What’s more, it can affect breathing and cause physical damage to the neck and spine. If you place your hand on the front of your throat and gently add pressure, you may get an idea of what your dog feels any time he pulls, or you pull your dog.

Harnesses distribute pressure across a much larger area, making it more comfortable for your dog.  Additionally, any force that your dog does experience will be in a much less sensitive area than his neck. Using a harness instead of a collar to walk your dog can have an immediate effect, enabling your dog to feel more relaxed and, in turn, less likely to pull.

Breeds with short muzzles or are known for having breathing difficulties, such as pugs and bulldogs, will also benefit from a harness leaving their airways as clear and unrestricted as possible.

Types of dog harness

There are several types of harnesses available, and depending on your preference and your dogs, there will almost certainly be one to suit you both. Although it can be confusing, most harnesses fall into two common types; the step-in harness and the overhead harness.

Step-in harness

As the name suggests, your dog steps into the harness. Straps fit around the top and bottom of the front legs.  The clips are pulled up and over the shoulders and usually fasten with plastic buckles.

In the following image from Kurgo, you can see how to adjust and fit the step-in harness:

how to fit a step-in harness

 Overhead harnesses

An overhead harness may have various adjustable straps, including the ones that fit around your dog’s neck. The principle is the same, pull the harness over your dog’s head and fasten the belly straps to the shoulder straps.

The instructions below come courtesy of Kurgo:

how to fit an overhead harness for dogs

Things to consider when choosing a harness

As harnesses vary considerably, here are some pointers on looking for when choosing one for your dog.


Fabric is an important consideration. Is the type and quality of the fabric going to be robust enough for your dog? Does your dog like to spend time in the water? Then a quick-dry fabric might be best.

Does it need to be padded or fleeced-lined to protect your dog? Take some time to look at the different types of fabric available; it could make all the difference between your dog being happy in his harness or not.


Look at the quality of the stitching, especially where the fabric is joined together, around the clips, and at the D or O ring. A harness will only keep your dog secure if it stays in one piece.

Length of straps

As dogs vary so much in shape and size, look at the length of the straps and points of adjustability. For an overhead harness, the depth of the neck section is also crucial.

Dogs with deep chests tend to be more challenging to fit well for a harness, so adjustable straps are convenient.

D or O ring position

Harnesses come with either a D or O-shaped ring positioned on the top of the harness, usually just behind the shoulder blades or on the front of the harness in the middle of the chest. Ensure that they are stitched securely and that they are in the center of the straps.

How to measure your dog

The two most used measurements are the girth and chest. Use a cloth tape measure to ensure the correct size harness.

  • Girth; Measure around your dog’s body just behind the front legs. It should be the widest part of your dog’s chest.
  • Chest; Measure around your dog’s neck. Start at the top of the breastbone and all the way around.

Even though these two measurements are common, there is no standard sizing guide for harnesses. If your dog is a large size in one type of harness, it does not necessarily mean that he will be large in any other kind.

How to measure your dog

Why a proper fit is important

Just like having badly fitting clothes, a poorly fitted harness can be very uncomfortable for your dog. Not only can it cause rubbing and soreness, especially under the armpits, but it can also affect how your dog moves.

If the harness is too tight, it can restrict your dog’s natural motion and prevent him from using his muscles correctly causes undue stress on bones and joints. The number one issue of having a poorly fitting harness is that your dog can get out of it if he pulls.

How should a dog harness fit?

When fitting your dog for the harness, begin with all the straps loose. Adjust the straps evenly and aim to get a harness that feels snug but not tight. You should be able to get two fingers between your dog and the harness, just like fitting a standard collar.

Try moving the harness from side to side; it should not move much, and most importantly, make sure that it is tight enough that your dog can’t back out of it.

Signs of a poor fit

If you notice any of the following, then your dog’s harness may not be fitted correctly;

  • Sore armpits or chest
  • Bare patches or difference in the fur where the straps sit
  • The back piece of the harness rotating or moving from side to side
  • A change in gait or the way your pet moves

How to fit a dog harness – Recommendations

There are many advantages of using a harness for both you and especially for your dog. With so many great ones to choose from, it can be overwhelming.

Stick to the basics. Is it easier for you to use an overhead harness, or would you prefer to try one of the many step in harnesses? Fabric type, size, and leash fastenings should be considered based on your dog’s size and whether they pull or not.

Do shop around. Many stores will be able to help you choose the right size harness, and many more will let you bring your dog in to get fitted. But if you are buying on the internet, make sure you read the measuring instructions carefully.

Most harnesses have a size guide based on your dog’s breed, but if you have a mixed breed, this is more difficult. Finally, if your dog has never worn a harness before, do take time to get them used to it. Leave it on for a few minutes the first time you fit it and then build up in time over a few days so that they are entirely comfortable wearing it.

Although a dog harness won’t automatically stop your dog from pulling, it will protect your dog from unnecessary damage, so well worth the investment.

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