How To Fit A Harness For Your Dog

The fit of a harness is really important, because a poorly fitted harness can be as problematic as a collar, or worse.

Like a pair of shoes, the fit of a harness must be right for the safety and security of your dog! But unlike a pair of shoes that might pinch and rub and give you blisters, a poorly fitted harness? Could result in chaffing, punching, sure, but also an escaped dog.

Yet, I see it a lot! Where there’s a great big, gaping chest strap, or a pinch under the arms. And so, I feel like it’s time we had a quick lesson in appropriately fitting a harness for our dogs!

What Is A Harness?

A harness is a containment device created for dogs to allow them to be in control in public places without compromising their comfort or safety – usually fitted around the chest. They are a preferred alternative to a collar as a collar can impose and impact upon their trachea!

Why Do Dogs Wear A Harness?

A harness is a safer alternative to a collar, it means that we can walk any dog without worrying about impacting on their trachea! They also tend to be harder to slip out of than a regular collar when fitted correctly.

All in all? A well-fitted harness is simply much safer.

Rebarkable Indie Ruffwear
This is one of my favourite harnesses, the Ruffwear Front Range harness – I find it works really well for most dogs.

What Type Of Harness Should I Use?

It’s really important that we pick an appropriate shape, because some harnesses (like the front strap harness) can actually cause problems and limit your dogs natural stride – which is something that we would be best avoiding.

I will always recommend a harness with a Y-shape at the front (see below!), as these are the safest option available

There’s also the possibility of adding in a tummy strap! The tummy strap is something that extends the length of the harness, adding in an extra layer of security, and are almost impossible to slip… But I’ll get to that!

It’s also good to note that there is also a difference in the y-shaped harnesses, some are made for certain dog-sports like joring or canicross, you’ll notice that these tend to be a longer body, with a more even spread of pressure? This enables pulling a great deal more than a normal every day walking harness.

Now before we get into the actual fit, I do want to answer this really quickly…

Do Harnesses Make Dogs Pull?

This is a question I hear a lot. Often followed by accusations that “Huskies use harnesses to pull sleds” and whilst this is true It’s also … not really the same thing? The shapes are incredibly different because they’re built for different purposes.

Pulling harnesses (like those used by huskies) do have the same goal of evening pressure across your dogs body – but an everyday sort of harness doesn’t do this to the same amount as a mushing, joring or canicross harness.

Pulling is something dogs do naturally, and it’s something you can overcome if you put in the work and train them. If you need help on that? Head over to How To Stop Your Dog Pulling On A Leash – The Ultimate Tried and Tested 7 Step Solution

When To Use A Harness

Car Rides (as appropriate)

When Not To Use A Harness

*please note, dog sports require different harnesses sometimes! So please check with your instructor for this!

6 Ways To Check If Your Dogs Harness Fits Correctly

the correct fit for a y-shaped dog harness

Harness Should Be Y-shaped

The shape of this is really important, the y-shape at the front there? Is something that allows your dogs shoulders the full range of motion. Any other option will restrict motion.

Two fingers should fit at the neck, spine and chest/girth.

To ensure that the harness is neither too tight, or too loose, it’s a good idea to see if you can fit two fingers in under the ‘tightest’ parts, aka where the girth meets the spine and the chest bone, and where the ‘collar’ strap meets the neck and the chest.

Note: The same can be said for a tummy strap!

If you’ve elected for a longer line harness (aka a harness with a tummy strap) then it’s also good to do the two-finger test on the tummy too! Sometimes checking that they can sit is also really useful.

What Is The Front Point (Chest Attachment) Used For?

You’ll see on the top image, that there’s a ‘front point’ labelled – it’s an attachment point for a leash! It’s something I love to take advantage of when you’re looking at training a dog who pulls.

front strap harnesses like this for your dog limit your dogs movement and can create health issues

No “Front strap” harnesses

This harness disables the full range of motion on your dogs shoulders, which can result in not only difficult moving, but potentially in joint damage.

Shouldn’t cut in under the arms

See the way this harness tucks too tight under the arms? this harness is too small for the dog, usually because the back strap is too short or the chest strap is. Either way? This is going to be an uncomfortable experience for your dog.

a harness that's too small will pinch under the arms, and isn't a good fit.
a sagging chest strap is not a good thing to indicate a proper fit on a harness.

Chest Shouldn’t Sag

The sag on this is not good, it means the harness doesn’t fit properly, and that sage can mean that your dog can escape from the harness too… which is definitely not a good thing. It’s also a trip risk.

Other Harness Questions

Harnesses Are A Good Thing

I’ve been working with harnessed dogs for a long, long time, because a properly fitted harness is the safest option for your dog, the most comfortable, and the easiest for your dog to complete their work without experiencing any aversion keeping your training smart and keeping your dog a happy, relaxed and optimistic dog whilst you train!

Want to know my favourite dog harnesses? Go check out Best Dog Harnesses 2022! Where you can find loads of product reviews and valuable information about all the harnesses I’ve tried.

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.

Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!