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    How to Put on a Dog Harness

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    You may already know that dog harnesses are another option for walking your dog besides just a collar and leash, but how can you use a harness if you don’t have one that properly fits? 

    Types of dog harnesses

    There are three main types of dog harnesses:

    Front-clip harness: A front-clip harness positions the D-ring—where the leash connects to the harness—on the dog’s chest. This type of dog harness is most useful for a dog that pulls because the attachment point at the front discourages the dog’s natural pull instinct. Front-clip harnesses are usually strap style, not vest style. 

    Back-clip harness: This type of harness is basically the same as a front-clip harness but the D-ring is at the dog’s back. This type of harness comes in both strap and vest style. (Straps are more likely to chafe, but they keep your dog cooler in hot weather. Vests reduce chafing and can make skittish dogs feel more secure, but they are heavier and hold in more heat.) 

    Dual-clip harness: This is basically a combination of the first two types of harnesses and comes with one D-ring at the dog’s chest and another on its back. Dual-clip harnesses come in both strap and vest style.

    Although they’re not technically harnesses, it’s important to mention head halters since they can also help you walk your dog if you have an extreme puller. Basically, a head halter allows you to exert the most control over your dog with the least amount of force, and it’s great for small people with big dogs. Be careful, though, because out-of-control dogs may hurt their necks when they lunge if you’re using a head halter. Additionally, a head halter may make taking the dog to the vet easier. A note: head halters are not muzzles; your dog can still drink water, eat treats, bark, and bite. (If your dog has aggression problems, a head harness won’t be enough to stop it from attacking another dog or a human or anything else.) 

    For a large dog who pulls on a leash, use a head halter and your choice of harness as well. Do not use a leash attached only to a collar, no matter what kind of collar your dog has. (There are several kinds of collars.) Though collars are the traditional go-to for many people with dogs, a tightening collar can damage the trachea (throat area).

    The most popular type of collar is the Martingale collar, which has a small loop in it that tightens when your dog pulls. When that happens, the collar is less likely to come off as it might with a regular flat collar, and the pressure exerted by the collar discourages pulling. 

    Another type of collar is the prong collar, also known as a pinch collar. This type of collar is lined with triangular points or metal barbs—that is, prongs—that pinch your dog when the collar tightens. During walks, you may decide to use a prong collar, but be aware that this type of collar is controversial because they can hurt the dog if not used properly. 

    A dog leash, as the name implies, is a loose leash with a holding loop at one end for you to grasp and a clip at the other end to attach to a harness, collar, or head halter. 

    How to measure your dog for a properly-fit harness

    In order to get a comfortable fit, measure your dog around the neck and around the torso. 

    Step one: place a measuring tape around your dog’s neck where you will put the collar, whether that be a regular flat collar, a Martingale collar, or a prong collar. Make sure to reach all the way around your dog’s neck to make sure the tape is snug but with a little slack. 

    Step two: place the measuring tape around the dog’s chest right below its shoulder blades. Adjust the collar of your dog’s harness to fit snugly. Check for the correct fit based on your dog’s weight and girth. A dog being pulled by their neck, chest strap, or head halter can be uncomfortable, so make sure you adjust according to the size you need.

    Step three: Add two to three inches to the measuring tape to make sure your dog’s collar is snugly in place. If you can feel less than two inches from your dog’s neck, then the collar or harness is too tight. To get a more accurate fit, use a tape measure that is wide enough for your dog’s chest to be snug.

    Most dogs do well in a Martingale collar with a plastic buckle and D-ring, a front-clip or back-clip harness, and of course a leash.

    Note the girth strap on your dog’s harness. The girth strap is also referred to as a retainer. There is one side of the strap that is attached to your dog’s leash. If your dog is pulling on the leash, a retainer should come off when the dog pulls, but not so bad that it comes out of your hands completely.

    Steps to putting the harness on your dog

    If you think the dog’s backstrap is too loose, try it out with a girth strap—the one that is typically found behind the shoulders of the dog.

    Depending on what kind of harness you’ve purchased, it may seem difficult to put on your dog, but don’t worry! The collar and leash will strap underneath your dog’s girth and sling across its chest. There is a stitched loop for the leash. Pull the harness underneath the chest strap (it should sit higher up on your dog’s chest) and have the collar and leash attached to the harness.

    As mentioned earlier, the vest harness is a standard dog harness along with a dog collar. The head halter that goes behind the dog’s nose is used for a dog owner to put the leash on. A standard harness is better for a small dog but is not recommended for a puppy because it will put pressure around your growing dog’s neck and chest and will not save your dog’s neck from whiplash.

    An easy walk front-clip harness is designed for a dog owner to put the leash on and attach to the dog’s body. There is a loop underneath the dog’s chest where a leash is attached so the dog pulling on the leash is naturally discouraged. The loop can be used to tighten or loosen a leash if needed. When the leash is tightened, it will not drag against your dog’s chest. These may become tangled when you take your dog on walks because the loose leash will hang down in front of the dog, but it can help teach the dog to “walk in line” (with no pulling)—a step forward if you pull on the leash to get your dog’s attention.

    In addition to vest-style harnesses, there are chest strap harnesses that come in front-clip, back-clip, and dual-clip. This type of dog harness has a buckle or belly strap that goes around your dog’s chest behind their belly.

    Similar to the vest harness, a chest strap harness goes over your dog’s head and back and anchors under their belly. Some are more comfortable for puppies, and some are just more comfortable for dogs in general. (Some owners prefer that you can see the strap through, and then attach a Velcro closure the way they would a leash.) 

    Safety tips for dog harnesses and harness fitting

    Dog owners should always make sure their dogs are in the right harness. Training dogs to walk on a loose leash attached to a collar or girth strap chest harness should be done by using a gentle lead and using the leash to guide your dog and keep your dog safe. This not only applies to walking your dog but also when taking your dog with you in the car. Focus on using a guide that is reasonable for your dog and that your dog can easily grasp.

    A harness can help give you an advantage when walking a large dog. Many owners of small dogs find it hard to find a walking harness that fits their smaller dog; if you do find a walking harness the right size for your dog, it is best to buy as soon as possible! You want a walking harness with a semi-circular design so that the harness is non-restrictive around your dog’s body; order one that is consistently adjustable so that it does not clip right from your dog’s chin. Ideally, you should try a walking harness designed for small dogs with an attaching leash for an easy walk harness.

    Teach your dog commands like “heel” and “down” so that it doesn’t need the harness as often. If you are unsure about which types of dog harnesses are best for your dog, don’t hesitate to ask your vet.

    Another type of harness you may encounter is the car seat harness, which is like a seat belt for your dog. Not all dogs are suited for every sort of dog seat belt; choose a big and thick type to make sure your little doggy friend stays safe in your super fun vehicle. Dogs should be used to wearing a dog car harness; use a loose leash connected by a strap and allow the dog’s head to adjust to the harness for safety.

    If you have a young dog—say, a year old or less—you may need a special harness for that too. For a puppy harness, pick a pull dog harness or a harness that attaches to a normal collar. A simple backstrap around your puppy’s neck will not matter: a leash that is attached to a collar will. First, turn your dog’s head in a straight line. Girth strap chest harnesses are standard for puppies, and they are often used with training dogs generally.

    For an older dog, a car harness designed to help balance your dog’s weight is a good idea. The ideal harness works like a buggy. First, attach the vest or strap harness along your dog’s girth. Then, adjust the straps around the dog’s neck. Finally, clip the leash to the D-ring, and you’ve got a dog harness with a no-pull collar.

    To be safe while using a collar, choose a collar with a leash attachment, adjusting the size of the collar to fit your dog’s neck. A choke chain is a great hazard for dogs both large and small and should be used only by professional dog trainers. To help your dog be safer, use a collar with a reflective strip when you are driving, walking with your dog at night, or while walking your dog off the leash.

    When using a harness of any kind, remember that your dog’s health and safety are most important; use a combination of plastic buckle collars and strap or vest harnesses to assist in creating a positive reaction for your dog. 

    Not every harness or collar is right for every dog, so learn what works best for your dog and use that. Some dogs (especially smaller or more anxious dogs) do well in vest style harnesses, but if your dog pulls, it’s recommended that you use a front-clip or dual-clip harness, which may only come in girth-strap style. If you have an extreme puller, try a head halter until you can train the dog to heel, and then you can move to another kind of harness.

    At Tractor Supply, we are dedicated to making your life easier for you & your pets. TSC offers a variety of harnesses, collars and leash options. You’re sure to find the right match for your furry friend. Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, treats, flea & tick preventatives, training pads, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.