8 Best Dog Harnesses For When Collars Don’t Cut It
Experts pick the best harnesses for every kind of dog — from flat-faced breeds to tiny teacups to escape artists.
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As all dog parents know — or quickly find out — there are certain life hacks that become essential to raising your pup. Sometimes, those life hacks are simple products that become so important to you and your pet that you latch on to them like a toddler with a stuffed animal.
This is especially true when you’re on a walk together and exposed to all of the dangers of the outside world: loud noises and other stimuli, cars zooming past, and — our personal favorite — passersby who don’t respect your pup’s boundaries. That’s where a harness comes in handy; it can give you more control over your pup’s behavior while releasing them from the restriction of many traditional collars.
There’s a lot to consider before investing in one, though. Veterinarian and The Wildest Collective member Dr. John Iovino advises looking for a first-time harness by “paying attention to size — with younger dogs especially, getting something adjustable, something they can grow into. From there, getting something that’s durable and sturdy.”
In terms of material, Annie Grossman, owner and co-founder of School For The Dogs, recommends a harness with “velvet-lined underarm straps, which can reduce chafing.”
With size, material, and security all at the top of the priority list, finding a solid harness is rapidly becoming a bit more of a Goldilocks scenario. Thankfully, we’ve asked the professionals what every dog owner should be looking for in a harness. Below, the eight harnesses that made the cut — broken down by our experts’ criteria.
Safety and Fit
While it goes without saying that the best harness for a five-pound Terrier is likely not the best one for their Great Pyrenees counterpart, that doesn’t mean that the way you fit a harness to your pup isn’t worth examining. Just as you wouldn’t buy yourself a pair of shoes two sizes too big, you wouldn’t buy your dog a harness that hangs off them like a poorly tailored jacket (your veterinarian will also tell you about the dangers of that).
Taking into account your dog’s potential for growth (are they in puppyhood or adulthood?), their temperament (are they anxious for attention or aloof?), and their nature (are they skittish or calm?) is the most foolproof way to ensure that their harness is correctly fitted.
Dr. Iovino recommends that “making sure that [the harness] is pretty snug. If it’s too loose, dogs can get spooked, and then they’re out of their collar or their harness, so it’s really important to make sure that it’s not too loose.”
Alternatively, he shares that many dogs have been using the same harness or collar since they were first brought home. “I’ve had a few dogs grow into their harnesses, or even their collars, and clients don’t realize, and you go to feel it, and it’s so tight. They grow fast, so it’s something to be aware of.”
Finding a happy medium between the control of a harness that fits snuggly and the comfort of a looser fit is something that can easily be established by the good old-fashioned two-finger test. Dr. Iovino instructs: “You still want to be able to fit two fingers between all the areas that the harness is contacting.”
Meanwhile, Grossman warns against using harnesses that aren’t fitted properly: “A harness should be snug but not tight. You want to be able to comfortable put a couple fingers between the harness and your dog when it’s on.” Having a properly fitted harness will help prevent dogs from injury and removes the potential of escape.
Regardless of your and your pup’s levels of activity, having a harness that your dog can wear without wearing it down is paramount. A harness that’s machine washable or particularly sturdy — holding up to tugging, biting, and handling — is a major plus. Considering that this harness will get as much, if not more, use than that old toy at the bottom of your dog’s bin, it’s not one to scrimp on.
“Honestly, there is no size that fits all. It all depends on the dog or the puppy. It all depends on the size and the breed and if they're pulling on a harness or the leash or if they’re walking nicely,” she says.
Front vs. Back Leash Attachment
Where your dog’s leash clips on their harness is mostly a matter of personal preference, but the options each have distinct advantages and disadvantages. For example, a front clip effectively allows you to lead stubborn, walk-resistant dogs forward, but it’s notably a terrible idea for small dogs who are lower to the ground and will cause the leash to drag.
Dr. Iovino recommends looking for a harness with a back attachment. “It’s just more practical when they walk and sniff, especially if you have a short dog. It’s a lot easier to keep the leash above ground and just a little bit of tension when it’s hooked on the back than the front,” he says.
Murri also makes a case for when a dual-clip harness may be beneficial: “My favorite harness, and the one that I use with my dog, is the Freedom harness. I like the harness because it has two points of attachment. It has one on the chest and one in the back. The one in the back has a martingale on it, which has a little loop that gets tighter every time the dog pulls so it makes it harder for the dog to slip out of it.”
Over the Head vs. Step-In
Getting your dog in their harness shouldn’t be complicated, and if it feels like you’re untangling a necklace, there’s a good chance it’s not the most streamlined design. While the choice is entirely yours, many veterinarians recommend introducing your dog to the concept of a harness before you begin your hunt for the one.
“I would just expose the dog to a normal basic harness at first,” advises Dr. Iovino. “My dog just kind of knows now. She feels the collar part go over her head and instantly lifts her leg. If you just do that repetition on a basic harness, getting it on and off should be just as easy.”
From there, you can choose the harness to your and your pup’s liking — whether that be one that is placed over their head, clips on after being slipped on the legs, or snapped and Velcroed on the chest.
While Murri doesn’t have a preference toward any particular method, she advises us on the dangers of step-in harnesses. “I mean the easiest one obviously is the step-in harness, but the problem with that is if you get a fearful dog and the dog gets scared of something they start pulling away, they can slip out of that harness really easily,” she warns. ”Before you even realize, the dog is going to be gone.”
Best Escape-Proof Option
Best No-Pull Design
Best Comfort Fit
Best Personalized Harness
Best Calming Harness
Best Fashion-Forward Harness
Best Sustainable Choice
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Avery is an editor at The Wildest. She has written for numerous publications, including Refinery29, BuzzFeed, and V Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her fiancé and cat, Chicken, and has high hopes that one of them will let her adopt a dog.