Harness – Help or Hindrance

Harness; help or hindrance?

Is a harness a good idea for your dog or does it cause problems?

Attaching a lead to a puppy collar often causes owners to decide on a harness for their young, new addition to the family. A good harness is better than a collar for a growing dog. This is because the force on a dogs collar is one sided when the lead is attached and if your puppy pulls on the lead the force on their young neck is multiplied. In the neck is the windpipe (trachea), cervical vertebra and spinal cord. In a young dog the muscles aren’t developed and the neck is vulnerable. You can read more about puppy development in my puppy blog.

A harness doesn’t mean you don’t have to train your dog to walk nicely on the lead! It does mean the lead is attached to a much stronger part of your puppies body and the forces are more symmetrical. This reduces the risk of damage.

Some harnesses have a front attachment point as well as a back attachment point. This can help spread the forces if you have a double ended lead.

Hudson’s puppy harness shows how a Y shaped harness allows the front leg muscles in the chest to move very easily.

So what makes a good or bad harness?

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. There is no brand of harness which fits every single breed of dog. I am also not going to be negative about specific brands. Instead I’m going to explain what I look for in a harness.

This is a good harness for Hudson. The red line shows roughly where the bones in his front leg are. The ‘arm holes’ are nice and wide and allow free movement of his shoulder blade (scapula) which is the top leg bone. The chest piece allows his front legs to move forward quite easily when he’s running. I would like the chest piece to be smaller but he doesn’t like the harnesses with narrower straps around his chest.

Macs harness

The green lines show where Macs front leg bones are. Mac has a slightly longer back than Hudson so I wanted a harness that had a longer back piece so the straps are well behind his front legs.

What should I avoid?

The scapula should move from side to side like a windscreen wiper when the dog runs. Therefore, if the harness covers the scapula it will stop the scapula moving while the dog is running. 
The harness should avoid the front leg muscles that go across the chest in front of the forelimbs. This is because straps over the chest muscles stop the legs reaching forward and unbalances the dog.

If you would like to know more about how your dog moves then Professor Martin Fischer is the person to listen to.

There are many good brands of harness, I have shown three different brands here. The best way to find the right one for your dog is to take them to the pet shop or stand at a dog show and try the harnesses on. Then ask yourself:

  1. Is there lots of room around my dogs shoulder blade?
  2. Is there anything stopping my dogs front legs moving forward?
  3. Does the harness stop near the tail end of my dogs ribcage?

There are some brands which sell online and they are very good at helping you find the right fit and will exchange the harness if you’re not 100% happy with the fit.