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How to use a harness on a dog: tips and tricks for the best walks ever

how to use a harness on a dog
(Image credit: Getty Images)

So, you want to learn how to use a harness on a dog. Maybe you just adopted a puppy, or have decided your long-standing furbaby could do with some regular exercise using the best dog harness that you bought them. Well, this article is here to help you decide whether a collar or a harness is a better fit, and if the latter works for you, it'll also help you figure out how to use it.

Dog harnesses can be incredibly effective for a number of reasons, chiefly they can alleviate the strain on your dog's neck by spreading pressure across their chest and back, and can help teach them how to walk better.

From how to measure for a dog harness to how to put it on, this article will walk you through how to use a harness on a dog. You'll be an expert in no time. 

How to pick between harness or collar for your dog

While we've got a great guide called harness vs. collar, we can give you a brief idea of how to choose between the two here. 

First, decide what you need the harness or collar for - is it just to keep your dog's ID tags in one spot, or will be attached to a leash? Does your dog pull when you walk them? If yes, you'll likely need a harness. Smaller dogs do better with harnesses as well, as it better distributes pressure across their chest and shoulders. For more details on how to make the decision, head to the link above. 

How to use a harness on a dog

1. Measure your dog to determine the best harness size

We detail in a link above how to measure a dog for a harness, but here are some tips. Follow these loose guidelines below for an idea of what size best fits different breeds, but remember that these are general guidelines. You may need to adjust the harness for your dog, or get a different one entirely. Harnesses usually require that you measure around the chest, with some also requiring measurements around the neck or shoulders as well. 

Harness SizeChest MeasurementWeightSample Breeds
XX-Small8-10”Less than 5 lbsChihuahua; Teacup Yorkshire Terrier
X-Small10-15”5-10 lbsDachshund; Maltese Toy Poodle
Small15-22”10-25 lbsCavalier King Charles; Miniature Schnauzer; Pekingese
Medium20-30”24-50 lbsBeagle; Cocker Spaniel; Corgi
Large25-40”40-70 lbsBasset Hound; Dalmatian; Pit Bull
X-Large31-41”Greater than 70 lbsGerman Shepherd; Great Dane Rottweiler

2. Get your dog used to the harness

After picking out the right harness, let your dog get used to it before trying to put it on. Give them a chance to smell it and put some of the best dog treats on it to encourage them. Fasten and unfasten the harness so they get used to the sound, and make sure to praise and offer treats during this process. You may want to try and put the harness on for a bit in the house before venturing outside, giving them ample opportunity to get used to it. 

3. Put on the harness

There are different ways to put on a dog harness that are dependent upon what kind of harness you end up purchasing. A standard dog harness, which has a loop that goes around the ribs and another around the neck, is easies to put on when standing or sitting behind your dog. Slip it over their head, make sure the D-ring (which is where you clip the leash) is positioned on their back, and slip their legs through the leg holes in the harness. Then buckle. 

If you have a step-in dog harness, you'll need to lay the harness flat on the ground so that the two triangles that make up the harness' shape are clearly visible. Hold your dog gently from behind and place their two front feet into the two triangles, then clip them together over your dog's back. 

If you have a front-clip dog harness, which has the leash clip in the front to further  discourage pulling, you may have one that is the exact same design as a standard harness, just with a D-ring in front. IF you have a slightly different front-clip harness, it may have a single loop that goes around your dog's ribs with a single strap that goes across the chest. There are no separate sections for the dog's legs with this design. 

If you have this type of front-clip harness, it's easies to kneel to one side of your dog, put the loop over their head, reach under their belly, and clip the belly strap. 

4. Practice inside

Get your dog or puppy used to their harness with a few little walks inside first. Clip the leash on and walk with them in a room that has little to no distractions, praising them when they walk well. You can even clip the leash on them and call them to you, offering treats when they successfully make it over. A harness and leash may be overwhelming, especially for a puppy, so you want to take it slow. 

5. Venture outside 

If you feel like your dog is comfortable and ready to take their new harness for a spin, ensure their harness is on right, load up with treats, and head out. Be patient as there are tons of distractions outside that can make this a tough experience for your dog, or can make them behave a little less than stellar at first. Keep the walks brief at first, and praise and reward often. 

In no time you'll be an expert on how to use a harness on a dog.