Does My Dog Need a Harness?

If you’re thinking a regular collar isn’t the right choice for your dog, a harness might be the way to go.

With so many leashes, collars, and harnesses crowding the shelves at your local pet retailer, how do you know which one is right for your pup? Generally at a higher price point, it might be difficult to commit to a harness if you’re not totally sure it’ll work for your dog. Here are a few questions to help you choose which walking aid is the best bet for your dog.

What is your goal?

Are you looking for a cute matching leash-and-collar set that reflects your style? Or are you looking for a tool to keep your dog from pulling you all over town? All dogs need a collar with their ID tags, of course, but going beyond that and adding a harness might not be necessary for all dogs. If your walks are typically constrained to city sidewalks and your dog walks nicely on leash, the added durability of a harness might not be necessary. If you hit the trails, though, a harness can help you give your dog a boost as needed on rough terrain. However, if your dog walks well, you tend to stick on flat surfaces, and your pup doesn’t need additional support (more on that below), you can probably go with a simple leash and collar.

Does your dog have special needs?

Brachycephalic dogs—those dogs with short, flat, or pushed-in faces, like pugs and boxers—are prone to breathing problems and even tracheal collapse. Unlike a traditional collar, a harness takes the pressure off the throat, which is safer for those breeds. Dogs who pull and lunge are also at risk for injury with a traditional collar, and a harness takes the strain off the neck for those dogs. Dogs with leg or back injuries and aging dogs could benefit from a harness, too, especially those with a handle on the back so that the owner can step in and assist as needed. Dogs with injuries, arthritic dogs, and three-legged dogs often need help climbing in and out of vehicles or up and down stairs; a harness allows the owner to help their pup navigate.

Finally, are you facing a training issue that can be solved regardless of the tool?

Oftentimes, exasperated dog parents turn to tools like harnesses because their dog’s walking is out of control. While the right equipment can help, it’s important to remember that a harness won’t train your dog for you. If your dog is lunging at the end of his leash or pulling you down the street, before you invest in new tools or equipment, call a science-based positive trainer. Sure, a harness might be her first recommendation, but in the long-term, you need to teach your dog to walk nicely on leash regardless of the tool you’re using.

There’s no easy yes or no answer when determining which tool is the best for your dog. However, once you’ve considered your options and your dog’s needs, head to your local pet retailer and try several options on your dog. The store’s salespeople should be able to help you find the right style and fit to meet your goals.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

Gadgets and Gizmos Sure to Wow Tech-Geek Dog Companions
The Basics Every Pet Parent Should Know About Heat Stroke In Dogs