If you’ve ever tried to guide a zigzagging puppy’s leash or walk a dog that’s much stronger than you, you know that a simple leash and collar are sometimes not enough. For these situations, and many more, a harness can help.
Safety is, of course, the No. 1 reason to add a harness to the mix. But your dog’s comfort and education (obedience training) are a close second. Of course, every dog is different, and depending on personality, body type, and specific walking routines, each will need something different. “The fit is the most important [factor],” says Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM, of Pure Paws Veterinary in Brooklyn. “It has to be snug fitting so they can’t get out of it, of good quality so it doesn’t break, and also comfortable.” We talked to professional dog walkers, trainers, and more than one Labradoodle-owning veterinarian to find out which harnesses are the best for every type of dog.
Best overall dog harness
Your new harness should also be easy to put on. Jason Kraut, owner of Jason the Dog Walker & Co., says, “It’s a big deal for us. We’re hustling around picking up dogs all day trying to get them out, and a harness can make a real difference. If you make a mistake in getting your dog the wrong harness, the dog walker suffers.” If you can’t take your pet to try one on, or if you’re buying online, go for one that’s fully adjustable. Kraut suggests looking for multiple adjustment points for a good fit and leash clips (the metal ring you clip a leash to) in both the front and the back. “A front-clip harness is great for a big dog. However, for a small dog, a front-clip harness is a terrible idea, because you’ll constantly get the leash tangled underneath them. So with a little dog, you want to have the leash clip on the back so that the leash is not dangling in front of it. I would suggest getting a harness that can clip in the front and the back — that way you have options.”
Best overall harness with two-ended leash
Nelli Chowdhury, the founder and owner of Brooklyn Tails & Trails, is also a fan of harnesses with multiple clips. “It’s important when you buy a harness to get one with multiple loops that go in front of the chest and in back of the chest, because once you clip to the front of the chest, there’s no way they will be able to pull. Dogs lead with their nose and chest, so if you pull the leash, they will go the direction you want them to. That has saved a lot of our walkers’ arms.” She also suggests getting a leash with two ends for extra security. “If your dog is a real squirmer or Houdini, we suggest using a leash that has a double end, so one end clips to the front of the harness and the other clips in the back between the shoulders. We didn’t have that five years ago when we started the business, and now we do. It’s amazing.”
Best harness for small dogs
Both Liff and Chowdhury recommend the Puppia harness for little dogs. “We love the Puppia brand. It’s soft, mesh, lightweight, and very comfortable for small dogs,” says Chowdhury. “They’re easy to clean for dogs who are very low to the ground and get dirty easily. If you’re having a muddy winter or whatever it is, you can just pop it in the laundry.” For extra safety, Chowdhury recommends connecting harnesses and collars. “When we use a Puppia on a small or skittish dog or rescues who are scared of truck noises or things like that, we’ll actually use both a harness and a collar. We clip them both together, so if they come out of the harness, there’s a backup.”
Best harness for really small dogs
If your dog is in the toy or teacup category, this harness, which is actually designed for cats, is a good option. The straps are soft and thin so they don’t feel bulky or pinch tender armpits. Unlike a lot of dog harnesses, it has multiple points of adjustment — on the sides and around the neck and chest — creating a more customized fit. The harness tightens slightly as the dog (or cat) pulls, which adds a layer of security and helps with training. Plus it comes with a bungee-style leash that absorbs any shock caused when your pup suddenly decides to bark at pit bulls in the park.
Best harness for big dogs
“For big dogs, in particular, we like to use something that has a little bit of reflective detailing,” says Chowdhury, who recommends the K9 Explorer dog harness. “They’re good for German shepherds or boxers, that type of dog. It’s padded, and there’s a reflective strap, which is just in case you’re in low light or walking your dog at night. It has really thick straps because these dogs have lots of muscle and are pretty big.”
Best harness for flat-faced dogs
Kraut, Chowdhury, and Liff stressed the importance of a harness that doesn’t restrict the neck and chest in flat-faced dogs, whose uniquely shaped faces often make it difficult to breathe. “Pugs and Boston terriers have flat faces, so they need a harness that will protect their necks from pressure.” This one is made specifically for that purpose.
Best harness for hiking and off-leash training
Ben Cawley, director of admissions and graduate relations at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, has been a trainer for over 20 years and currently works with service dogs. “I really like the Ruffwear Front Range harness for hiking-type activities, when you want your dog to have fun and be out in front of you. They have different connection points on the harness on the front and the back and the center, so you can even have them drag the leash and you can easily get control, if necessary. It’s also something trainers will use to teach about off-leash manners.”
Best harness for dogs who pull
Chowdhury uses the Easy Walk harness on all four of her own dogs who have a tendency to pull. “I have four dogs, and we use the Easy Walk harness. It’s pretty affordable, it’s on Amazon Prime, and it’s good because my dogs pull a lot. They’re very curious, and they want to eat and smell a lot of things,” says Chowdhury. But it’s also a favorite among dog walkers because it’s easy and quick to get on. Kraut explains, “The reason I like the Easy Walk harness is that it’s super-easy to put on, and no matter which way you attach it, it works. There are two main ways to put a harness on a dog. You either put it on over the dog’s head and it attaches under their belly or there are some that go on from underneath. So the dog has to step into it, and you clip it on top of them. Dog walkers hate those harnesses because they fight gravity, and when a dog is super-excited to see you and can’t sit still, it can take five to ten minutes to get on. Whereas with a harness that works with gravity and goes on over the dog’s head, the dog just pushes itself into the harness and then you can hold the dog and clip it underneath.” The Easy Walk harness from PetSafe was also recommended by Mika Ito, the director of animal care at New York–based shelter Animal Haven in our article about adopting a rescue dog.
Best harness for dogs who lunge or eat off the ground
Kraut, Cawley, and veterinarian Dr. Jeff Weber suggest using a head collar, also called a gentle leader. “We get a lot of dogs who need a gentle leader,” says Kraut. “I mean, it kind of looks like you’re walking a horse, but really big, strong dogs have all their strength in their body. Some of the dogs we walk will straight-up lunge at kids or a skateboarder coming by or a bicycle or a runner. You really need to have control of that dog at a moment’s notice, and if you have control of their head, then you pretty much have control of everything. It’s also really good for dogs who eat everything off the street, which is a problem in Brooklyn.”
Cawley recommends the Halti head collar but suggests using treats to encourage your dog and get it accustomed to it. “You get the most control over a dog when using a head collar. They are great for pullers, but it can be challenging to get them used to wearing something on their face. It’s a great tool to use for someone who has a very large and strong dog that they are not strong enough [to control with] just a collar or a harness.” Weber used to use a Halti collar when he had a full-size Labradoodle who liked to pull. “Not only was it very effective but also when he would see it, he would get so excited because that meant walk time,” he says.
Best harness for puppies and nervous dogs
For puppies, skittish dogs, or dogs who have simply never worn one, a step-in-style harness can be a lot less scary than one that goes over the head. “A lot of times, people don’t consider socializing their dogs to a new piece of equipment like a harness,” says Cawley. “But there’s a lot you can do to make sure it’s a positive experience the first time you put your dog in harness. I like to use food as a distraction for the dog at first, especially if the dog doesn’t like things going over the head. For those kinds of dogs, you can use a step-in harness so they don’t get nervous when you put it on.”