How to Measure a Dog for a Harness

golden retriever in a harness

A dog harness offers lots of benefits that a traditional dog collar does not. For pet owners, a dog harness provides more control during walks. Harnesses are more comfortable for dogs, reducing the risk of skin irritation and discomfort caused by pulling.

But harnesses are only effective if they are the right fit. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t know how to measure a dog. They often think about the weight or age of the dog, but there are several factors to consider.

Like dogs, harnesses are not created equally.

To find the best harness for your dog, you should know how each style functions. But the best dog harness improves the dog walking experience for the dog walker and their furry friend.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the benefits of wearing a dog harness and how to measure a dog. We will reveal the pros and cons of each harness type. We will also share tips and tricks to help you ensure your dog is wearing the right style dog harness.

Why Finding a Dog Harness That Fits Is Important

First, let’s talk about the importance of finding a dog harness that fits.

Dog harnesses offer several benefits to dog walkers and dogs alike. The right-fitting dog harness is safer and more secure than a dog collar.

But if a dog harness doesn’t fit right, it can cause more harm than good.

Fit Matters

When a dog harness fits, it gives pet owners more control during the dog walking experience. This is particularly true of a dog harness with a front leash connection. While it doesn’t always reduce pulling, the extra control can prevent unwanted confrontations with other animals.

Harnesses disperse the pressure dogs experience from pulling, making their walk safer and more enjoyable.

Dog harnesses are available to dogs of all breeds, sizes, and ages, but every harness is different. That’s why finding the right fit is so important.

Why Choose a Harness Over a Collar

There are several reasons to consider a harness over a collar, particularly for dog walking or if a dog is running, hiking, or biking. Harnesses are healthier for dogs and promote better walking skills, which can improve the dog’s bond with its pet parent.

Collars create a lot of pulling and pressure on a dog’s neck. That pressure can cause several health issues including back and neck pain—even serious throat injuries like a tracheal collapse.

Wearing a collar often causes breathing problems like panting and shortness of breath. A lack of oxygen often makes a dog feel in danger. It can cause dogs to jerk more or exhibit extreme reactions to their surroundings.

A dog harness eliminates these issues because the pressure disperses to other, less sensitive areas of the dog’s body. It sends a softer message to a dog’s brain and can cause them to calm down during walks.

It allows for a better range of motion and helps pet owners work with their dogs to create healthier walking skills rather than relying on the collar. It helps socialize and train dogs proactively.

The Risk of an Ill-Fitting Harness

However, wearing a harness that doesn’t fit comes with some problems.

If a harness is too loose, the dog may be able to slip out and break free. But if a harness fits too tight, it can cause skin irritation like chafing or a rash.

The size shouldn’t be the only consideration when selecting a dog harness.

Choosing the Right Dog Harness for Your Dog

bulldog wearing a step in strap harness

You must know how to measure a dog for a harness and ensure the harness fits. But each dog will have unique needs, so it is important to consider several factors.

Here are some of the most popular styles of dog harnesses and what you should look for in a harness.

Figure 8 Harness

The figure 8 harness, also known as the adjustable strap harness, is one of the most popular dog harnesses on the market.

It’s suitable for dogs of all sizes. But it’s best for dogs who are “easy walkers” as it is not ideal for heavy pullers. It is, however, a good choice for puppies.

Figure 8 harnesses offer a wide range of adjustments, making them a great choice for someone who expects their dog’s size to change. It can grow with a puppy or adjust tighter if a senior dog is losing weight.

Although these harnesses are fairly basic in design, they come in a wide variety of styles. They can be quite fashionable for a pet parent looking for a cute dog accessory.

Over-the-Head Strap Harness

The over-the-head strap harness is a type of figure 8 harness.

These are worn by slipping them over the dog’s head and behind its legs. It then clips over the dog’s back. They are easy to adjust.

This style is a good choice for dogs with a lot of hair. It is less likely to get caught in the dog’s fur during dog walking.

Over-the-Head Mesh Harness

The over-the-head mesh style of harness is similar to the over-the-head strap style. The difference is that there is a large mesh middle section.

The mesh webbing makes this harness a great choice for dogs who pull. This will disperse the force and pressure throughout different points of the body, making it a more enjoyable walking experience for the dog.

Step-In Strap

The step-in-strap harness comes with two loops—one for each leg. There is usually a strap at the back that fastens with a back clip that attaches to the leash.

This style is best suited for pet owners looking for something easy to put on. Pet owners simply lay the harness on the ground, coach their dog into the position to wear it, pull it up, and clip it on.

It is also a good choice for dogs who don’t like having something slipped over their head.

Pet parents should make sure the step-in strap is tight enough. If it’s not adjusted properly, a dog might be able to wiggle it off over their head.

It’s also worth noting that dogs who have trouble standing in one position may complicate the process of putting this harness on.

Step-In Padded Harness

The step-in padded dog harness has a padded midsection.

It is adjustable, particularly at the dog’s girth, making it a great choice for dogs with larger chests. For that reason, it works well with bulldogs, labs, shepherds, boxers, and pugs.

Step-in padded vest harnesses shouldn’t cause skin irritations like rashes or chafing.

This style provides added security for most nervous dogs. However, some dogs don’t appreciate being so contained.

Factors to Consider When You Buy a Harness

Before we get into how to measure a dog for a harness, it is important to recognize the other factors pet parents should think about when shopping for a harness. 

Here are a few things to consider when shopping for a dog harness.

The Size

Finding the right size of harness is important. Make sure the harness is strong enough to support your dog’s weight without breaking.

Even with the right measurements for your dog, it’s important to remember that each brand and style of harness fits differently. Pet owners should always look for a size chart on the harness at the time of purchase.

A harness that works for a small dog will likely be different than the right harness for a large dog. Small dogs might prefer a figure 8 harness. But if your dog is over 100 pounds, you may be limited on the styles available.

A larger dog with a bad temperament poses a greater risk than a small dog with a bad temperament. Pet parents of large dogs should look for a harness that provides more control for dog walking.

It’s best to find a tactical harness and avoid a front-clip harness. Adjustable leashes are also helpful with big dogs.

Age

The age of your dog should also factor into your decision when purchasing a harness. 

Some harnesses have a handle that can provide a boost to senior dogs who have trouble getting up due to changing mobility. If your dog is losing weight with age, consider purchasing an adjustable harness.

While figure 8 harnesses are a decent option for a puppy, you may consider waiting until your dog finishes growing before investing in a harness.

If you do purchase a harness for your puppy, you should introduce it in small intervals. Get your puppy accustomed to its harness by wearing it for short walks inside your home. It’s best to try a harness indoors where there are fewer distractions.

Range of Motion

When your dog is wearing the right harness, it should be able to move without any discomfort. 

Make sure the harness you select fits snugly —but not tight around their body in areas like the lower neck and behind the legs. It should not restrict their movement.

A dog should have a full range of motion when it is wearing the harness. If your dog seems restricted, it’s not the right harness.

Personality

Consider your dog’s personality. If your dog is nervous or skittish, it may feel better in a harness that offers more security.

You may also want to look for a harness that gives the dog walker more control if your dog isn’t very social.

Adjustments

A harness should have numerous adjustments.

This will allow you to create a custom fit that is ideal for your dog. It will also allow you to alter it if your dog’s size changes a bit. 

Looking for a harness that adjusts in multiple areas will ensure your dog is comfortable, secure, and unable to slip out of the harness.

Care Instructions

Let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to keep a harness clean. That’s why it’s important to understand how to look after the dog harness you buy.

Before making a purchase, check the care instructions for the harness. Purchase a machine-washable dog harness so it’s easy to clean when necessary.

Lifestyle

Pet parents should consider their lifestyle when they are purchasing a harness. A dog will likely not be wearing a harness to spend time in the backyard. Instead, harnesses are used for physical activities like long walks, running, hiking, and biking.

If you do a lot of hiking, consider a harness with a handle in case your dog stops to rest and requires a boost. You should also consider purchasing a pack-style harness so the dog can carry its items on its back.

For more strenuous activities like running and biking, consider purchasing a harness with great ventilation, so your dog doesn’t overheat.

If you plan to walk or bike with your dog during the evening, consider purchasing a harness with reflective material on it. This is safer for both the dog walker and the dog.

How to Measure a Dog for a Harness

One of the most common issues with dog harnesses is that they don’t fit properly. Dog owners often consider the weight of their dog, but fail to consider their dog’s girth, length, or neck.

It is important to consider all these measurements as well as the size of the dog’s head if you are buying an over-the-head style harness.

Taking your dog’s measurements is relatively simple and can be done at home.

If your dog has trouble standing still, you may require the help of a friend or relative during this process. You should also make sure you have a pen and paper handy to record the measurements as you go.

Here are step-by-step directions on how to measure your dog for a harness. Before you begin, you will need the following items on hand:

  • String or Ribbon
  • A Ruler
  • Pen
  • Paper

#1. Girth

The girth is the thickest area of your dog—the ribcage area where the harness wraps around. This area begins behind a dog’s legs—or “armpits.” 

To measure this area, make sure your dog is standing straight with all four legs firmly planted on the ground.

Wrap the string or ribbon around this area, starting at your dog’s withers (the area between its shoulder blades). It should feel snug to their body but not tight. Then, cut the string at the length where the ends meet around your dog.

Use the ruler to measure the area and record the measurement. 

The girth and weight of a dog are the most important measurements required for fitting a dog harness. 

#2. Length

The length of a harness is a personal preference. But measuring your dog’s length will give you an idea of how a harness will look on your dog. 

To measure the length of a dog, run the string from the base of your dog’s neck and run it along its body until its tail. 

Cut and measure the string to decide your dog’s length.

#3. Neck

If the dog harness wraps around your dog’s neck, you will need to measure its neck as well. 

To measure your dog’s neck, wrap the string or ribbon snugly around the lower part of the neck. It should not be tight.

It will give you an idea of the circumference of your dog’s lower neck.

#4. Head

If your dog will be wearing an over-the-head style harness, it must slip easily over its head. 

Run a string or ribbon from behind one ear, along the snout part of the head, and back behind the other ear. Mark the midpoint of this measurement. That length is the size of the dog’s head.

Tips for Accuracy 

It is crucial that the measurements you record are as correct as possible. It’s recommended that you take every measurement three times for accuracy.

Measure your dog in a calm and quiet environment. It is imperative that your dog is standing with its back legs straight and paws flat on the floor. If need be, get help from someone else, or use a treat as an incentive to get your dog to stand still. 

When you are using string or ribbon to measure the circumference of a dog, make sure you can fit two stacked fingers between a string and the body of the dog. 

Pay attention to your dog’s weight, and the size charts and reviews for the brand of harness you choose.

Short video tutorial

Interpreting Dog Measurements to Select a Harness

Once you have recorded your dog’s measurements, it’s time to shop for a dog harness. 

Interpreting the measurements you’ve jotted down may seem overwhelming. The most important measurements for a harness are your dog’s girth, weight, and lower neck.

Dogs are built differently depending on their breed. A greyhound and a pug may both wear a medium harness. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to all three measurements to determine which harness size is best suited for your dog.

Common Size Issues

Even with measurements, some sizing issues are unavoidable. 

You may find that your dog is between two sizes. If this is the case, you should always ensure you’re sizing up. It is better for a harness to fit a bit bigger rather than too tight.

But if the next size up is too big, it’s best to find another style of dog harness.

Tips for Fitting a Dog Harness

Dogs can’t speak, but they can communicate. Pay close attention to your dog’s reaction when you fit them into a new harness. If your dog looks nervous or uncomfortable, there may be a better dog harness for them.

There are things you should look out for when trying a harness on a dog. The best harness for your dog should allow for a full range of motion when it’s on.

Here are some tips for fitting a dog in a harness.

How to Adjust a Harness

Adjusting a harness ensures your dog is comfortable. It also makes it more secure and reduces the likelihood of your dog escaping. 

It’s best to adjust a harness to sit flat along the front of a dog’s chest, snug—but not tight behind its legs and comfortably around its lower neck. 

Sometimes nylon harnesses will stick when you try to adjust them. If this happens, feed the nylon through the slider of the dog harness, and pull the excess nylon tight. 

If need be, distract your dog with a treat as you make each adjustment. Initially, this requires a bit of time, but you won’t need to adjust the harness each time a dog wears it. Once the adjustments are customized to your dog’s build, you can clip and unclip the harness.

Signs a Dog Harness Does Not Fit

Pet owners should be able to slip two fingers between the harness and their dog’s body. But if you can slip three or more fingers under the harness, it is too loose. 

If a harness leaves indentations on your dog’s fur or body or causes skin irritation, it’s too tight. The skin around your dog’s neck and shoulder blades should never bunch up. And your dog should never lose fur.

A harness should never slide up on your dog’s neck. It can damage the trachea if your dog pulls. Even if your dog is not usually a puller, the wrong jerk could harm it if its harness doesn’t fit.

Dogs will often avoid going for walks if their harness isn’t comfortable. 

If you suspect a harness might be the wrong fit, you may want to confirm the dog’s measurements. You can also try a different style of harness.

Find the Best Harness for Your Dog

A harness is a safe and secure alternative to traditional dog collars. Harnesses distribute pressure caused by pulling during dog walking, reduce the risk of a dog escaping and help with socialization. But many pet parents don’t know how to measure a dog for a harness. 

By following the tips included in this guide, pet owners can feel confident they are purchasing the best harness for their dog. 

If you are looking for help walking your dog, our team can help. Contact us today. We can’t wait to meet you and your dog!

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