Dog Harness Basics: What Kind of Harness Does My Dog Need?

Dog wearing a harness

Exercise and activity are an important part of keeping dogs mentally and physically healthy.

Of course, that means walking, running, hiking and other athletics. And that also means a good leash and a good collar or harness. While many pet owners opt for collars, there are benefits to choosing a harness. 

For one, there are important glands located around the collar area of dogs — including the thyroid and salivary glands. A strong dog who pulls has a better chance of damaging these glands with a collar than a harness. 

A well-fitting harness may also keep those doggie escape artists in place while they can more easily slip out of their collars. There are many types of harnesses available for different canine needs, and each provides their own set of potential benefits. 

No-Pull Dog Harness

As the name implies, these are harnesses designed for dogs who pull and lunge ahead — and they can be of particular benefit to puppies. While they’re all a little different, they generally have a ring for leash attachment on the front around the chest. When the dog pulls on a no-pull harness, instead of pulling away from you and moving ahead, the dog is turned toward you — essentially changing the dynamic of the walk. Since he is not rewarded by pulling because he does not move forward, the idea is that your dog — with the help of other training techniques — will learn to stop pulling. 

Support Harness

Older dogs, dogs with mobility issues and those recovering from injuries or surgeries may all benefit from support harnesses. Depending on your dog’s particular set of needs, this kind of harness can focus on the rear end, the front or whole body. They generally have lifts or handles in these areas that you use to assist your dog into a car, up the stairs, up from a lying position or for any of a number of other situations when your dog needs some help. There are also some working dog and athletic harnesses and vests that come with handles that may be used to assist dogs in different situations, whether they have special needs or just need help walking over some rocks. 

Car Harness

Of course, in most cases, an activity with your dog will require a car ride. Car harnesses are a good way to help keep your dog secure during the car ride to their next adventure. Some are padded for added comfort and most come with some kind of attachment — a tether that clips to your car’s seatbelt or an attachment that connects directly into the seatbelt buckle, for instance. Most are designed specifically for use in the car though some can also double as a walking harness. The important thing is to find one that fits your dog well and that works with your car. Also, look for a harness that has undergone crash testing for some added safety.

Athletic Harness 

Athletic dogs have a set of special needs of their own for whatever activity they’re doing. The harness may require extra breathability for warmer weather or extra padding for cooler temperatures. Handles are useful so owners can offer dogs assistance over challenging terrain or hold them back if there’s a rattlesnake or other wildlife crossing their path. There may also be a need for a harness with a pack to carry extra water and snacks or other doggie supplies for longer hikes. What these harnesses have in common is a general durability to withstand specific activities and climates.

Working Dog Harness 

For dogs who have a job — like police dogs and service dogs — elements of all of the above harnesses may appear in these working dog harnesses. Police K9s often have more rugged vests and harnesses to help protect them from a more dangerous job — which may include flying bullets, knives, wires, etc. Service or therapy dogs may need less protection but more utility in their harnesses and vests — so these may include badges or embroidery identifying them as service dogs as well as pockets to carry supplies. 

(Photo by José Guilherme Moretti Gomes on Unsplash)