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How to choose the best dog harness

By Tom Morgan

Should you buy a front clip or back clip dog harness? What are the benefits? Our buying guide answers your burning questions.

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There are plenty of reasons to use a dog harness instead of a traditional collar. In our expert guide, we look at the various types of dog harness and explain how to choose the perfect one for your pet.

When it comes to taking your dog on an outdoor adventure, you'll want a harness that's comfortable and safe. Backed by insight from animal behaviourists and pet experts, our guide on how to buy a dog harness covers key features, fitting tips and puppies.

The size, shape and personality of your dog will determine which style of harness suits best, so keep scrolling if you're trying to decide which option to go for.

See our advice on picking a dog harness below, or check our guide on the best dog harnesses to see which options have impressed us the most.

Back clip vs front clip dog harnesses 

Every dog is different, which is why picking the right style of harness is the key to keeping your pooch happy.

For a closer look at the differences between each type of dog harness, see our video below:

Back clip dog harness

This is the most common type of dog harness. As the name suggests, you attach your lead to a hook that's positioned above your dog's back. 

Unlike a traditional dog collar, a back clip harness won't place any pressure on your pet's neck if you need to pull back on the lead. If you own a dog with a sensitive trachea, using a back clip harness won't cause any discomfort, provided the front straps sit at the dog's chest rather than at the neck.

A back clip harness can also be an effective option if your dog has a habit of wiggling out of its collar. We've tested a range of durable back clip harnesses that feature tough clasps designed to prevent this from happening. 

Be warned, though - if your dog suddenly pulls on a back clip harness, you'll be pulled along thanks to the 'sled dog effect'.

This type of harness isn't designed to improve the behaviour of a rebellious dog that pulls on walks - front clip harnesses, combined with the right training, are better-suited for that (see below).

Front clip dog harness

The lead attachment on a front clip harness is found at the dog's chest. This type of harness is popular with trainers because, paired with the right teaching methods, it can help to lessen a dog's desire to pull. 

If you pull back on the lead on a walk, the position of the front clip will cause the dog to turn its head towards you. This is useful if you want to distract your four-legged friend from something scary or steer in a certain direction to avoid a hazard.

Depending on your dog's personality and walking style, you may find its legs get tangled with your lead because of the clip position on the dog's chest. If that's the case, you may need to use a shorter lead.

Dog harnesses to stop pulling 

These no-pull harnesses are a somewhat controversial choice, as they're designed to cause discomfort to force dogs to calm down.

We caught up with Wood Green, The Animals Charity, who told us: 'Non-pull harnesses put pressure under the dog's armpits and dogs stop pulling because it's uncomfortable. We would advise owners to be careful and to ensure the fit is appropriate. 

'On some [non-pull harnesses], the belly strap sits beyond the rib cage and this would be uncomfortable on the dog's soft tummy.'

Dog harnesses for puppies 

Shopping for a harness suitable for a puppy can be quite a process, as you'll want something that's both light and secure. The best options we've seen are made of material that can easily adjust to the shape of  your dog, but won't weigh down the puppy with chunky plastic clasps and straps.

It's important that the harness you pick doesn't restrict the dog's movement, but it needs to be secure enough to stop the puppy wiggling out of it.

If you want to cut out pulling from a young age, picking the right harness to partner with effective training methods can have a noticeable effect. Remember to make sure the design of the harness doesn't tighten too much if the dog resists on a walk.

Online research can go a long way. Wood Green, The Animals Charity, notes that Facebook groups can come in handy - find a group made up of owners of your dog's breed and you'll be able to share knowledge.

Ready to pick a dog harness for your puppy? See which dog harnesses are the most comfortable by heading over to our guide on the best dog harnesses.

Where to buy a dog harness 

Buying a dog harness instore

Anecdotally, we've found pet shops that will let you take your dog inside for a quick fitting, but remember to ask before you go in. Check if you can try the harnesses on your dog instore, to help you get the best fit for your dog's size and breed.

However, if your dog's never worn a harness and is a bit nervous, trying one on for the first time in a busy, unfamiliar environment isn't likely to end well. 

You can buy a harness to try on at home, but the store doesn't have to let you return it simply because it doesn't fit. Check its returns policy before you shell out any cash.

If the harness is faulty, you're entitled to a refund. The harness should be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If it's not, you have the right to get a full refund from the retailer within 30 days.

The Consumer Rights Act also entitles you to a repair or replacement if the harness develops a fault after the first 30 days and within the first six months. If your harness is faulty, we can help you start a claim with the retailer for free. Create a faulty goods complaint letter using our free online tool.

Buying a dog harness online

If you're buying online, you need to know your dog's measurements. Specialist online stores usually have a guide on where to measure your dog and how to apply those measurements to the harnesses they stock. If in doubt, get in touch with them and ask.

When you buy goods online, you have the right under the Consumer Contracts Regulations to cancel these at any time from the point you buy the goods and up to 14 days after. To cancel, notify the retailer within this period. After that's taken care of, you have a further 14 days to return your goods for a full refund. If you're unhappy with a dog harness you've bought, see our advice on returning online goods

You must cover the cost of returning an unwanted harness, unless the retailer says it will cover these costs. Just in case the retailer disputes you've returned your goods, we recommend you get proof of postage. The retailer is allowed to make a deduction from your refund if the value of the goods has been reduced as a result of you handling the goods more than was necessary.

It's best not to take your dog on a proper walk to see if it fits. Even if it's a dry day and your dog's usually well behaved, you can guarantee that's the day it decides to roll in something it shouldn't. Instead, try it out indoors or in a dry garden. 

Watch our video on how to fit a dog harness.

How to fit a dog harness 

Having your dog try on a harness can be confusing for your pet if it's their first time. Here's how to fit a dog harness in four quick steps, as explained to us by Blue Cross animal charity:

1. Loosen the straps

Loosen all the straps so you can easily place the harness on your dog for the first fitting.

2. Prepare your dog for loud noises

It's important to make sure your dog is comfortable with wearing a harness. If you're dealing with a harness that makes a loud clicking noise, teach your dog to associate that sound with a treat. 

Try fastening the clasps close to the dog's ears (while the harness is off of the dog) and then reward your pet.

3. Prepare your dog for the loop holes

Depending on the harness you're using, your dog may need to pass its head through a loop. if that's the case, a tasty treat can help you both through the process. Put a treat in your hand and pass your hand through the hole where your dog's head will go. 

Repeat this process a couple of times, each time moving the loop hole closer to your dog's head. Once you've built up that positive association, you can have the dog pass its head entirely through the hole.

4. Bring everything together

Now that your dog is familiar with the harness, you're in a better position to attach it fully. When fitting the harness, make sure there's enough room under each of the straps for you to fit two fingers. 

If you make the harness too tight, the straps will rub against the dog's joints and cause problems.

Pine Ridge Dog Sanctuary recommends taking your dog to a pet shop if you're unsure your harness is correctly fastened. After all, you don't want your dog escaping from a loose harness.

Which harness is best for my dog? 

Finding the right harness for your dog will depend on various factors. That includes whether your dog pulls on the lead, its size and shape, what its fur is like and its own personal likes and dislikes.

If your dog doesn't have thick fur, for instance, a well-padded harness will help keep it comfortable. If it loves burrowing in the undergrowth, then a harness with a mesh design is likely to get caught up in thorns and twigs. 

The three dogs we chose to help us put a range of harnesses through their paces were all very different. Milo the labrador didn't like putting his head through any harnesses, nor did he like his feet being touched. 

Toby the terrier rather enjoyed licking his owner's face when one harness proved fiddly to do up and needed some close-up work. His owner, less so. Daisy was happy to try out our full selection of dog harnesses, although her long fur did get caught up in the velcro straps of one of the options we tried.

Ultimately, you know your dog better than any dog harness manufacturer or pet shop. So use our own experiences of the 11 harnesses we tried out to help you to buy the best dog harness.

Dog harnesses: your stories 

To explore the benefits of choosing a dog harness over a collar, we spoke to a selection of Which? members to hear about their experiences.

Here are some quick examples of how choosing the right dog harness can save the day when you're out and about:

Thank you

We'd like to thank Blue Cross animal charity, Wood Green, The Animals Charity and Pine Ridge Dog Sanctuary for helping us create this guide.
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