How To Put On A Dog Harness

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Dog harnesses give you total control over your dog, and they won't be able to wiggle out of it as easily as they would a collar. Harnesses are also more comfortable for dogs because there's nothing around their neck or throat that could cause injury. Harnesses are also great for puppies working on dog obedience training for walks

Unfortunately, every harness is different, so there's a learning curve for how to put a harness on a dog. Always check the manufacturer's instructions for how to put a harness on your dog. Putting your dog's harness on incorrectly means they could slip out of it if they're pulling the leash while on a walk, or it could be painful for them. If you've recently purchased a harness for a dog and are wondering, "how do you put a harness on a dog?" or you want to learn how to put a puppy harness on, you've come to the right place. Putting a dog or a puppy into a harness only depends on the type of harness, not the dog's age. Let's discuss a few ways to put on a dog harness. 

Types Of Dog Harnesses

If you’re wondering how to put on a dog harness, the answer depends on the type of harness. The right one for your dog depends on a few different factors, including your dog's willingness to put their head in the harness, whether or not they pull, and how much control you want over your dog's actions while on walks. 

Back clip

A back clip harness is the most common type, with one loop around the ribs, neck, and a ring on the back for your dog's leash.1 The back clip harness is a favorite because it makes it more difficult for the dog to get tangled in the leash while preventing neck, throat, and back injuries in dogs that pull. Back clip harnesses are best for calm dogs because it doesn't deter pulling. If your pet becomes reactive on walks, reading your dog's body language can help you understand when your dog is going to lunge or pull towards another dog or person, in which case you can turn your dog away and walk in another direction. 

Front clip

Front clip harnesses have a leash attachment in the front, at the center of the dog's chest, and are ideal for dogs that pull or become reactive on walks.1 If your dog starts pulling on their walk, the front clip harness will direct them to walk towards you, giving you more control over your dog's movements. However, since the front clip harness requires the leash to touch the ground, dogs can become tangled in them if there's too much slack in the leash. 

Step-in

Step-in harnesses form a triangle around the dog's legs.1 A step-in harness can be either a back or front clip harness, but in some cases, it might be a dual clip harness with options to place the leash on the back or front. Putting the harness on is slightly more complicated because you'll need to slide the harness up your dog's front legs. However, these harnesses offer several benefits, including the even distribution of the dog's weight throughout the harness, and they may be more padded for more comfort around their bodies. 

Head harness or halter

If you have a larger dog or a dog that pulls, you may want to consider a head harness or a halter. Oftentimes, larger or strong dogs can pull themselves out of body harnesses and get loose. A head harness or halter are placed over a dog’s nose and neck. When a dog pulls, it will turn its head back toward you, giving you more control and preventing them from pulling you forward. Head harnesses or halters are great for training dogs to walk correctly when on a leash.

How To Put On A Back Clip Harness

Back clips harnesses are fairly easy to put on your dog, but you should always wait for your dog to be calm. 

1. Read the manufacturer's instructions

Since every harness is different, your dog's harness may come with instructions on how to put your dog's legs through the harness. For example, most harnesses must slide over the dog's head, but you can find some that clip onto the dog rather than going over their head. 

2. Introduce your dog to their harness

Introducing the dog to their new harness is key. But, first, they should have enough time to sniff it and get comfortable with it. Dogs that aren't comfortable in their harnesses will struggle to get in it, and some may get over-excited and think it's playtime. 

3. Gently slip the harness over their head 

The back clip harness is easy to put on any dog because all you have to do is slide it over their head. Of course, some dogs might be more excitable than others, so it's always best to do this when your dog is relaxed. Don't try to put the harness on them while they're playing or running around the house. 

4. Carefully slip their legs into the harness

Once the harness is positioned so the ring for the leash is on your dog's back, you can slip one leg through at a time. The harness should be around your dog's ribs when you're finished. 

5. Secure the harness with the buckle

Many back clip harnesses have one clip, but depending on the harness type, you may have multiple clips. Ensure you clip all of them to prevent your dog from slipping out of their harness. 

6. Adjust the harness

Once your dog is in the harness, you can adjust the straps for their comfort. The harness should neither be too tight nor too loose. Instead, you should be able to fit two fingers underneath the strap.1 If you're worried about your dog slipping out of their harness, you can do a test and try to pull them out of the harness. If the fit is not secure, the harness will slip off, so you'll need to tighten it more. 

How To Put On A Front Clip Harness

Front clip harnesses are slightly different from back clip harnesses because they clip in the front, where you'll find the ring for the leash. Some front clip harnesses are more like step-in harnesses with multiple clips, while others are standard harnesses with a single clip. Unfortunately, there are different designs, so these instructions are general guidelines for how to put a dog harness on. 

1. Read the manufacturer's instructions

There are many variations of the front clip harness, so it's always best to read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure your dog is comfortable and secure in their harness. 

2. Introduce your dog to their harness

Always let your dog sniff their harness before you try to put it on them. If they've never used a harness before, it can be scary to wear something different from a collar. Luckily, most dogs get used to the feeling of wearing a harness after a few trips outside. 

3. Sit on the right side of your dog

Sitting on the right side of your dog while they're calm can help you get the harness over their heads and allow you to clip them in. This is the easiest way to put a front clip harness on, but you may be able to stand, depending on the type of harness and the size of your dog. 

4. Place the harness loop over their head

Slide the harness over the dog's head while they're calm. If you don't wait until your dog is calm, they might become afraid of something going over their heads. Remember, dogs aren't used to harnesses, so something new might be frightening or confusing for them. After the harness is over your dog's head, the front loop should sit in the middle of the chest. 

5. Reach under and fasten the belly strap

Depending on the type of harness you're using, you'll likely have a belly strap that reaches across the belly of the dog. Most front clip harnesses are designed with a strap that goes across the chest and the belly strap, which clips. However, if you're using a step-in harness, you might have multiple clips. 

6. Adjust as needed

Adjust the size of the harness as needed depending on the size of your dog. You should also test the harness to ensure they can't slip out of it. You can do this by pulling the harness forward to see if you can get it over their heads. 

How To Put On A Step-In Harness

Step-in dog harnesses allow your dog to step into them and are ideal for dogs that struggle to have harnesses put on over them. Instead, you can strap your dog in without putting anything over their heads, making the process slightly easier, depending on your dog's temperament. 

1. Read the manufacturer's instructions

Step-in harnesses vary, with some combining features of step-in and standard harnesses in which your dog's head will go through the harness before they step into it. The type of harness you have will determine how to put it on your dog, so if you purchased a standard step-in harness, follow the rest of these instructions. 

2. Introduce your dog to their harness

Introducing your dog to their harness by letting them sniff it and giving them a treat will help them get more comfortable with it. Harnesses can be uncomfortable for some dogs, especially those used to roaming the house without anything but a collar on. 

You should continue to reward your dog for wearing their harness until they're completely comfortable with it. If you want to ensure your dog is comfortable in their harness, you can let them wear it around the house all day so they get used to the feeling. 

3. Lay the harness flat

Since your dog must step into these types of harnesses, you should make it easy for them by laying the harness flat, giving you enough space to put their paws through the leg loops. 

4. Place your dog's feet in the two triangles

Once your dog is calm, you can put their paws into the leg loops of the harness. Depending on your dog's size, you can do this with both paws simultaneously or one paw at a time. If your dog's harness is reversible, the side you use won't matter, but it's best to check the instructions just in case. 

5. Fasten the remaining ends together

Once your dog's legs are through the leg loops, pull the two ends of the harness together around the dog's back. The leash loop should rest on the middle of their back, not their neck. Depending on your harness, you may have multiple clips, all of which should be fastened. 

6. Adjust as necessary

Your dog's harness should be secure but not so tight that it's uncomfortable for the dog. Always test the harness to ensure your dog can't slip out of it by gently pulling the harness over their head. Your harness should not be able to move once secured on the dog, so if the harness begins to move over your dog's head, it should be tightened. Consider adjusting the harness or checking it every time you put it on your dog. 

What Is The Benefit Of Using A Dog Harness?

Dog collars can be dangerous for pets that like to pull on walks. Of course, dog commands for walks can help dogs learn not to pull, but some dogs get excited when they're outside. They may see another dog they want to greet or smell something they want to investigate. However, collars can choke dogs that pull, causing damage to their throat, so many pet parents choose to put their dogs in harnesses. 

Harnesses are a better alternative for many dogs, especially those that pull or display reactive behavior on walks. Body harnesses work well for small to medium sized dogs while head harnesses work better for large dogs. For example, if your dog pulls or lunges on walks, a harness will prevent them from injuring themselves. Additionally, they're more comfortable for dogs and may prevent pulling depending on the type of harness. There are many types of harnesses, and you may have different ones for different needs. For example, you may need a head harness for walks if your dog pulls or a back-clip harness that clips into dog seat belts in the car

Dog Harness FAQs

How do you properly put on a dog harness?

How you properly put on a dog harness depends on the type of harness. Many harnesses go over the dog's head and clip around their chest, while others allow your dog to step into them. Always read the manufacturer's instructions before putting your dog in a harness to ensure you're using it correctly to keep them safe and secure on walks. 

How tight should a dog harness be?

A dog harness should fit snugly enough that your dog cannot wiggle out of it, but it shouldn't be so tight it causes chafing and discomfort. You can determine whether your dog's harness is too tight or too loose by putting two fingers between the harness step and the dog. Your dog's harness is too tight if your fingers don't go in. Meanwhile, the harness is too loose if the straps don't touch your fingers or fight snugly against them. 

How do you put a leash on a dog harness?

Dog harnesses have rings for the leash, which are fairly prominent. Depending on the type of harness you have, the ring  might be located on the back, front, or both. If you're ever unsure where to attach the leash to the harness, refer to the manufacturer's instructions because putting the leash in the wrong place means it could come off if your dog pulls away from you. 

Dog with harness high-fiving owner

Final Notes

Harnesses offer many benefits for pets and pet parents. Not only are they comfortable, but some are designed to deter pulling and reactive behavior on walks by directing the dog's movements and attention. Unfortunately, if your dog frequently displays reactivity in the form of barking, lunging, and pulling while on walks, a harness alone is not enough to prevent the problem. Many dogs suffering from reactivity have underlying anxiety, which causes undesirable and potentially dangerous behavior. 

Talk to a Dutch vet if you're concerned about your dog's behavior on walks. We can help you determine the cause of your dog's reactivity on walks while helping you train them to walk on a leash and ignore other people and pets for a more enjoyable experience together. 

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References

  1. Ripley, Katherine. "How to Put on a Dog Harness." American Kennel Club, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-put-on-a-dog-harness/.

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