Harnesses: Why? When? Which?

30th Apr, 2019

Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. (Cantab.), Qualified Canine Behaviourist and Certified TTouch® Practitioner.

A dog harness is an item used on pets to restrain them in some way, usually on walks. Composed of straps that fit around the chest and forelegs, they snap or buckle together and have somewhere to clip a lead onto. Harnesses are available for cats, ferrets, rodents, pigs and even birds, but they’re most commonly used on dogs.


The best reason, perhaps, for using a harness on your dog is to take the pressure off the neck. All collars, when attached to a leash, put pressure on the neck, and that increases the possibility of damage to all the sensitive nerves and blood vessels in the area. Virtually all harnesses move this pressure into the chest area.


Many people who choose to use a harness have hopes that it will restrict pulling and, indeed, some of them do. The problem here lies in where the pressure is situated. Most common are those that have a strap across the chest and upper front limbs. These are called restrictive harnesses because they impair the mobility of the dog. 

Recent research has shown that this can cause damage to ligaments, contribute to shoulder displacement and other parts of the leg, and, above all, restrict the dog’s front limbs from working freely.

Many like these harnesses because the dog tends not to pull so much – precisely because of the limited mobility of the front legs. Ideally, then, these are to be avoided. A better option is the Y- or X-type harness, where the straps avoid mobility impairment.


Many people seek to have a harness that will reduce or prevent a dog from tugging. And the good news is that there are harnesses that help without having a strap across the chest and shoulders.

These are the Y and X configurations mentioned above. Some have a rear connection, some have a front connection, and some have two points of connection – one front, one back. There are adherents to varieties of these connections, each person swearing that theirs is the best! The trouble with the front-end connection is that in order for the dog to walk in balance, it would have to be behind the handler! The back attachment is the easiest to use but offers less control for a dog that pulls. Having both back and front connection gives a better degree of balance. Used together with an adjustable leash and a rotating handle, this makes walking easy.

There’s also the “Halti” harness that’s very popular with many people. If using it, when the dog pulls, it automatically turns it towards the owner. The excellent Halti range is imported, which makes it very expensive, but there is a local version available in many pet shops and training schools.

Special function

There are other types of harness that are made for specific conditions such as hip dysplasia or other ailments, some for agility work, scenting, tracking, etc. Crazee Dawg in Stellenbosch, Cape, makes up specific products to suit the handler’s needs.

Now, if this is confusing, you can google harnesses and find a variety that boggles the mind; the link below sorts out some of it. The best remedy for a dog that pulls is to train it to work nicely on a loose leash, rather than relying on a harness to do the work. Happier dog; happier handler.

Before you spend lots of money on buying the “best” harness offered by whichever shop you go to, work with a behaviourist or trainer to help you find one that’s best suited to you and your dog’s needs.

And while you’re at it, get their help to teach your dog to walk calmly on a loose leash!