Dr. Amy Watson, MA, VetMD, MRCVS, CCRT, Pinpoint Veterinary Care,
Dr. Pete van Dongen, Drs.(Utrecht), CertVR, MRCVS, CCRT, Pennard Vets

In our work as veterinary surgeons and canine rehabilitation therapists, we see a lot of dogs on a daily basis. Some of them wear special dog harnesses, and, in general, we really like these. But they don’t all work in the same way or are in fact good for your dog. This article describes various kinds, or types, of harnesses and the reasons why they are more or less suitable for your dog.

Harnesses are great for multiple reasons. In many cases it allows the owner better control and helps to reduce the dog from pulling, however, they can also be essential when managing chronic conditions and post surgery. Dogs suffering with any of the below will benefit from using a harness over a collar and lead as it takes away all the pressure around their necks and respiratory systems.

  • Small dogs (such as Yorkshire terriers) can suffer from tracheal collapse. The pressure of a lead and collar could result in them passing out due to constriction around their throat;
  • Dogs who have had neck surgery or suffer with intervertebral disc disease
  • Brachycephalic dogs such as Pugs who are at risk of eyeball prolapse
  • Dogs at risk of increased intra-ocular pressure

When buying or advising on harnesses it is critical that we use a non-restrictive harness that allows entire forelimb free to move. The front leg of a dog is attached to the body purely by muscles and these must be free to move at every pace, particularly for working and sport dogs.


A good, non-restrictive harness is one that fits perfectly, snugly (you should just be able to place two fingers underneath the harness on all sides) and doesn’t cause any friction or excessive pressure. Some are fleece lined and therefore very comfortable. Some harnesses have D-rings at the front of the harness, for an additional attachment of a second lead should the owner need more directional control.

A restrictive harness typically sits straight across the shoulders and in some designs there is also a strap positioned right under the axilla of both front legs and across the back putting pressure over the scapula. Together these pressure points can affect the movement of the front limb, altering the dogs natural gait. In addition, pressure on the front of the shoulder could affect the biceps tendon, and there is some debate as to whether this may cause problems such as bicipital tendonitis and altered gait can cause increased pressure on shoulder joints.

Christine Zink has some done fascinating research and is well worth checking out her website: www.caninesports.com

Unfortunately, the restrictive harnesses are often promoted for training and ‘all day wear’, and often win awards in the dog literature for ‘best harness’ or ‘best new product’, which isn’t helpful for the consumer or the dogs wearing them!

Another problem is that a lot of the working dog harnesses are restrictive - search and rescue dogs, the police dogs and even Guide Dogs, in my opinion, wear restrictive harnesses. Maybe this is an area we need to tackle!

Harnesses can be brilliant - as long as you get the right one and one that fits your dog properly!

Animal Therapy Magazine