Does my dog need to wear a harness?
Posted in Chiropractic Treatments for Dogs

A few years ago, I was speaking on a podcast and the conversation turned to harnesses. In my usual strident way, I declared that no dog should ever be walked on a collar and lead, and every dog should be wearing a harness.

Well guess what? I’ve changed my mind. I am a great believer that it is ok to change your opinions based on new information. There is surprisingly, considering the huge market for dog apparel, very little research into the differences in canine gait when wearing a harness compared to a lead, but the research that is out there is… not what you would expect; A 2021 study (1) found that dogs will pull the most on a harness with a clip on their backs, when compared to pulling on a lead. 

The effect of harnesses versus collars was studied (2) in respect to stress signals and communication in two dogs meeting for the first time. The results showed no differences in stress signals between dogs wearing different types of restraints. 

The results of a biomechanics study nearly had me falling off my chair in surprise. This study looked at the effect of the straight strap harness, (in this study referred to as “restrictive”) compared to the Y-front harnesses, (referred to “unrestrictive”. For years I have been of the opinion that the Y-front harness is better for a dog’s movement, notably of the shoulder extension. Lafuante and his team of researchers found that while both types of harness restricted movement in walk and in trot greater than a collar, the greatest restriction came from the Y-front harness, in some instances by twice as much as the straight strap harness.

So what does this snippet of research mean on our decision to use a harness or not? 

Well, let’s go back to basics, and let’s make sure our decisions are a; welfare first, and b; dog centred. Whether you choose to use a harness or not, your decision needs to be based on the dog in front of you and what they need to set them up for success. For example, when my Golden Retriever was an adolescent, for love nor money could I have managed him without a harness with a two point attachment, he was horny as heck, and no amount of loose lead training was going to override his pulling when his desire to sniff out the ladies took a hold of him. A collar and lead just wouldn’t have been safe for either of us at that stage, but fast forward 6 years, and my once “pulls like a tank” dog, now walks beautifully off his collar and I don’t feel he needs to wear a harness.

These days if a client asked me what I would recommend, I would say;  a collar and lead will always be the best choice for biomechanical function, but if the benefit of a dog wearing a well fitting harness, which is appropriate to their size, age, breed and body shape, outweighs the biomechanical effects of the harness, in terms of safety, management and behaviour, then there is your answer.

  1. Shih H-Y, Phillips CJC, Mills DS, Yang Y, Georgiou F and Paterson MBA (2021) Dog Pulling on the Leash: Effects of Restraint by a Neck Collar vs. a Chest Harness. Front. Vet. Sci. 8:735680. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.735680
  2. Lafuente MP, Provis L, Schmalz EA. Effects of restrictive and nonrestrictive harnesses on shoulder extension in dogs at walk and trot. Vet Rec. 2019 Jan 12;184(2):64. doi: 10.1136/vr.104946. Epub 2018 Nov 19. PMID: 30455191


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