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The Dangers of Dog Harnesses [A Must Read!!]

Harnesses are widely used by dog owners everywhere and they are great. Depending on the style, they can help with pulling, give owners more control, save on a dog’s trachea, and can prevent escaping. However, if your dog’s harness does not fit properly, it could be causing damage the very damage you think it’s preventing, or something worse.

We asked Dr. Julia Georgesen, co-owner and practicing veterinarian at Blum Animal Hospital, the largest general practice hospital in Chicago, Illinois, to tell us more about the dangers and concerns when it comes to ill-fitting harnesses.

What are the dangers of an ill-fitting harness?

Ill-fitting harnesses can cause problems for several reasons. Harnesses that don’t fit properly can either cause discomfort if they are too tight or cause rubbing if they are loose and not fitted properly to the dog. When harnesses don’t fit correctly, dogs can maneuver out of their harness, which causes an increased risk of the dog either running off or getting into an accident.

Many owners chose a harness to avoid this picture, yet an ill-fitting harness can cause the same damage
Many owners chose a harness to avoid this picture, yet an ill-fitting harness can cause the same damage

What should you watch for if you think your dog is being harmed by the harness?

Watch to make sure your dog is comfortable moving when in his or her harness. Sores can develop underneath their axilla (armpit area) if the harness is either too tight, too loose, or if your dog is having a reaction to the fabric the harness is made of. If your dog is being harmed, their movements may not be normal or they may elect to not move at all. It may also cause your dog to choke or gag if the harness is too tight around your dog’s neck.

Are there ways to tell the harness is going to do danger BEFORE it happens (warning signs that the harness is causing a problem)?

Place the harness on your dog for short periods of time in the house so your pet can become accustomed to it. This will allow you a chance to determine if your dog is comfortable in the harness prior to any walks and you can watch for any problem signs.

Are there styles and/or brands that you should stay away from?

Harnesses, in general, provide more control than the standard collar and leash and help prevent undue stress over your dog’s neck and trachea. When a dog pulls or refuses to move, traditional collars can cause stress on your dog’s neck and can lead to choking and coughing. A traditional collar is easier for a dog to maneuver out of compared to a harness.

There are two different types of harness. There are harnesses that have a clip over the back for the leash or a clip on the chest. You can find many opinions about different harnesses online and in various articles, but the right type of harness for your dog is the harness that helps train your dog and enforces good habits, while preventing harm and allowing good control to the owner. Positive reinforcement during training with any harness is a must!

What about front-clasp harnesses, do they pose different dangers than the traditional kind?

This is a controversial topic with many different opinions. Some believe front clasp harnesses place too much stress on the front limbs when they are extending their front legs to move, which causes them to stop. This is thought by some to be an unnatural way to train your dog. However, others find this the only effective way to teach their dog to behave on a leash and follow commands without pulling. There is no right answer for every dog.

Is it really safe to harness your dog into the car?

Animal safety in cars is still an area that needs improvement. No product is as protective as seat belts are for humans, but in the event of an accident, restraining your dog may not only protect your dog, but provides protection to human passengers that may be injured by an unrestrained pet. Many products are available to help improve and enhance pet safety. It is better to provide some type of restraint, than none at all.

When in doubt, ask your vet. If you think your harness may be causing problems or does not fit correctly, consult a professional to make sure the harness fits properly.

About the Author

Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.


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Written by Kristina Lotz
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