If you’ve been following Great and Small for a while or been reading the blog, you’ll know that I do quite like a good harness. They’re safe, comfortable and help prevent potential neck injuries, the exact opposite of all those collars I don't allow when you book with G&S. And while harnesses are definitely better than most collars (especially martingales, choke chains and prong collars) they are not all created equal.
Are all harnesses created equal?
Like all things, knowledge and research can change over time. A big part of my job is to stay up to date on all things dog, after all, the more I know, the better I can help you. As part of that, keeping up with studies and research in dog behaviour and body language is pretty key.
On to the point: A study I read recently showed that some harnesses can restrict forward shoulder movement, leading to a shortened gait, which in turn can lead to subtle pain and a higher risk of arthritis.
Without digging up the entire study, let's dig into the detail here. The key finding was simply that harnesses with a strap that runs horizontally across the dog’s chest and shoulders, often referred to as “T-shape” harnesses, and were shown to limit the range of movement in the dog's shoulders. These types include Julius K9, Halti Harnesses, Kelly Pet harnesses, and “step in” or “bra” style harnesses. Models like the Halti Harness also feature a strap that tightens across the chest to “stop” pulling. These are really uncomfortable for dogs and limit shoulder movement further. While you might not be able to see the effects these harnesses are having on your dog, the impacts are usually there – just very subtle. Maybe your dog has become more reluctant to walk as far as they used to, maybe your dog is getting a little “grumpier” around other dogs, maybe they’ve started avoiding you when you pick the harness up, or maybe they seem a little more tender around their shoulders. The tiniest changes in your dog’s behaviour can often indicate that something is wrong somewhere, they are exceptionally good at pretending everything is fine after all. Take a look at your harness and if they have a horizontal strap try changing them for one of the recommendations below.
When it comes to Julius K9 and similar style harnesses, I haven’t recommended them for years, long before the study on range of movement came out, for a different reason. These harnesses, in my experience, are very easy for dogs to escape. While they are very popular, simple and easy to put on, they are also incredibly easy for dogs to back out of in a jiffy. One wiggle and they’re gone! Not great if you have a nervous rescue or a reactive dog!
So, despite their popularity, we have a harness type that is easy to escape, uncomfortable, and proven to cause shoulder problems. See why I say not all harnesses are created equal now?
We don't use these, but Athena makes a great model
Do you see where all these harnesses strap across the chest? That's the bit we want to avoid. The shoulder is limited, each step forward now restricted in some way or another.
So what should you be looking at? I use and recommend Y-Shaped Harnesses. These are harnesses that sit around the bottom of the neck and above the shoulder blades, allowing for a full range of movement. There are loads of different styles of Y-shaped harness, some are padded and a little bulkier, some are simple and easy, and some look complicated, but are actually easy! Below is a list of Y-shaped harness brands that I have tested out over my years handling and training dogs and happily recommend;
1. Perfect Fit
This is the harness brand I use for my own dogs and is one of the best I have come across. These are comfortable, practical and can be fitted without having to go over your dog’s head, which is good for head-shy or nervous dogs and makes them an ideal harness for dogs who are prone to escaping harnesses.
Athena's day to day harness, modelled by the Oaf herself.
Another really hard-wearing, lasting harness that holds up to the day to day stresses and washing through the muddy winters. They also have a range that comes with a third strap: perfect for dogs who can escape a standard harness.
3. Bully Billows
Now for powerful, tough breeds, I LOVE Bully Billows harnesses. They are incredibly well made, tough and super comfortable. They even have a range with a front clip which can help manage pulling (Without limiting movement) for those big, strong dogs.
We have a BillyBillow as a spare, and it's a great fit on those bigger dogs.
A reasonably priced, hard-wearing, comfortable harness that is great for dogs from Chihuahuas to Cane Corsos.
Another brilliant range that has a variety of different harnesses, all of which stand up to every test your dog can throw at it.
For those on a budget, these harnesses are a great option. They are very similar to TrueLove Harnesses in style and are comfortable as well as easy to put on.
So there we go, some easy do's and don'ts on harnesses, from your friendly neighbourhood dog trainer. As always and with everything dog-related at Great and Small, if you're ever unsure on fit or fitting, I'm more than happy to lend a hand and find that perfect harness fit with you. But if you take anything away from this post, let it be simply: Keep those Shoulders Free.