A harness is essential for walking and training your puppy. Harnesses put less pressure on his neck, making them safer than traditional collars, but one type does not fit all. Each puppy has different needs. It’s best to consider your individual pup’s size, training requirements and activity level when purchasing a harness.
A head halter is a type of harness that slips around your puppy’s snout and secures around his neck and right behind the ears. When your puppy begins to pull, the head halter directs his head down and back toward you. This action makes it nearly impossible for him to continue pulling. Once you have his attention and obedience, you can resume walking. This harness is best suited for puppies who are distracted and pulling their owners like a sleigh when out on walks. It’s important to always keep his leash taut when using this type of harness. Neck injury torsion and injury can occur if he sprints and his neck twists suddenly when he reaches the end of the leash.
A front-clip harness has a leash clip at the front of your puppy’s body, at the center of his chest. Unlike a traditional harness, which clips in between his shoulders, a front-clip harness allows you to guide him instead of your pup pulling you every which way. With a front-clip harness, you can steer your pup or turn him toward you as opposed to a traditional harness, which can teach him to pull away from you. Unlike a head halter, the front-clip harness does not carry the risk of a neck injury if used properly.
Traditional harnesses, with a leash clip in the back near your puppy’s shoulders, work best for certain dogs. Some smaller breed puppies such as Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahuas as well as short-snouted breeds such as Boston terriers and bulldogs may not be appropriately sized for a head halter, yet aren’t strong enough to require a heavy-duty two-point harness. Without enough snout to grip, theses small breeds and squishy-faced pups can wriggle right out of a head harnesses. Either traditional or front-clip harnesses are best suited for these breeds.
Very large puppies such as Great Danes may require both a traditional and front-clip harness for optimal control and training. Don’t fret, however, you pup doesn’t need to don two separate harnesses at once. A two-point harness sits a bit deeper on his chest and features two leash clips, one at the shoulder and one in front of the chest, designed to be used with a multi-lead leash. It's the best of both worlds for the big boys.
The best harness for your puppy is one that fits him properly. Too snug and your pup may be uncomfortable; too loose and he may break free. Carefully measure the circumference of your puppy’s neck and chest right behind his front legs, and use that as a guide when shopping for a harness. If your pup is between sizes, it’s best to purchase the larger size to account for comfort and growth. If possible, bring your buddy shopping with you. Many pet stores allow him to try before you buy, ensuring optimal fit.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.