what are the signs that a harness doesnt fit my dog properly
what are the signs that a harness doesnt fit my dog properly

You love taking your furry friend out for walks, but have you ever wondered if their harness fits them correctly? It’s important to ensure that your dog’s harness is the right size and fit for their comfort and safety. A poorly fitting harness can not only cause discomfort for your pup but also potentially lead to injuries. So, how can you tell if the harness doesn’t fit your dog properly? In this article, we will explore the telltale signs that indicate it’s time to reassess and find the perfect fit for your canine companion.

Why is Proper Fit Important for Dog Harnesses?

Choosing the right dog harness for your furry friend is crucial for their overall comfort, safety, and well-being. A properly fitted harness can prevent discomfort, pain, injuries, and accidents. In this article, we will discuss the physical and behavioral signs of an ill-fitting dog harness, how to determine if a harness fits properly, common mistakes to avoid, the importance of regularly checking the fit, steps to take if a harness doesn’t fit properly, and tips for choosing the right harness for your pet.

Physical Signs of an Ill-Fitting Dog Harness

Rubbing or chafing

One of the most apparent physical signs that a dog harness doesn’t fit properly is rubbing or chafing on the skin. If you notice redness, hair loss, or raw spots on your dog’s body where the harness rests, it may be a clear indication that the harness is too tight or has rough edges that cause discomfort.

Tightness or looseness

Another physical sign to watch out for is the tightness or looseness of the harness. A harness that is too tight can restrict your dog’s movement, impede their breathing, and cause discomfort. On the other hand, a harness that is too loose may not provide adequate support and control, making it easier for your dog to slip out or escape.

Poor alignment

An ill-fitting harness may also demonstrate poor alignment on your dog’s body. The harness should sit centered on your dog’s back, without leaning to one side or sliding forward on their shoulders. If you notice that the harness is off-center or misaligned, it may be an indication that it doesn’t fit properly.

Restricted movement

A properly fitted harness should allow your dog to move freely and comfortably. If you observe any signs of restricted movement, such as your dog struggling to walk or run, lifting their legs awkwardly, or avoiding certain movements altogether, it could suggest that the harness is causing physical limitations and discomfort.

Behavioral Signs of an Ill-Fitting Dog Harness

In addition to physical signs, there are several behavioral indications that a dog harness doesn’t fit properly. Being aware of these signs can help you identify any discomfort or distress your dog may be experiencing.

Resistance to putting on the harness

If your dog shows resistance or reluctance when it comes to putting on their harness, it could be a sign that they find it uncomfortable or painful. They may try to back away, squirm, or even show signs of anxiety or fear. Pay attention to their body language and behaviors during the harnessing process.

Excessive pulling or leash tension

An ill-fitting harness may lead to excessive pulling or leash tension. Your dog may try to compensate for the discomfort by pulling against the pressure, which can strain their neck, throat, or shoulders. If you notice that your dog is pulling excessively or displaying tension on the leash, it’s essential to assess whether the harness is causing these behaviors.

Difficulty breathing

A poorly fitted harness can restrict your dog’s breathing, leading to difficulty breathing or panting excessively. Labored breathing or raspy sounds while your dog is wearing the harness could be a sign that it doesn’t allow for proper airflow and ventilation. It’s crucial to ensure that your dog’s respiratory system is not compromised by an ill-fitting harness.


An improperly fitted harness can contribute to your dog overheating, especially in warm weather or during strenuous activities. If the harness is too snug or doesn’t allow for adequate airflow, it can trap heat and prevent proper ventilation, increasing the risk of overheating. Watch for signs of excessive panting, excessive drooling, or weakness during outdoor activities.

How to Determine if a Dog Harness Fits Properly?

To ensure your dog’s harness fits properly, it’s important to follow these steps and guidelines:

Checking for proper size and adjustability

The first step is to choose a harness size that matches your dog’s measurements and weight. Each harness brand may have different sizing guidelines, so it’s crucial to consult the manufacturer’s size chart and measure your dog accurately. Additionally, look for a harness that offers adjustable straps and buckles to customize the fit to your dog’s body shape.

Examining the fit around the neck

When putting on the harness, ensure that it fits snugly around your dog’s neck without restricting their breathing or causing any discomfort. You should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between the harness and your dog’s neck. If it’s too loose, your dog may slip out of the harness, and if it’s too tight, it can cause discomfort and difficulty breathing.

Assessing the fit around the chest

Next, assess the fit around your dog’s chest. The chest strap should sit comfortably behind the front legs and be snug enough to prevent your dog from easily escaping. However, it shouldn’t be too tight to restrict movement or cause discomfort. Again, you should be able to fit two fingers under the chest strap.

Ensuring freedom of movement

Once the harness is properly secured, observe your dog’s freedom of movement. They should be able to walk, run, sit, lie down, and perform all their regular activities without any restrictions or signs of discomfort. Check for any signs of rubbing, chafing, or restricted movement, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure a proper fit.

Common Mistakes When Fitting a Dog Harness

Avoiding common mistakes when fitting a dog harness is crucial to ensure your dog’s comfort and safety. Here are some of the most common mistakes to watch out for:

Choosing the wrong size

Selecting the wrong size harness is one of the most prevalent mistakes. It’s important to carefully measure your dog and consult the manufacturer’s size chart to ensure you choose the appropriate size. Guessing or assuming your dog’s size can lead to an ill-fitting harness and potential discomfort.

Not adjusting the harness properly

Even if you choose the correct size, not adjusting the harness properly can still result in an ill-fitting harness. It’s essential to adjust the straps and buckles according to your dog’s body shape and ensure a snug, secure fit. Neglecting to make these adjustments can cause discomfort, rubbing, and potential escape.

Using an incorrect harness style

There are various types of harnesses available, each designed for specific purposes and activities. Using the wrong harness style for your dog’s needs can lead to an ill-fitting harness. For example, a front-clip harness may be better suited for dogs that pull, while a back-clip harness may be more suitable for well-behaved dogs. Choose a harness style that aligns with your dog’s behavior and needs.

Ignoring signs of discomfort

It’s important not to ignore any signs of discomfort or distress displayed by your dog while wearing the harness. If your dog exhibits any of the physical or behavioral signs mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to address the issue promptly. Continuing to use an ill-fitting harness can lead to long-term discomfort, injuries, or behavioral problems.

Importance of Regularly Checking the Fit of a Dog Harness

While initially fitting a dog harness properly is essential, it’s equally important to regularly check the fit and make any necessary adjustments. Several factors can affect the fit of a harness over time:

Growth and weight fluctuations

Puppies and young dogs undergo rapid growth, which can cause changes in their size and body shape. It’s crucial to regularly measure and assess your growing dog’s harness fit to accommodate their changing body. Similarly, weight fluctuations in adult dogs may require adjustments to ensure a proper fit.

Wear and tear on the harness

Daily use, outdoor activities, and wear and tear can affect the integrity and fit of a dog harness. Straps may stretch, buckles may loosen, or the material may wear down over time. Regularly inspecting the condition of the harness and checking for any signs of wear or damage can help ensure a secure and comfortable fit.

Changes in the dog’s health or physical condition

Changes in a dog’s health or physical condition, such as gaining or losing muscle mass, recovering from an injury, or aging, can also impact their harness fit. It’s important to consider these changes and make necessary adjustments to ensure their ongoing comfort and safety.

Steps to Take if a Dog Harness Doesn’t Fit Properly

If you determine that your dog’s harness doesn’t fit properly, taking the following steps can help rectify the situation:

Adjusting the straps and buckles

Start by adjusting the straps and buckles of the harness to achieve a proper fit. Loosen or tighten the straps as needed to ensure a comfortable and secure fit. Remember to follow the guidelines mentioned earlier regarding the fit around the neck and chest, as well as freedom of movement.

Considering a different harness style

If adjusting the straps doesn’t resolve the fit issues, it may be worth considering a different harness style. Each dog is unique, and certain harness styles may provide a better fit and comfort for your dog. For example, if your dog pulls excessively, a front-clip harness may offer better control and alleviate pressure on the neck and throat.

Seeking professional guidance

If you’re unsure about how to properly fit a harness or if you’re struggling to find the right fit for your dog, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance. Consult with a veterinarian, a professional dog trainer, or a knowledgeable pet store employee who can provide expert advice and assistance in selecting and fitting a harness for your dog.

Choosing the Right Dog Harness for Your Pet

When it comes to choosing the right dog harness for your pet, it’s essential to consider their individual needs and activities. Follow these tips to ensure you make the best decision:

Measuring your dog for proper size

Accurate measurement is key to selecting the right harness size. Measure your dog’s neck circumference, chest circumference, and the distance between these two points. Consult the manufacturer’s size chart to find the harness size that matches your measurements. Remember, each brand may have different sizing, so it’s crucial to follow their guidelines.

Evaluating different harness styles

There are several harness styles to choose from, including back-clip, front-clip, step-in, and vest-style harnesses. Research and evaluate each style to determine which one is suitable for your dog’s behavior, needs, and comfort. Consider factors such as leash attachment points, design, padding, and adjustability.

Considering specific needs and activities

Take into account your dog’s specific needs and activities when selecting a harness. For example, if your dog enjoys swimming or water activities, a waterproof harness may be a good choice. If your dog is elderly or has mobility issues, a harness with a handle may provide additional support. Tailor your choice to your dog’s unique requirements.

Benefits of a Properly Fitted Dog Harness

Ensuring that your dog’s harness fits properly offers numerous benefits for both you and your furry friend:

Comfort and freedom of movement

A properly fitted harness ensures your dog’s comfort and allows for unrestricted movement. It prevents rubbing, chafing, and discomfort that can arise from an ill-fitting harness. By providing a comfortable fit, you enable your dog to enjoy their daily activities without hindrance.

Enhanced control during walks

A well-fitted harness gives you better control during walks or training sessions. It distributes the force evenly across your dog’s body, reducing strain on the neck and throat. This can result in better leash manners, less pulling, and improved overall control, making your walks more enjoyable for both you and your dog.

Reduced risk of injuries

An ill-fitting harness can lead to injuries such as muscle strains, chafing, or even escape. A properly fitted harness minimizes these risks by providing the necessary support and preventing discomfort. It ensures that the pressure is distributed evenly, reducing the likelihood of injuries and accidents during walks or other activities.


Proper fit is crucial when it comes to choosing and using a dog harness. It is essential to consider both the physical and behavioral signs of an ill-fitting harness, regularly check the fit, and make any necessary adjustments or changes. By ensuring a proper fit, you prioritize your dog’s comfort, safety, and overall well-being. A well-fitted harness allows for enjoyable walks, improved control, and a reduced risk of injuries. So, next time you’re choosing a harness for your furry companion, remember the importance of a proper fit and make the best choice for their needs.

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Brian Moore
I'm Brian Moore, a veterinarian with over 10 years of experience. I graduated from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation, I worked as a general practitioner in a small animal clinic for several years. In 2017, I opened my own veterinary practice, Moore Animal Hospital. I'm passionate about providing compassionate and high-quality care to all animals. I'm skilled in a wide range of veterinary procedures, including surgery, dentistry, and internal medicine. I'm also a certified animal behaviorist, and I take a special interest in helping animals with behavioral problems. In addition to my clinical work, I'm also active in the veterinary community. I'm a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association. I'm also a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences. I'm dedicated to providing the best possible care for my patients and their families. I'm a compassionate and knowledgeable veterinarian who is always willing to go the extra mile. I'm originally from San Francisco, California. I'm married and have two children. I enjoy hiking, camping, and spending time with my family. I'm also a member of the local animal shelter and volunteer my time to help care for homeless animals. I'm excited to continue my career as a veterinarian and help even more animals in need.