Should You Use a Dog Harness For Your Large Dog?
Buying a dog harness for large dogs might seem unnecessary to the average dog owner for the average dog. The traditional collar and leash work just fine.
But how many of our large or giant breed dogs are “average?” None of mine have been.
So, if you are sitting there with a large or giant breed dog wondering whether you should buy a dog harness, you are in the right place.
In this post, you will learn:
- The pros and cons of using a dog harness for large dogs,
- The three types of harnesses and how to choose the right one for you
- How to measure your dog accurately for proper fit and maximum comfort
- The truth about “no pull” dog harnesses for large dogs you need to know,
- And, my recommendations for the top 7 best dog harnesses for large dogs.
And for your convenience, I have included a comprehensive video with step-by-step instructions on how to accurately measure and fit a dog harness and what you need to consider before you buy one for your large dog.
Let’s get going!
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Special Considerations for Big Dog Owners
As someone who has raised and lived with giant breed dogs all of my life, I know firsthand how our needs differ from the needs of the average dog owner.
And in this case, it is not exclusive to the size of our dogs.
Yes, size absolutely matters, but there are a few other considerations that make the dog harness purchase unique for big dog owners.
1. Greater Risk With Poor Canine Behavior
I mentioned this in How to Socialize a Puppy At Home: 15 Creative Tips (That Work!), and it remains true when it comes to walking a big dog.
By force of strength and size, a big dog with a poor temperament represents a greater risk than a small one. That is a fact.
So, it is the responsibility of every big dog owner to ensure that your dog is socialized and trained. And for breeders to not breed dogs with substandard, poor temperaments.
The use of a harness on a dog with a poor temperament is not going to solve the problem, but in some cases, it can help.
For example, based on my experience with Linus, his reactivity seemed to be exacerbated with a single strong pressure point on a vulnerable part of his body (neck) as compared to multiple pressure points across the center, stronger of his body (chest and/or back).
Reactive dogs or dogs with leash-related behavior issues may experience the same thing.
That the distribution of pressure points gently across the body sends a much softer message to the brain when compared to the strong jerk of a collar around the neck.
I am not suggesting a harness is going to prevent a reactive dog from reacting.
What I am suggesting is that it is a tool that may help reduce a reactive dog’s discomfort on a walk. And a more comfortable dog, the less risk to everyone around him.
2. More Damage To the Dog and Others From a Collar
There are two points here that I want to make.
The first is the most obvious.
By virtue of how a collar and leash work together, 100% of the pressure is placed on your dog’s neck when he pulls ahead.
For very strong pullers or dogs who are prone to take off after a stimulus (animal, person, ball, bike, etc.), the sudden jerk around the neck and cervical vertebrae can put your dog at risk of injury.
For dogs, like Junior, who has a neurological disease like Wobbler Syndrome, any pressure on the neck can make their condition worse.
The second point relates to a more emotional reaction to the jerking mechanism around the neck of a dog.
For all dogs, especially fearful or reactive dogs, when they feel pain or discomfort while simultaneously exposed to that which they fear or dislike, the message sent to their brain is more akin to, “I knew there was something to fear!” than, “Oh, that scary thing is really nothing to fear.”
The pain and discomfort are reinforcing, not discouraging the behavior (pulling or reacting).
This is why I speak out against the use of prong collars and Gentle Leaders as a means to control a dog on a walk (more on this in a minute).
3. Purpose Bred Can Result in Special Considerations
And lastly, large and giant breed dogs come in all shapes and sizes.
From the stocky Labrador retriever to the deep-chested, towering Great Dane to the massive Mastiff tank. They range in weight from 50 pounds to over 250 making standard breed temperaments of special consideration for big dog owners.
There is a huge difference between walking a Labrador retriever with a prey drive and a Toy Fox Terrier wanting to chase a rabbit.
Walking an Alaskan Malamute with a desire to run is vastly different than going for a jog with a Beagle.
And finally, a Cane Corso or Dogo Argentino on guard at the end of the leash is nothing like a people-wary Chihuahua.
So herein lies the issue.
Big dogs were bred for a purpose and that purpose is often a drive that cannot be contained or controlled entirely.
It is up to us, as big dog owners, to understand our breed and how to “harness” the God-given genes he or she was passed on.
For many, a dog harness can be a perfect tool with which to do just that.
Here is a summary of the pros and cons for the use of a dog harness for large dogs.
- Less direct pressure on the neck and spine, especially for large dogs that pull on the leash
- Promotes loose leash walking with proper training
- Appropriate for all age dogs – from puppies to seniors
- Solution for large dogs with neurological or other health conditions which can be worsened with pressure from a collar around the neck
- Solution for large dogs with reactivity or aggression issues if used properly.
- Specialty harnesses like the Help Em Up and service or military harnesses for dogs with jobs or special needs
- Adaptable for many uses including dog sports, service, and car travel with dogs
- More challenging to fit properly as compared to a standard collar and leash.
- Requires some conditioning to acclimate your large dog to wearing one.
- More expensive (on average) compared to a standard collar and leash.
- With improper training, it may encourage pulling, even with a “no pull” dog harness.
- Improper fit can cause discomfort, pain, skin chafing, and a negative association with wearing it or walking in general.
Which Type of Dog Harness is Best for Large Dogs?
There are three main types of harnesses; those that clip on the back, those that clip on the front of the dog’s chest, and those that offer both.
The location of the leash attachment or clip is a very important distinction as it will affect how well the harness works for a particular owner and dog.
Within those categories are a few additional varieties that will also affect the fit and function of a particular dog harness. These can range from aesthetic differences to things that can affect a dog’s range of motion when walking.
I will be putting these into three categories; basic, moderate coverage, and full support.
Let’s discuss each in a little more detail.
BASIC Dog Harness
This is the most simple type of harness. It comes with few bells and whistles, but it gets the job done.
With a single strap looping over the dog’s back and looping around the chest, this type of dog harness is easy to put on and serves the primary function of reducing pressure on the neck and spine, like other harnesses.
Including either a leash attachment on the back or one on the front of the chest or both, these harnesses can work for many big dog owners.
Here are the pros and cons of this type of harness for large dogs:
Pros of the BASIC Dog Harness
- Simple to put on
- Reduces pressure on the neck and spine as compared to a traditional collar and leash
Cons of the BASIC Dog Harness
- May not provide a proper fit for all sizes and breeds
- Few points of adjustment make proper fitting difficult
- Improper fit can cause a decreased range of motion
- Straps can cause significant discomfort and skin chafing for some dogs
- “No pull” claims are not realized by most big dog owners
MODERATE COVERAGE Dog Harness
A moderate coverage dog harness is one that, while still providing the primary benefit of reducing pressure on the neck and spine, comes with a few advantages over the more basic harness.
As you can see here these harnesses come with larger, thicker straps and have more points of adjustment in order to give your dog a more custom fit, a greater range of motion, and more comfort.
In addition, these harnesses come with both a front clip and a back clip leash attachment for optimum flexibility.
To summarize, here are the pros and cons of a moderate coverage dog harness for large dogs:
Pros of the MODERATE COVERAGE Dog Harness
- Higher quality construction
- Numerous adjustment points for a more customized fit
- Provides both front and back leash attachment clips for flexibility
- Reduced chance of skin chafing with a proper fit
- Allows for a better range of motion compared to a basic dog harness
- Design and functionality work particularly well for reactive dogs
Cons of the MODERATE COVERAGE Dog Harness
- Will not work for dogs with a girth over 44” (for reference, Junior is 48” and Sulley is 42”)
- May not provide maximum comfort all large and giant breed dogs
- Strap design can cause skin chafing for some dogs if improperly fitted
- “No pull” claims are not realized by most big dog owners
- More expensive than a basic dog harness
FULL SUPPORT Dog Harness
The last type is what I call a full support harness.
Put simply, if I were to compare each of the three types of dog harness to a car…
BASIC = Ford Escort
MODERATE COVERAGE = Ford Explorer
FULL SUPPORT = Lincoln Navigator
While not right for all large dogs, the full support harness provides a premium level of quality and functionality unmatched by other types.
They generally have a more full coverage construction which can be seen as either a pro or a con depending on your needs.
Pros of the FULL SUPPORT Dog Harness
- Premium quality construction
- Numerous adjustment points for customized fit
- Many provide both front and back leash attachment clips for flexibility
- Skin chafing is minimal with full-coverage construction
- Design works well for specialized dog sports
Cons of the FULL SUPPORT Dog Harness
- Giant breed dogs are limited to a few manufacturers (details below)
- Proper fit is essential to provide a full range of motion
- More expensive than a moderate-coverage dog harness
- “No pull” claims are not realized by most big dog owners
- Not ideal for heat-sensitive dogs during hot summer months (though I have not personally had a problem with this living in Arizona)
What To Look For In a Dog Harness for a Big Dog
✅Proper size to give maximum comfort while walking
✅Machine washable for good hygiene
✅Style will meet the function you are using it for
✅Flexibility in size and function to adapt to changing needs
✅Full range of motion for front legs
✅Numerous adjustments for a customized fit
✅Durability for long-term use
✅Comfort and ability to dissipate heat during warm months
Which Dog Harness is No Pull?
As stated earlier, a harness is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less.
There are some tools, like the Gentle Leader head collar, which claim to be no pull.
According to the manufacturer, these head collars, “inhibit your dog from pulling while preventing excessive barking.”
It has a strap that closes around the nose and applies pressure on the back of the neck when a dog pulls.
This harness makes pulling uncomfortable by jerking the head sideways, which, they say, results in less pulling.
In other words, it acts as a positive punishment (adding something in order to make a behavior happen less often).
However, like with other aversive measures of controlling canine behavior, using a Gentle Leader is anything but gentle in the grand scheme of dog training and often fails to garner the results promised.
What happens when the head collar is taken off? The dog has learned nothing but walks tend to be very, very uncomfortable.
According to Pamela Dennison, CWRI, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the IAABC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants), speaker, and author of the best-selling dog training book, You Can Train Your Dog,
“While I understand that having a large breed dog may be daunting when trying to walk them, using harsh equipment will not teach the dog anything. It will not teach the dog that staying close by “pays off.” Using a so-called “no pull” harness actually adds pain – it hurts. It digs into their armpits. Of course, dogs being dogs, they will pull even harder away, trying to get away from the pain, not understanding that if they eased up it would stop hurting. Think about it – if you touch a hot stove and it hurts, would you keep your hand there? Of course not! You’d pull away! The key here is to find a harness that causes NO pain whatsoever. No equipment trains the dog to walk on a loose leash. YOU train the dog to walk on a loose leash. A good harness will help you get there, by getting rid of the choking/pain.“
The Truth About No Pull Dog Harnesses
On its own, a dog harness is not going to stop a dog from pulling on a leash.
If you have a Mastiff wanting to say hi to a neighbor, a Labrador chasing a rabbit, or a Malamute looking for a sled race, you will go from a big dog walker to a sled dog musher in a split second.
Trust me. I speak from experience.
Because of this, regardless of the marketing claim, in my view, there are NO truly “no pull” harnesses.
For a tool to be no pull, it must be fastened on a dog who understands loose leash walking, as Pamela said above.
Without proper training, a “no pull” dog harness is nothing more than a snug and desperate, “please don’t pull me” harness.
They have a great many benefits and advantages over a traditional collar and leash, especially for large dogs. However, we must not be lulled into the false promises of being no pull.Without proper training, a no pull dog harness is nothing more than a snug and desperate, 'please don’t pull me' dog harness.
How to Measure and Fit Your Large Breed Dog for a Dog Harness
Getting a properly fitting harness for a large dog is dependent on two things; measuring accurately and making adjustments for a proper fit.
To measure your dog, you will want to grab a soft tape measure like this and write down the following:
- Size at the base of the neck. Not up under the ears but rather towards the base of the neck just above the shoulders and chest.
- Girth around the thickest part of the chest behind your dog’s “armpits.”
*These are general guidelines and may vary slightly depending on the manufacturer.
Some designs may also require you to measure the length of the dog as well as the front leg length. Use these general rules to take those measurements:
- Body length – Measure from the withers, or shoulder blades, to the base of the tail (where it attaches to the dog’s bottom, not the tip of the tail)
- Leg length – Measure the inside of the leg from the bottom of the rib cage to the wrist bone.
When you get your harness, you will need to make several adjustments to ensure you get a proper fit. Generally, this means cinching each strap so that you can fit two fingers between the strap and your dog’s body.
Keep in mind that excess material around your dog will result in impaired functionality and decreased comfort with an increase in the risk of skin chafing, so be sure to adjust the harness appropriately.
**Again, these directions may vary slightly by brand, so be sure to read your harnesses directions carefully.
In the video below, I show you exactly how to select, measure, fit, and put on a dog harness so there is no confusion and you can see how each of the types fits on different size Mastiffs.
Step-by-Step Video Demonstration and Comprehensive Tutorial on Dog Harnesses for Big Dogs
Top 7 Dog Harnesses for Large Dogs
Now that you are an expert with all of the knowledge necessary to make a buying decision, you may be asking, “which dog harness is best for large dogs?”
Based on my personal experience, and the experience of hundreds of owners in the Big Dog Mom Community, here are the best harnesses for large dogs.
Like everything else, there is no one-size-fits-all. So these 7 harnesses are not listed in any particular order. They each have their pros and cons depending on your needs.
That said, I am providing this list to save you time researching. Put simply, less screen time = more dog time!
Without further adieu… here are the top 7 BEST dog harnesses for large dogs:Based on my personal experience, and the experience of hundreds of big dog owners in the Big Dog Mom Community, here are the top 7 best dog harnesses for large dogs.
Duo Adapt Harness by Duo GearDuo Gear is my new favorite dog harness for large dogs. Hands down! Duo Gear products are MADE IN THE USA, with the highest quality construction of any harness I reviewed. The harness pictured on Junior is the Duo Gear American Adapt which features a unique design which hugs the dog’s body with a top clip mechanism, functioning like a top and chest clip all in one. For those who want a front and back clip, the DUO ‘ECLIPSE’ Adventure Dog Harness is a perfect option! Duo Gear harnesses are uber-rugged, easily adjusted, and made with premium orthopedic foam for maximum comfort and durability! Size shown on Junior is an XXL and can be special ordered if you need a neck size bigger than 42" or a girth bigger than 50". I can’t recommend this company or harness strongly enough! It’s Big Dog Mom’s (and Junior’s) new favorite thing! 🥰Use code BIGDOGMOM at checkout for 20% OFF!
Kurgo Dog HarnessFor over a year, we have been using the Kurgo Journey Air Dog Harness. With premium quality construction, plenty of adjustments for a customized fit, chest AND back clip attachments for added control flexibility, a padded top grip for support if needed, and one of the few dog harnesses that comes in sizes big enough for giant breed dogs, I can’t recommend Kurgo Dog Harnesses highly enough for any big dog owner! Kurgo Journey Air Dog Harness will fit giant breed dogs with a neck size up to 35" and a girth of up to 44".
Julius-K9 IDC® Powerharness Dog HarnessThe Julius-K9 is a very popular dog harness among members of the Big Dog Mom Community and my Mastiff friends involved in dog sports. Sam’s (pictured here) owner shared many of the things she likes about the Julius, including the convenience of the top handle for assistance when needed, the easy of putting it on, the range of colors offered and how well it works for tracking sports. She also commented about the durability of the Julius: "Good on the purse too, the Newfies have had theirs since they were 11 months old, and they turned seven the beginning of this year, so six years plus and still going strong!" Julius K-9 IDC Size 4 will serve giant breed dogs with a girth up to 54.5"… or rather a small horse! 😉
Ruffwear Front Range Dog HarnessRuffwear Dog Harnesses are quality built and durable for long term use for even the most active big dog. With four points of adjustment, reflective trim, and a front and back clip attachment, the Ruffwear Dog Harness is an all in one solution for large and giant breed dogs. Ruffwear fits giant breed dogs up to 42" girth in their L/XL size.
Freedom No-Pull Dog HarnessThe Freedom Harness can be an effective for training when properly fitted. The Freedom Dog Harness comes with a reconfigurable design that allows you to attach to only the back or to the front and back of the harness simultaneously. I purchased our Freedom Dog Harness a few years ago to try and reduce Linus’s reactivity, and while I hesitate to say any dog harness is "no pull," the Freedom Dog Harness may be a solution for many large dogs with reactivity. MADE IN THE USA, the Freedom Dog Harness size 2XL size fits giant breed dogs up to 44" girth. If your dog is larger than this, you can contact the manufacturer to have one custom made for you!
Blue-9 Pet Products Balance HarnessThe Balance Dog Harness is rated #1 by Whole Dog Journal and is made in the USA. With its unique design, the Balance Harness offers a hybrid between a harness and traditional collar and leash functionality. The Y-Shape design provides a customized fit with 6 adjustments points for maximum comfort, reduced skin chafing, and full range of motion. The Balance Harness will fit large dogs with a girth up to 43.5". As one member of the Big Dog Mom Community put it: "I like that the Blue-9 harness has less coverage because my dogs get very hot and itchy in harnesses with more coverage. I definitely recommend the Blue-9!"
Mighty Paw Padded Sports Dog HarnessThe Mighty Paw Dog Harness is a weather-proof sport harness that is made of breathable mesh fabric with extra padding for comfort. With the both a top and front clip and multiple adjustments, this harness is built with flexibility in mind. The chest piece is supportive without restricting natural range of motion keeping your big dog secure and comfortable. The Mighty Paw Sport Dog Harness will fit neck width (not circumference) up to 22.5" and girth up to 49.5".
Hurtta Weekend Warrior ECO Dog HarnessThe Weekend Warrior Harness is an easy to put on, all-purpose harness designed for active dogs. With piping for improved visibility and safety and a top handle for added control, this harness has a great deal to offer. It has multiple adjustments for a customized fit. The Hurrta Weekend Warrior will fit dogs with neck size up to 35" and girth up to 50". Other options from Hurrta include a casual padded harness and a Trail Harness for more active big dogs.
Other Common Brands – Next 5 Honorable Mentions
While these brands did not work for us and therefore failed to make the TOP 7 BEST list, it would be unfair to discount the virtues they can offer many large and giant breed dogs.
The following are 5 brands who deserve this honorable mention: