How to Fit a Dog for a Harness

by Susan Paretts
Take thorough measurements of your dog's body to get him the right harness.

Take thorough measurements of your dog's body to get him the right harness.

Husky image by SapphireHU from

A dog harness is useful to have under many circumstances, such as for walking your dog, for sledding or for securing your dog in a car for a trip to the vet. Large breeds of dogs, and dogs with heads smaller than their necks, benefit from the use of a harness when you're walking them; a harness helps prevent injuries to the neck and escape from your control. A harness gives you more control over your dog and won't choke him if he pulls against his leash. To properly fit a harness, take careful measurements of your dog's body to ensure the animal's comfort while he's wearing it.

Step 1

Wrap a tape measure or piece of string around your dog's chest just behind his front legs; place two fingers under the measuring tape so you allow room for a little slack when the dog's wearing the harness. If you're measuring using a string, mark the length on the string and lay it out against a ruler to determine the measurement. Record this measurement -- this is the main dimension that determines the size of a harness.

Step 2

Measure around your dog's neck to determine the proper positioning of the Y-shaped yoke that will fit around the neck. Stretch the tape measure from the base of the back of the neck, in front of the shoulder blades, around to the front of the dog's breast bone, called the sternum. Some manufacturers use this dimension for neck sizing, while others double the figure to determine sizing.

Step 3

Determine your dog's length by measuring him from the base of the back of his neck, in front of the shoulder blades, to the base of his tail.

Step 4

Measure the length between the base of the dog's neck, in front of the shoulder blades, downward diagonally to the base of the ribcage at the bottom of the dog's stomach. Some harness types, especially those for sledding, require this measurement.

Step 5

Weigh your dog using a pet scale. Place the dog on the scale and have him sit still on it until it registers his weight. Record his weight in pounds. Some harness manufacturers require this to determine sizing for their products.

Step 6

Purchase a harness based on the measurements and weight you have recorded. Be aware that some harnesses require only one measurement while others require two or more of those you have taken. Follow each manufacturer's sizing, or bring your measuring tape into the store to match up the measurements you have taken to the available harnesses themselves. When in doubt, round each of the measurements up to a whole number to select a larger size rather than a smaller one; this ensures your dog's comfort.

Step 7

Place the harness on your dog and tighten any buckles to ensure a snug, but not tight, fit. You should be able to insert two fingers under the harness at any point. Some harnesses fit differently than others, there are H-style harnesses, K-style harnesses and X-style harnesses. Follow the manufacturer's directions for attaching the harness around your dog. Some harnesses may require that you lift one or more of your dog's front feet and insert them through the harness, while others consist of buckles that you fasten around your dog's body, neck and legs.

Step 8

Check your dog's fur and skin while wearing the harness; any signs of skin irritation or fur loss from the harness indicate that the harness should be slightly tighter or looser in those areas. All points of the harness should fall in the proper places when the dog is wearing the harness; for example, in harnesses with a Y-shaped front, the point of the "Y" should fall over the dog's sternum.

Items You Will Need

  • Tape measure
  • String
  • Ruler
  • Pet scale


  • Use any of these measurements to determine sizing for a car harness, walking harness or sledding harness. Fitting each type of harness is basically the same process, with slight differences in the arrangement of straps.
  • Choose a washable fabric harness that adjusts to your dog's body with buckles. As the harness ages, you can tighten the buckles to account for stretching in the fabric.
  • A harness with padding will make wearing it more comfortable for your dog, especially for dogs with short hair. But be aware that certain types of padding, such as wool or synthetic wool, might irritate some dogs rather than make them more comfortable.
  • Acclimate your dog to wearing a harness by placing it on him for a short amount of time and rewarding him with treats. Over a period of a few days, slowly increase the amount of time your dog wears the harness, always treating and praising him so he associates good things with the harness.
  • Purchase a young, growing dog an adjustable harness to account for his growth.


  • A dog with bronchitis, an upper respiratory disease or a collapsing trachea requires the use of a harness for walking on leash rather than a simple collar; the harness is medically necessary to prevent breathing problems.
  • Dogs can slip out of a poorly fit or loose harness. Check your harness each time you use it; the fabric can stretch, especially after washing, affecting the fit.
  • Have your dog microchipped behind an ear instead of between the shoulder blades to eliminate the risk of the harness irritating the chip or vice versa.

Photo Credits

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.