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How To Put On A Dog Harness – 7 Simple Steps (2023 Reviewed)

How To Put On A Dog Harness | An Overhead & Step In Style Guide

Many vets and pro dog trainers recommend that people use a dog harness over the traditional collar when putting your canine companion on a leash for a walk or when tying out on a lead. The reason for this is that collars put pressure on the delicate area of the neck, throat, trachea, and thyroid glands which can easily lead to serious injury if the dog starts straining on the end of the leash.

For example, have you ever seen a dog pulling their owner around with a collar around his neck while coughing and straining to breath? This situation is dangerous and can easily lead to long term damage to the dog. Even a dog that has good leash manners can suddenly be distracted by a small animal only to put severe shock on the neck when they reach the end of the leash.

Sara Ochoa

Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa | Doctor Of Veterinary Medicine

Sara is PuppyDogger’s Veterinarian Adviser and helped compose this article to ensure the information is up to date and accurate. For more information on Sara click here

For these reasons, a well fitted dog harness is a dog owner’s best option for regular walks and other activities where being able to restrain your dog is important. If you are new to using a harness for your dog, this article will explain how to put on a dog harness so that you can use this safe walking gear.

Soon you will be putting on your dog’s harness just as fast as you did their regular collar, whether it is a dog harness of the traditional type (with two side clips) or the step-in style of dog harness (with a single clip that goes on the back).

How to Put on An Over the Head Harness on A Dog

There are many types of dog harnesses, before we start on the steps to putting a standard style harness on your dog, first take a minute to allow your dog to sniff the harness and give him some praise and reward while near the harness. This helps to develop a positive association with this new doggy gear.

Meanwhile, take a moment to get confident with how this harness is designed to work. You will notice a D-ring where the leash is designed to clip to. In a standard dog harness, there is always a D-Ring on the part of the harness that will lay on your dog’s back where you will clip on the leash. In some there will also be a clip in the front of the chest designed for those dogs who are problem pullers.

Take a moment to also note where there are places to adjust the harness for size. Go ahead and adjust them to where you think they might best fit using an estimate. You can further fine tune these adjustments using our tips for fitting your dog harness below. 

Once you have a sense for how your harness is designed to be worn, you are ready to start placing it on your dog. The steps below will walk you through how to do that the first time, adding in positive reinforcement to make it comfortable and easy on your canine companion. Once you have practiced these steps a few times, you will be able to put your dog harness on with ease. Over the head style harnesses are great for breeds that require a gentle touch. A great option for the following dog types:

Steps for Putting on a Over the Head Dog Harness:

  1. 1Start with both side buckles unclipped, and the front loop completely closed with enough room to slip it over your dog’s head.
  2. 2Get a treat your dog likes in your left hand and place your that hand through the loop that will go over your dog’s head from the opposite direction as his head will go through.
  3. 3In your right hand, hold the D-Ring that belongs on your dog’s back. Pull it back to the inside of your left elbow, so that now your left hand is holding out the treat.
  4. 4Offer your dog the treat and as they are eating it, gently grab their nose with your left hand and use your right hand pull the D-ring in place on the dogs back which will also pull the front loop over their head. Reward your dog with another treat.
  5. 5Remove the harness by pulling it back over your dog’s head and practice this move a few times. This teaches your dog to allow you to slip the front loop over their head and to turn their head towards you rather than away when it is time to have their dog harness put on.

Fun Fact: A little extra practice of this move early one will save you a lot of time and hassle down the road.

  1. 7Once your dog is comfortable with having the front loop slipped over their head on and off a few times, you are ready to clip the sides. You may need to practice this a few times and make some fitting adjustments if it is your first time using the dog harness.
  2. 8Once you have some practice putting on the dog harness with both sides unclipped to start, you may decide to save time by putting the harness on with one side already clipped. To do this, the initial procedure is the same, however, after the front loop is over their head, you will need to lift your dog’s paw and place it through the loop created on the side that is already clipped. The easiest way is to reach through this loop from the opposite direction, find their paw, and pull it through. Clip the other side and you are ready to go!

How to Put on A Step in Dog Harness

rhodesian ridgeback wearing a step in dog harness

Just like with the standard dog harness detailed above, first take some time to familiarize yourself and your dog with their new gear. Notice there are two triangular loops, one for each paw to go through, and a single clip that will attach at the back.

Make your initial guess at the adjustments for size. Below we offer some tips on getting the proper fit.Step In style harnesses are great for the more powerful dog types. A great option for the following breeds:

Steps for Putting on a Step-In Dog Harness:

  1. 1Lay the harness down flat on the floor with the D-ring facing towards the ground. You will see two triangles.
  2. 2Help your dog by placing their feet into each of the loops while sitting or standing. Reward and praise.

Fun Fact: Practice this vital step many times before moving on to the next step as it will save you a great deal of trouble in the future. Be sure to reward often during this step!

  1. 3Pull the loops up and around your dog, clipping the buckle in the back. Practice taking it on and off a few times to help your dog get comfortable with their new gear.

How to Properly Fit Your Dog Harness

Once you have practice getting your dog harness on and off a few times, it is time to fine tune for a good fit. If you haven’t yet purchased your gear, be sure to check out our guide for how to measure for a dog harness.

Using the adjustment points on your particular harness, loosen or tighten the straps until you have achieved the following:

  • Around the Neck: The harness does not need to be snug around the neck like a collar. Instead, it should lay flat on the chest with the highest part below the sensitive areas of your dog’s neck.
  • Around the Chest: The loops around the chest should be snug but not tight. There needs to be enough room for your dog to take a large breath while exercising. You should be able to slide a few fingers between the chest straps and your dog at rest.

Check out our below guides for more dog harness information:


How Do You Put A Harness on A Large Dog?

The procedure for putting a harness on a large dog is the same as the steps outlined above. However, we find that the standard, over the head style harness is best for larger breeds in most cases.

In addition, since larger dogs are more powerful, be sure to select a harness with wider webbing to help distribute the weight of the harness more evenly. 

How Do You Put A Clip on A Dog’s Front Harness?

If you have a problem puller on your hands, using a harness with a front clip can help because when your dog tries to pull forward, it will gently pull them to the side and make it easier for you to regain control.

Only clip a harness in the front if it is designed to do so and has a D-ring on the front of the chest. 

Sharon Elber (M.S. in Science & Technology) – Professional Dog Trainer

Sharon is a professional dog trainer with over 10 years experience. She is also a professional writer that received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.For more info on Sharon click here

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