There’s no question that a harness is one of the safest ways to walk your dog. They are difficult for dogs to slip out of and, for dogs that tend to pull, they protect against neck strain. Harnesses also make it easier for handlers to walk dogs on a leash by reducing the urge to pull and making it easier to correct the dog’s direction. Unfortunately, putting a dog harness on for the first time isn’t always an easy feat, especially if your dog isn’t used to trying new things. This step-by-step guide to how to put on a dog harness should make the experience easier for both you and your dog so you can enjoy safe, comfortable walks together. 

How to put on a dog harness: step by step instructions

Step 1. Allow your dog to sniff the harness

Before you attempt to put the harness on, let your dog inspect it. Hold the harness up for your dog to sniff, or place it on the floor so your dog can investigate the strange contraption at his leisure.

This simple step allows your dog to become familiar with the harness. Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the anxiety that may come with wearing a harness for the first time.

Step 2. Have your dog stand calmly next to you

It will be easiest to put the harness on if your dog is calm. If necessary, wait until your dog stops jumping or wriggling before attempting to put the harness on.

Step 3. Orient the harness 

Before you proceed with putting the harness on, make sure you have it oriented correctly. When using a new harness, it’s easy to become confused by all of the straps, especially if they become twisted by a wriggling pup. 

The easiest way to orient a harness is by identifying where the D-rings that you clip the leash to should be positioned. Typically there will be one on the chest or on the strap that rests on top of your dog’s back. Some harnesses have both.

Step 4. Put the harness on

If using an over-the-head harness, slip the harness over your dog’s head and tuck the chest piece under your dog’s chest. Then, fasten the straps around your dog’s body behind the front legs.

If using a step-in dog harness, place your dog’s paws through the triangles on either side of the chest strap. Then, buckle the harness around your dog’s body.

There are many different harnesses on the market these days, so the exact steps to fasten your harness may vary slightly. Some harnesses are very straightforward, and others have multiple fastening points. Check your harness’s package for a diagram of how to put it on correctly.  

Step 5. Adjust the straps to fit your dog

Now that the harness is on your dog, you may need to adjust it to fit properly. Observe your dog in the harness for a few minutes and take note of any fit issues. 

Does it look like the harness might slip off? Is it sagging too much in any area? Is it too tight and inhibiting your dog’s range of motion?

The harness should be snug enough to not slip off your dog even when they are sitting or laying down. At the same time, you want it to be loose enough that it’s comfortable for your dog. Make sure you can fit two fingers underneath any of the harness straps. 

Step 6. Attach a GPS dog tracker to the harness

dog wearing harness with GPS dog tracker outside
Pictured: Tractive GPS Dog Tracker

For safety, don’t forget to fasten your GPS dog tracker to the harness before you leave the house

Ensure that it’s pointed toward the sky for consistent tracking. Alternatively, if the harness has a pocket, you can slip the tracker inside to keep it secure.

With unlimited range, Tractive GPS lets you track your dog down if they take off with you – no matter how far they run. Just go into LIVE Mode in the app to track them in real-time.

Discover Tractive GPS

Tractive GPS also lets you monitor your dog’s activity levels which helps you understand what their normal is. That way, you can set goals or note any sudden changes. 

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Step 7: Reward

Once the harness is on your dog, reward them with praise and treats to reinforce their good behavior. Your dog may feel uncomfortable in the harness, so the more you shower them with praise, the sooner they’ll relax and realize that all is well. 

More tips for putting on a dog harness

Try the harness on without leaving the house 

When introducing your dog to a harness for the first time, don’t wait until right before a walk to put it on. 

Doing so will only result in stress for both of you. Your dog will be anxious to get out the door for a walk, and you will likely become frustrated because your dog isn’t cooperating with your attempts to put the harness on.

Instead, help your dog get used to the harness by letting them wear it around the house. 

You may have to work up to fastening the harness around your dog

If your dog is anxious or extra-wriggly, it may take multiple tries before your dog lets you buckle the harness. And that’s perfectly OK!

If your dog is resistant to the harness, use positive reinforcement such as treats and praise to help them relax. You may need to work up to fastening the harness. On the first attempt, maybe rest the harness around their neck and reward them. 

Once your dog is comfortable with that, progress to buckling one of the straps. Depending on your dog’s comfort level, it could take multiple days to progress all the way to fully fastening the harness. Be patient and offer lots of praise; you’ll get there eventually.

Don’t leave the house until you get the fit right

The last thing you want is for your dog to slip out of the harness when you’re on a walk. That’s why it’s so essential to ensure the harness is adjusted correctly.

So, let your dog wear the harness around the house for a while. This way, you can observe your buddy, note any fit issues, and make the necessary adjustments.

Which type of harness is best for your dog?

There are a few different styles of dog harnesses to choose from, and it may take some trial and error to find the best harness for your dog.

Harnesses are typically differentiated by how they go onto the dog (step-in versus over-the-head) or by where the leash attaches to the harness.

Of the two ways to differentiate, the leash attachment location is the most important consideration as this affects how you control your dog. 

Let’s take a look at the three most common types of harnesses:

Front-clip Harness 

Front-clip harnesses have a leash attachment that aligns with the center of a dog’s chest. These harnesses are commonly used as a way to stop dogs from pulling. 

Because the leash attaches to the front of the harness, any time your dog pulls, you can redirect them back toward you, reminding them to look to you for direction. 

While these harnesses can be handy for directing your dog, front-clip harnesses often get tangled around a dog’s legs if there is any slack in the leash. This can be frustrating for both you and your dog, especially if you plan to go running with your dog

Back-clip Harness

With a back-clip harness, the dog’s leash attaches to a loop on the dog’s back, usually between the shoulder blades. These harnesses are a particularly good option for small dogs as they keep the leash out of the way of their legs while giving you full control of the dog.

dog wearing harness, gps dog tracker and leash outside in forest

Dual-Clip Harness

Dual-clip harnesses have clips on both the front and the back of the harness, allowing you to choose where to clip the leash. 

If you’re not sure which location will work best for your dog, a dual-clip harness might be the right place to start.

When you’re learning how to put on a dog harness for the first time, patience is key. Of course, there’s a good chance your dog will be cooperative and everything will go smoothly. But, if that’s not the case, keep trying, and use plenty of positive reinforcement along the way. 

And remember, there are all kinds of harnesses out there; it may take a few tries before you find the right one for your dog.

Once you’ve mastered the harness, learn how to teach your dog to walk on the leash (dog leash training).

Video Tutorial: How to put on a dog harness

For a visual demonstration of how to put on a dog harness, watch the video below:

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