Dog Harnesses Fully Explained (Are They Cruel?)

For a long time the general thought around harnesses has been that they’re excessive and rather cruel. The last thing you’d want to do is get your dog a harness and harm them unknowingly. However, is this the case?

A well-fitted harness is not cruel and is actually a safer alternative to a collar. A harness that properly fits your dog can prevent injuries, choking, and offers greater control while walking your dog. The only time a harness can be harmful is if it doesn’t fit your dog correctly.

Below we dive deep into harnesses and whether they can be cruel, or actually beneficial for your dog. After reading you’ll discover everything you need to know about harnesses and be able to decide if a harness is the right choice for your pup.

Let’s dive in!

are dog harnesses cruel

Will I Harm My Dog By Using a Harness?

A valid concern when considering a harness is if your doggo will get hurt when using it. 

The truth is, you won’t be harming your furry friend as long as you’re using a proper fitted harness for them. A well-fitting harness that is not too tight and doesn’t overly restrict their movements won’t hurt your pup.

Having a proper fitting harness distributes the pulling pressure across their shoulders and chest in a way that your dog stays safe from injuries, choking, and unnecessary strains.

Skin irritations and unwanted tangling will only show up when you’re using a harness that isn’t fitted properly to your dog. These situations can harm them and should absolutely be avoided.

Ensuring the harness you get your doggo can be fully adjusted so it’s a snug fit will make it so there’s no unnecessary harm being done to your pup.

Does a Harness Make it Hard For a Dog to Breathe?

The only time a harness could make it hard for your dog to breathe is if it’s too tight. Chest injuries and breathing issues may occur if you’re using a harness that’s too tight for long periods of time.

However, when using a well-fitted harness it won’t make it hard for your dog to breathe. A harness keeps their neck area relaxed and puts pulling pressure on their shoulders and chest instead of their throat.

A harness allows them to breathe freely and not get choked if they decide to pull on their leash.

Always make sure you’re double checking the sizing chart of the particular harness you’re looking to buy so you can be certain you’re getting the perfect fit.

Can Harnesses Cause Skin Irritation?

The wrong harness for your dog can definitely cause skin irritation. A harness made of poor quality or one with poor adjustability can easily start to rub at your dog’s underarms. The constant rubbing can cause rashes, chafing or in worst case scenarios, cause bleeding.

However, if your dog is wearing a harness that is made of good quality material and fits them well, they won’t likely experience any skin irritations.

Sidenote: If your dog jumps in a puddle and gets their harness all wet, or decides to go diving into a pool, you should take it off and let them dry separately. 

Wet items can cause chafing more easily and this can easily be avoided.

Which Type of Harness Should You Stay Away From?

There are a few different types of harnesses available.

The most common types of harnesses are,  Back-Clip,  Front-Clip, Dual-Clip, and Head Halters.


A back-clip harness features a design where the leash connects on the back of your dog. Being the most commonly used harness, they are great for smaller dogs but can be troublesome for bigger dogs or dogs with behavioral issues.


As you might have figured out, front-clip harnesses have leash attachments on the front (on their chest). Using a front-clip harness helps discourage a dog from pulling. 


This flexible harness lets you connect your leash on their back or on their chest. You can use it as a front-clip harness, back-clip, or both at the same time. However your dog is behaving on a given day, the harness can cater to how they’re walking to improve the overall experience.

Head Halter

As the name suggests, the head halter harness wraps around the brim of their nose to obtain maximum control. They’re the best option for smaller people with big dogs. Dogs usually take some time to get used to these harnesses. 

So which harness should you stay away from?

It depends on your dog when it comes to the type of harness you should stay away from.

For example, you’d not want to use a head halter for a small dog. 

Head halters are usually recommended only in extreme conditions. Generally, you’d want to stay away from this type of harness unless your dog is big, strong, has pulling problems, and/or is dangerous.

Likewise, using a back-clip harness on a dog with an extreme pulling problem wouldn’t work well and would likely make their pulling even worse.

Regardless of the type of harness, you should stay away from using any harness that doesn’t fit your dog well. If it’s too loose your dog has a good chance of escaping from it, and if it’s too tight it can cause chafing and/or choking.

Harnesses with the most adjustability and customization are the best/safest options.

How Long Is Too Long For a Dog to Be Wearing a Harness?

Harnesses should preferably only be worn for walks, training, or other outdoor activities. These can typically last from 15 minutes to around 4 hours. Anything above that is a little too long for them to be wearing their harness.

Wearing a harness for too long can cause chaffing, become warm and uncomfortable, and even cause infection. Not to mention it will also make the harness age quicker and make it need to be replaced sooner.

Also, having your dog wear their harness overnight is most definitely too long, not to mention potentially dangerous. 

To the untrained eye, harnesses can look bulking and unnecessary. People likely don’t know much about harnesses and their benefits and settle for the collar they’ve used with their dog for years.

With all the advantages a harness brings for dogs and their owners, they’re still nowhere close to the fame they deserve.

One of the reasons being that selecting a harness that suits you and your dog requires some research and effort.

Many people likely operate under the saying of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. In the sense that the collar they’re using seems to get the job done so why bother looking into a harness.

Almost everyone who decides to look into harness typically comes to the conclusion that it’s the better option. It’s just a matter of the owner taking the initiative to look into harnesses and their benefits.

Are Harnesses Better or Worse Than Using a Collar?

In almost all situations a dog would be better served using a harness.

When a dog is learning how to walk nicely on a leash they will always start off pulling because there’s so many different smells and things going on for them to explore. A collar focuses all their pulling pressure on their neck which makes it difficult to breathe.

You’d think this would stop them from pulling but more often than not, it doesn’t.

This means their throat will go through constant strain until they learn how to walk nicely.

Harness completely avoids this strain on their neck. Making it a safer alternative for your pup.

Some people suggest that because a harness doesn’t punish pulling (like making it hard to breathe as a collar does) that it encourages pulling. This simply isn’t true.

Proper training doesn’t need ‘pain’ in order to get your dog to act the way you’d like while on a walk. Positive reinforcement of the behaviors you like will foster a much better relationship between the two of you.

Now, if your dog is already well trained on their leash and they don’t pull, a collar would suit them perfectly fine. If you live in a warm area a harness might be uncomfortable if they’re a good walker.

Whether a harness is better than a collar depends on the situation, but more often than not, a harness would be a better choice for your pup.

Final Thoughts

It’s fair to say that harnesses being called cruel is not true. This thought mostly comes from a lack of research and experience with one.

It’s super important to find a harness that fits your dog well. Meaning it fits like a snug hug, not too tight, but also not too loose. Many, if not all, harnesses have a sizing chart that you can use to make sure you’re getting your pup the right size so their experience is the best it can be.

Using a harness with care, balance, and proper adjustments will help you and your pup get the most out of it.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Do Harnesses Encourage Pulling? (The Truth..)

Top 15 Dog Harnesses: What Makes Them the Best of the Bunch

Alec Littlejohn

Founder and Reviewer at Pawscessories. He is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! He grew up in a family of vets and to this day he helps out around the family clinic and shares his learnings on Pawscessories. Learn more about Alec's story here

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