Need a harness for your GSD? With hundreds of harnesses on the market, it’s not always easy to choose. Keep reading to learn how to pick a German Shepherd harness, followed by our five top picks.
- Why Use a Harness Instead of a Collar?
- How to Choose a Dog Harness for a GSD or Other Large Dog Breed
- 5 Best German Shepherd Harnesses
- Frequently Asked Questions
German Shepherds are large dogs with strong muscles and plenty of energy. These traits, combined with the GSD’s unique head shape, means it’s important to choose a safe and secure harness.
Unfortunately, many harnesses are too weak to handle a German Shepherd. GSDs can be strong pullers, so it’s essential that stitching, leash attachments and buckles are all able to withstand a large force. Cheap harnesses may also cause chafing and discomfort.
The good news is there are some excellent GSD harnesses available. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the key features to look for when buying a harness for this breed, along with my top five picks.
But before we go any further – why do German Shepherds need a harness at all?
Our #1 Pick: Julius-K9 IDC Dog Harness
A tough and durable harness that’s great for German Shepherds
My top pick for a German Shepherd harness is the Julius-K9 IDC. It’s a durable harness with a handle, adjustable straps, and padding for comfort. If you’re not sure which harness to buy for a GSD, the Julius-K9 is a great option.
Why Use a Harness Instead of a Collar?
I always recommend walking a dog on a harness rather than a collar. Harnesses are safer, more comfortable, and more secure.
The big advantage of a harness is that it spreads force across the chest and shoulders, instead of focusing it on the neck. If your dog often chokes or coughs when walking on a collar, a harness is a safer option.
It’s not just about short-term comfort though – there are long-term consequences to walking on a dog collar.
Pressure on the neck can cause chronic pain, neck damage, and back problems. Extreme force, such as when the dog suddenly jerks to chase a squirrel or cat, can even cause tracheal collapse. This is less likely in big, strong breeds, but can still be an issue for German Shepherds.
These aren’t the only problems associated with collars. Regular pressure on the thyroid gland, which is located at the top of the neck, has been linked to thyroid issues. Constant pulling can also cause glaucoma, due to increased arterial pressure.
Aside from health problems, collars are also easier for a dog to slip out from. This is particularly dangerous for GSDs, who have a head that’s smaller than their neck girth.
In short, harnesses are nearly always the safer option.
Are there any downsides to harnesses for German Shepherds, though?
Some owners believe harnesses encourage pulling. While this is partly true, as collars can be painful when pulling, it’s only half the story. Harnesses don’t encourage pulling, they just make it less painful to do so – which is a good thing (especially if your dog is pulling anyway).
Regardless of whether harnesses are more comfortable, you shouldn’t rely on pain or discomfort to prevent pulling. Instead, training using positive reinforcement is the key – and this works whether you’re using a collar or a harness.
Tip: No pull harnesses with a front leash attachment can discourage pulling without causing pain or compromising your dog’s safety. I’ve included several examples in the list below. They should still only be used as a temporary solution though.
Why We Are Against Aversive Tools
There are many aversive collars that rely on pain to discourage pulling. Examples include shock collars, prong collars, martingale collars, half-check collars, and choke chains. Even supposedly “gentle” headcollars fall into this category.
At The Dog Clinic, we are firmly against aversive collars. These tools have been linked to severe injury, pain and distress, while also teaching the dog to fear walks rather than enjoy them. Instead, focus on positive dog training methods to teach your dog to walk politely without relying on painful techniques.
How to Choose a Dog Harness for a GSD or Other Large Dog Breed
Choosing a dog harness for a German Shepherd is similar to any other breed, with a few notable differences. Here are the main factors to consider:
- Durable Design. GSDs are big, muscular dogs, so the dog harness you choose must be a match for their strength. Nylon harnesses with reinforced stitches and strong buckles are often the best choice, as nylon is relatively lightweight. Leather harnesses, while strong, tend to stretch – especially if your dog is a puller.
- Adjustable Straps. A proper fit is essential for keeping your dog safe and comfortable. Look for harnesses with multiple adjustment points to help you get a snug fit. The best harnesses allow you to adjust both the neck strap and chest strap.
- Comfortable to Wear. Foam padding material can reduce the pressure of a harness and relieve pain. Breathable mesh can also keep your pet cool and dry.
- Handle. While a handle isn’t essential, it can be useful when you need quick control of your German Shepherd. Strong handles are also great for giving your dog a helping hand into the car or over an obstacle.
- Quick-Release Buckles. There are two main types of buckle: flat-belt and quick-release. Flat-belt buckles are like those on a human belt, and are arguably more secure. The best quick-release buckles are much easier to use and strong enough for a German Shepherd though.
- Reflective Design. Many harnesses come with reflective stitching or lining. This can be useful for low-light conditions. For walking at night, some harnesses also have an attachment point for a torch (such as the Julius-K9 IDC).
- Front Clip Leash Attachment. Nearly all harnesses have a back clip D-ring for attaching a leash, but some also have a front D-ring. This is often called a “no pull” harness, as attaching a leash to the harness causes the dog to walk in a circle when pulling, rather than where he wants to go. This won’t stop pulling completely, but can reduce it without causing pain.
- Style. Once you’ve found a few harnesses you like, your final choice may depend on the style you like best. Some German Shepherd owners like a military or tactical style. Others prefer a harness with a more light-hearted design. I’ve included a variety of styles in the list below.
Additionally, harnesses that can be machine-washed are much easier to maintain. Many of the best harnesses can only be hand-washed though.
Note: If you’re buying a car harness, make sure it has been crash tested. Just because a harness has a seatbelt loop doesn’t mean it’s safe in a collision.
Picking the Right Size for a German Shepherd
It’s vital to choose the right size harness for your GSD. Too small, and the harness could cause chafing and discomfort. Too big, and it may be possible for your dog to slip free.
Don’t rely on your dog’s weight to choose a harness. Measure both neck and chest girth, then use the manufacturer’s sizing chart to choose the appropriate size. If your dog falls on the boundary of two sizes, try the larger option first.
Ideally, look for a harness that can be adjusted around both your dog’s neck and chest size, otherwise it can be difficult to get a comfortable fit.
Remember, you can always send the dog harness back if it’s too big or small.
Note: Need a collar for your GSD? Read my guide to the best German Shepherd collars.
5 Best German Shepherd Harnesses
Now you know what makes a great German Shepherd harness, here are my five top picks. Please read each mini-review carefully to find the right option for your big dog.
1. Julius-K9 IDC Dog HarnessVIEW PRICE
My top pick for a German Shepherd dog harness is the tough and durable Julius-K9 IDC PowerHarness. It’s one of the strongest harnesses on the market, plus it’s easy to adjust to a GSD’s body shape and has a handle for extra control on a walk.
The Julius-K9 was originally designed for working dogs, but it’s proven to be an excellent dog harness for everyday use. It’s one of the toughest harnesses on the market, due to its quality construction and heavy-duty buckles, and has reflective features for low-light conditions.
An advantage of the Julius-K9 is that both the belly and front straps can be adjusted. This makes it easy to get a snug fit to your German Shepherd’s body shape. It’s also easy to take on and off, doesn’t restrict motion, and fits comfortably over a GSDs coat.
The PowerHarness also has a built-in handle for extra control. While this isn’t an essential feature, handles can be useful for helping your dog into the car or over obstacles on a walk.
A downside is the Julius-K9 isn’t the best harness for German Shepherds who have a habit of escaping. It can also be fiddly to adjust the front Velcro strap, and the fabric traps plenty of hair.
Even so, the durable and comfortable design make this dog harness an excellent choice for German Shepherds and other large breeds.
The Julius-K9 IDC PowerHarness is my #1 recommendation for a German Shepherd harness. It’s strong, adjustable, and comfortable for GSDs to wear – regardless of whether they are a service dog or not. I also like that it has a reflective design and built-in handle.
2. Ruffwear Front Range No Pull Dog HarnessVIEW PRICE
The Ruffwear Front Range is one of the most popular dog harnesses on the market – and a great choice for German Shepherds. It’s a high-quality harness with four adjustment points, so it can fit almost any breed. It also has a front leash attachment to act as a “no pull” harness.
With its padded design and four adjustment points, the Front Range – when properly fitted – is a comfortable harness for a German Shepherd to wear. The quick-release buckles also make it easy to get on and off.
One of the most important features is the front fabric leash attachment. This is often called a “no pull” leash attachment, as it guides the dog in a circle rather than allowing him to pull forwards. This isn’t going to completely stop a strong puller from pulling, but it can be surprisingly effective at reducing pulling while you perform loose leash training.
Other features include a lightweight design, reflective trim, and an ID pocket. The Ruffwear Front Range is also a strong harness that’s capable of handling a German Shepherd.
There are a few drawbacks though. The Front Range doesn’t have a built-in handle, which can be useful for providing extra control. It also isn’t the best harness for German Shepherds who often escape their harness (see the Webmaster below for a better option).
I also wish the front attachment was metal rather than fabric. While the attachment has reinforced stitching, I would feel more comfortable using it with big dogs if it was metal. You can always use a dual leash – one attached to the back and one to the front – if you’re worried though.
Despite these drawbacks, the Ruffwear Front Range is an excellent walking harness for German Shepherds. If you want a more padded design than the Julius-K9, go for the Front Range.
The Ruffwear Front Range is a “no pull” harness with a front attachment point. This can reduce pulling without causing pain. It’s also easy to adjust to a German Shepherd’s body shape and has plenty of padding.
3. Chai’s Choice Dog HarnessVIEW PRICE
The Chai’s Choice Dog Harness is another “no pull” German Shepherd harness that’s a cheaper alternative to the Ruffwear Front Range. I don’t think it’s quite as durable, but it’s still a strong option that provides excellent value for money.
With its adjustable design and simple construction, the Chai’s Choice is a solid dog harness that’s a decent choice for German Shepherds. It’s made with mesh lining and is relatively lightweight, so it’s comfortable for your dog to wear. The soft padding on the belly and chest also prevent chafing.
Like the Ruffwear Front Range, the Chai’s Choice has both front and rear leash attachments. Using the front attachment can discourage pulling without using an aversive collar, as the dog is pulled in a circle rather than forward.
Other features include a reflective design, small handle, and a relatively low price. The Chai’s Choice dog harness is also available in a variety of colours.
A minor drawback is that I feel the Chai’s Choice is a bit stiffer than the Front Range. There’s only a slight difference though, so it’s still a comfortable harness to wear. It can also be a bit fiddly to adjust the first time you use it.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive dog harness with a front attachment, however, it’s hard to beat.
The Chai’s Choice Dog Harness is another ‘no pull’ option that provides great value for money. If your German Shepherd loves to pull, it could reduce this behaviour without causing pain. It also has padding, a handle and an adjustable design.
4. Ruffwear Webmaster Dog HarnessVIEW PRICE
If your German Shepherd often backs out of his harness, the Ruffwear Webmaster could be the perfect solution. It’s a tough harness with an extra rear strap, making it almost impossible to escape from. The Webmaster is also easy to adjust and has plenty of padding.
German Shepherds might not have the “escape artist” reputation of other breeds, such as the Siberian Husky, but they are still capable of backing out of a harness. The Webmaster is designed to stop this, with a rear strap and five points of adjustment.
Aside from the secure design, the Ruffwear is a strong harness that’s made for hiking, adventure and working dogs. It also has padding on the chest and stomach straps to keep your German Shepherd comfortable, and a strong handle for when you need extra control.
The biggest drawback is that it’s an expensive product – especially compared to the other harnesses on this list. It also doesn’t include a front attachment, although there is an extra rear D-ring if you want to use a dual leash for extra control.
Don’t overlook the Webmaster if your GSD loves to escape though. It’s one of the safest and most secure harnesses on the market.
The Ruffwear Webmaster is a great choice for dogs who are able to escape out of regular harnesses. It’s not cheap, but is a durable harness that’s adjustable, padded and has a reflective trim.
5. Excellent Elite Spanker Tactical Dog VestVIEW PRICE
If you like the tactical or military style, the Excellent Elite Spanker Dog Vest is a great choice for German Shepherds. It’s a durable and strong harness that’s built to a high standard, plus it’s available in a variety of military colour schemes.
The Excellent Elite Tactical Dog Vest is made with strong nylon that’s built to last. It’s a well-made harness that also has a padded lining for extra comfort.
An interesting feature is the extra vertical strap between the belly and neck straps. This stops the neck strap riding up and protects your dog’s trachea. The harness also comes with quick-release buckles and is available in several styles.
The biggest drawback to this harness is that the neck strap isn’t adjustable. This can make it difficult to get a snug fit on some German Shepherds.
The Excellent Elite Spanker Tactical Dog Vest is a stylish harness for German Shepherds. It’s a durable product that feels well-made, although the lack of an adjustable neck strap means it may not fit every dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Harness is Best for a German Shepherd Puppy?
Harnesses are even more important for puppies, as their under-developed necks may be more susceptible to an injury when pulling on a collar.
Most of the harnesses above can be used for a puppy. The problem is that German Shepherd puppies are likely to quickly outgrow their first harness, so it’s probably not worth buying an expensive option.
A good compromise between quality and price is the Puppia RiteFit. This is made out of breathable mesh that isn’t as durable as the other options on this list, but should still be strong enough for a puppy.
For other breeds, you may also want to check out my page of the best dog harnesses here.
Choosing a German Shepherd harness isn’t always easy. GSDs are strong dogs that need a secure and comfortable harness – and many harnesses simply aren’t up to the job.
My top pick for a German Shepherd harness is the excellent LJulius-K9 IDC PowerHarness . It’s a strong and durable option, plus the handle is useful for when you need quick control. I also like the reflective strips for low-light walking.
I hope this article has helped you choose the best dog harness for your German Shepherd. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know in the comments section below. You may also want to read my guide to crates for German Shepherds.