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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 Julius-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.