By Richard Cross | Dog Q&A
Confused about which dog harness to buy? You’re not alone! Keep reading to learn about the step-in harness and why it might be a great choice for your pet.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the huge range of dog harnesses on the market though. Aside from the various brands, there are also many materials, styles and types of harness.
What are the real differences between these harnesses though? And which should you choose for your pet?
One of the most popular types is the step-in harness. In this article, I’ll explain how these harnesses work, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
There are two main types of walking harness: front-clip and back-clip. As the names suggest, the difference is where the leash attaches to the harness.
Confusingly, step-in harnesses can be either of these types. Instead of the attachment point, “step-in” refers to how you put on the harness.
How do they work, though?
A dog only needs to put his legs between two loops to get into a step-in harness (see the section below). You don’t need to pull a sleeve over the dog’s head or fiddle with annoying straps. Once the dogs legs are in position, a single buckle attaches behind the dog’s front legs.
There are several advantages of a step-in harness. The most important is that the design is safer for your pet’s neck.
Step in harnesses distribute leash pressure across the dog’s chest and shoulders. Unlike collars, which concentrate pressure on the trachea, step-ins reduce or eliminate choking.
Another advantage is that they are easy to put on. Some dogs are frightened of having a harness sleeve pushed over their head, which is why old-fashioned designs are often difficult to use.
There aren’t many drawbacks to a step-in harness, as they are a great choice for most dogs.
If your dog is aggressive on a leash, or is too strong for you to walk safely, a head halter may offer more control though. These harnesses are more difficult to put on and less comfortable for your pet, but provide control without causing pain.
Step-in harnesses are easy to put on, but a proper fit is important to prevent pain. Here’s how to do it:
Once you’ve fitted the harness on first use, you shouldn’t need to adjust it for a while. It’s worth checking every few walks, however, as there’s a chance the buckles could come loose.
Note: It’s also essential to get the right size harness. An incorrect size or poor fit can cause chafing, restricted movement and may even allow your dog to escape. Check out my sizing guide here for more information, or this page for a list of the best harnesses for small dogs.
The step-in design has become the preferred type of harness in recent years, so most brands manufacture them. Popular examples include Kurgo, Cetacea, Ruffwear and Chai’s Choice.
There are differences in how step-in harnesses are constructed by the various brands though.
Some harnesses’ are just straps with adjustment buckles. These are often cheap and great for dogs that don’t like a bulky harness, but are less suitable for dogs that are reactive or pull.
Other harnesses are designed with wider padded straps. These are more cumbersome for the dog, but do a better job of dissipating force and are more comfortable. The right choice for your pet depends on your dog’s behaviour on walks.
Step-in harnesses have become the most popular harness design in recent years – and for good reason. They are easy to put on, comfortable and help prevent damage to a dog’s neck.
It’s important to ensure a harness is fitted correctly though. While a properly fitted step-in harness can increase safety, a poor fit can cause chafing or allow your dog to escape. You should tighten the straps to get a snug fit, but still be able to put two fingers between the dog and harness.
Step-in harnesses also aren’t the right choice for every dog. If your pet is an aggressive puller, for example, you might want to consider a head halter for more control.
Do you have any questions about step-in harnesses? Let me know in the comments section below. I’m always happy to help!
Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.