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How to Measure Your Dog for a Walking Harness - The Ultimate Guide

Written by Jenny McKellar

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Posted on July 08 2024

How to Measure Your Dog for a Walking Harness: The Ultimate Guide

We get lots of questions about what measurements we need to make harness size recommendations, so we put together this article to explain what we might ask for and why.

First the Fit

To understand what measurements are needed and why, it helps to know what a walking harness should look like on your dog. These are some of the most important considerations when it comes to harness fit:

  

  • The shoulder blade (scapula) should be free to move and front leg extension/abduction should not be restricted. (Extension is forward movement; abduction is sideways movement away from the body.)

  • Ideally the lowest point of the front neck opening of the harness should sit on the top of the breastbone (prosternum) and not on the soft tissues above. There are many sensitive structures and nerves in the neck and we should aim for no pressure on those areas; eg, collapsed trachea is a dangerous and unfortunately a fairly common potential side-effect of continuous pulling on a collar or badly designed harness.

  • The girth strap should sit a nice distance away from the front legs so as not to chafe the inside back of the leg. The girth strap buckles should be at the top of the straps so as not to come into contact with the front leg when walking (most, if not all, of our harnesses have buckles at the top). The girth strap should be firm, but not tight, so it anchors the entire harness on the dog's body. This is especially important if you are attaching the leash to the front d-ring.
  • The style of the harness, and the size of the straps and buckles should be in proportion to your dog. The width of the strap going between the front legs should be an appropriate size so as not to rub the inside of the legs.


Now the Measurements

Finding the right harness for your dog can be tricky - think of when you have been shopping for jeans … how many pairs of jeans did you try on that looked similar and were the same size, until you found “the one” that suited you best? Or maybe you were lucky enough to grab the perfect pair first try!

Not only are measurements needed for sizing, but they are also very helpful when suggesting what brand and/or style of harness might be best for your furry friend.

Measure your dog when they are standing and when they are as relaxed as possible. Have treats or toys ready so you can desensitise your dog to the tape measure. Give them a break between measuring each part of the body if they need it.

1. Girth measurement

Your dog’s girth is the measurement in a circle around their chest behind the front legs.

I usually start at the top where the spine is, then go down and around the chest/tummy and back up to meet the tape at the top, but you can use whatever method suits you and your dog.


                

 

Take the measurement where you’d like the girth straps to sit. You want a nice amount of clearance behind the front legs. The actual distance away from the front legs will vary depending on the size of your dog. For example, you might take the girth measurement of a chihuahua about 3cm behind the front legs; but for an beagle you might take the measurement about 5cm behind the front legs; or for a labrador, about 8cm behind the front legs. If your dog’s chest deepens past that point, take the measurement where the chest is the deepest.

The girth strap should sit on the ribs, but not too far back and certainly not past the ribcage, unless for a double-girth harness, or a canicross harness etc – for a double-girth harness (sometimes called a Houdini harness) often the second strap sits past the end of the ribcage. In this case, the leash attachment point should be on the first strap, not the second.

When you measure, use a soft fabric tape. If you don’t have one of those, use a piece of soft ribbon or soft thick string and then measure that against a ruler or builders tape measure. Have the soft tape measure or ribbon/string sitting close to the dog’s body, but not super tight.

Quite often the girth measurement is very helpful in determining how suitable the harness will be overall. If your dog's girth measurement is at the very start of the girth size range, the length of the harness should be good, but the neck may be roomy. If you dog's girth measurement is at the very end of the girth size range, it's possible that the harness might be too short, but the neck should be a good fit. Ideally, we like to have your dog's girth measurement sitting in the middle of the girth range, which indicates the length should be good and the neck size should be good, and there is adjustment to get both smaller and larger. But it all depends on the harness style and your dog's size and breed/s of course!

2. Sternum to girth measurement

Measure the distance from the top of the breastbone (the prosternum; the hard knobbly bone underneath the neck) to where the girth should ideally sit. Use the girth measurement info above to determine where the girth strap should sit for your dog.

This measurement will help determine the ideal length of the "middle strap" (sometimes called belly strap or chest strap) and ensure the girth straps don't sit too close to the front legs.

 

 

 

Some harnesses are better than others at accommodating a deep chest. This could be because they are fairly long in general (eg Blue-9) or that the brand has a special ‘long’ edition of a harness (eg Haqihana, anny.x). 

If your dog has a very deep chest, the girth can sit a fraction past the deepest point. This is so the girth straps don’t creep forwards towards the front legs. 

Some brands provide a measurement of the middle strap in their size chart. If they don’t provide this measurement, we can measure the middle strap and provide our advice as to whether a particular harness will be an appropriate length for your dog.

Look at the photos below of two English Pointers - same breed but one has a chest much deeper than the other. This is why it's helpful to include a sternum to girth measurement (and a photo) when asking us for harness sizing advice, so we can suggest the right style and length of harness for your dog.

 

 3. Neck measurement

Some harness brands include a neck measurement in their size chart, sometimes with a graphic indicating where they want you to take your dog’s neck measurement. If this graphic is not provided, we suggest taking the measurement at the bottom edge of or just below the collar.

        
If a neck size range is included in a size chart you should take it into consideration, but if it is not listed in the size chart for the harness you are considering, we usually don’t require it. We are more likely to use breed, m/f, girth measurement, photo and our fitting experience, to determine if a harness will likely fit your dog’s neck. Because everyone measures their dog’s neck slightly differently and because a harness generally doesn’t sit where a collar does, it's hard for us to successfully compare a neck measurement to a harness.

 

Note A: None of our harnesses are designed to sit over or compress the scapula.
There is no specific measurement that you can take to check scapular placement within a harness. The best way to check this is when you try the harness on your dog. However, you can choose a harness that has straps of an appropriate width that is in proportion with your dog’s size and shape, so that the neck straps do not sit over the top of the scapula. You can also check the pictures for each harness on our web site/instagram or do an internet search for dogs wearing the particular harness you are interested in. Or ask us!

Note B: Generally, your dog’s top length (whithers to tail, or length of the spine) is usually not useful in sizing a harness, because a harness is not designed to span or cover the length of the body. It’s the underneath sternum to girth (see above) that is more important.

 

The Extras

Photos of your dog …

  • Standing, side-on: showing depth of chest, length, height and overall size;
  • Standing, front-on: showing broadness of shoulders, width between the legs, length of neck.

If you are considering a harness with a wide middle strap we may ask you to provide a measurement between your dog’s legs, if the photo does not show this clearly enough. We don't want the middle strap to be wide enough to touch the inside of the legs. It is sometimes not enough just to tell us what breed your dog is - take this pictures of two border collies for example; look at the difference in the width between the legs …

 
          


Weight … Some harnesses have a weight range/limit for each size (eg anny.x, Grossenbacher) so your dog’s weight is needed if you are looking at a harness with a weight range in the size chart.

The other important information we use to size your dog for a harness is age, M/F, breed/s, training level, grooming schedule, and other relevant information you provide to us about what you are currently working on with your dog trainer, where you will be using the harness and any specific reasons you are getting a harness (eg nosework, loose leash walking, dog sports etc).


Remember ...

Every dog is different! Even dogs of the same breed can have varying anatomies.

Measurement on paper will only go so far so we encourage you to come into the fitting studio in Sydney to try harnesses on your dog as that is the best way to get a guaranteed great fit. We know that this isn't always possible so if you can't get to the studio it's important to provide us with as much info as you can.

If you take the extra time to collate all the measurements and required info, we can provide you with better recommendations and a better harness fit, just like for Nala below!

    


NB. Graphics are indicative only and are not anatomically precise. Style/size recommendations made by email, phone and/or Zoom are not guaranteed.

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