Top Three Harnesses for Labrador Retrievers

22
117561
Best dog harnesses for Labradors and other large breeds, reviewed by expert dog trainer

There are many different harnesses on the market today, and choosing one for your Labrador can be quite bewildering.

Luckily for you folks, I have, over the years, tried out many different brands of harness.

And I have also seen my clients using all kinds of harnesses.

Here are my findings, and my top three harnesses for Labrador Retrievers!

But first…

Attachment points

Traditionally, harnesses only had an attachment point on the dog’s spine or back. There are some control issues with this type of harness, which I’ve mentioned in a previous article.

There are now many harnesses with an attachment point on the front – on your dog’s chest, under the chin. There are also harnesses with both front and back attachment points. Both these sorts of harnesses provide more control than a collar does, as well as being a more humane option than a collar.

0001-124823140So, the different options now available are:

• Back
• Front
• Front-and-back

Front-attachment and front-and-back attachment harnesses have exploded in popularity as people have realised their benefits.

More and more brands have proliferated – all variations on the front-attachment theme.

There is now so much choice, it can be quite confusing for Labrador owners to pick one.

Do you want a back-attachment point at all, anymore?

Yes. If you’re asking me, anyway. For a few reasons:

1) If you intend on attaching a long-line to your harness at any point – perhaps as part of your recall training – then it is best to attach the long-line to a back-attachment point, so it flows off your dog’s back. Attaching the long-line to a front-attachment point, results in the line running under your dog’s belly and often getting tangled up in her legs. If you have a harness with both front-and-back options, this gives you maximum flexibility with what you clip, where, and saves you needing a completely separate harness for running off-leash.

2) Using a harness with a back-attachment point gives you the option of attaching a double-ended leash to both the front and back attachment points – simultaneously. What’s that about, then? Well, if you attach only to a front-attachment point, when the leash goes tight, harnesses tend to gape at the side. This happens to different degrees with different harnesses. But if you attach to front-and-back, you always reduce the gaping – because the tension is ‘balanced’ out.

At first, it sounds a bit much, to clip a leash to two points at once – but you soon get used to it!

Although I do advocate a harness with front-and-back attachment points, there may be some people who would prefer just one attachment point. Maybe their Labrador has a reliable recall and they don’t want to use a long-line. Maybe they just know they will never want to clip a double-ended leash to front-and-back. And maybe they are prepared to put up with a small amount of side-gaping in exchange for simplicity.

So for those people, I am going to review two front-fastening only harnesses. But the rest of my picks have front-and-back attachment points.

So let’s check some harnesses out…

Before we get started, I should say that I have first-hand experience of ALL of these harnesses – some of them, many times over. And these are just my thoughts and not everyone is going to agree with all the points made.

The SENSE-ation harness by Soft Concepts

– Front-attachment only.

sense-ationPROS:

If you are struggling with the idea of a front-attaching harness over a collar, and reluctant to ditch the simplicity of a collar, this might be a good first step for you.

It’s the simplicity of the SENSE-ation harness that appeals the most. There are no ‘moving parts’.

There is only one snap-up buckle.

It is front-attachment only, so you only need to clip the leash on one place and can use a regular single-clipped leash with it. It’s the harness which is most like a collar, yet much more humane than one.

CONS:

The strap that runs across the dog’s chest in the SENSE-ation harness has the potential to restrict leg movement. Whenever a harness forms a ‘bar’ across the dog’s chest or shoulders (and usually is also lacking a strap between the front legs) there is a risk that range of motion will be affected. Long-term, this could lead to temporary discomfort, but also longer-term physical problems if your Labrador is running and/or jumping with the harness on.

Softtouch say this harness has a ‘non-constricting chest strap’ that ‘fits low on a dog’s chest without restricting his front legs’ and ‘allows for full range of motion’ – but I disagree. Elsewhere on their site, they advise against leaving the harness on since it may be uncomfortable for the dog to lie down – lying down pulls it tight across the dog’s chest and shoulders. This is a sure sign that range of motion (maxed out, when the dog lies down) is affected. Besides, I’ve trialled it on my own dogs and range of motion is affected.

But the range of motion needed for on-leash walking is much less than for off-leash running. So if you plan on using this harness only for on-leash walking, then this harness could work for you. But you will have the extra hassle of taking the harness off and putting it on. Which kinda undermines the simplicity – one of this harness’ main selling-points.

There is also some small gaping from the front-attachment only, but not a huge deal.

This harness has to go over the dog’s head, so may not be a good choice if your Labrador dislikes having things placed over her head.

SO:

√ No martingale attachments
√ Easy on/off – only one snap-up buckle
√ Simplicity

X Inhibits full range of motion in the shoulders
X Should not be left on the dog, for off-leash running/jumping
X Small amount of gaping
X Pulling creates downwards pressure on the back of the dog, across the top of the dog’s shoulder blades
X No possibility of using a long-line on a back-attachment point

SCORE OUT OF 10: 4/10

The Easy Walk Harness by PetSafe

– Front-attachment only

PetSafe are a big brand name, and the Easy Walk Harness is wide-spread and accessible internationally.

easywalkWhich means that people come across it quickly, when researching front-attaching harnesses – so it’s an important one to cover. Even though I don’t like it much…

The SENSE-ation and the Easy Walk are very similar in design, with a couple of significant differences.

PROS:

Like the SENSE-ation, this harness is front-attachment only, so you only need to clip the leash on at one place.

CONS:

PetSafe, the company manufacturing this harness, is also a manufacturer of products like ‘invisible fences’, ecollars, citronella collars, and other similar aversive equipment. If you are a force-free trainer or handler, you may not want to support companies that manufacture products like these.

The strap which runs across the dog’s chest in the Easy Walk again bars the chest, and has the potential to restrict leg movement – everything I’ve written above, regarding this aspect of the SENSE-ation, is equally applicable, to the Easy Walk.

Unlike the SENSE-ation, the Easy Walk Harness has a martingale, at the front-attachment point. This closes when the dog pulls. On their website, Easy Walk state that this martingale is to ‘prevent twisting’ (they don’t say of what). But I can’t say I noticed twisting as a problem in the very similar SENSE-ation, which doesn’t have a martingale.

Whatever the purpose of the martingale, the extra length it inevitably gives, here, leads to problems. If you fit it so it is relatively snug when not tightened, when it tightens, it constricts the front of the dog’s chest even further (restricting leg and shoulder movement more than the SENSE-ation). If you fit it so it is slack when not tightened, when it tightens, the martingale just gives you extra length on the leash – making it less effective for control and leading to increased gaping at the side: When it comes to the side-gaping issue, the Easy Walk is one of the worst.

SO:

√ Simplicity (although not as simple as the SENSE-ation)

X Inhibits full range of motion in the shoulders
X Should not be left on the dog, for off-leash running/jumping
X Large amount of gaping at the side
X Martingale attachment point constricts chest further or leads to less effective control
X Pulling creates downwards pressure on the back of the dog, across the top of the dog’s shoulder blades
X No possibility of using a long-line on a back-attachment point
X Ethical concerns about PetSafe

SCORE OUT OF 10: 2/10

The Freedom Harness by 2 Hounds Design

– Front-and-back attachment

PROS:

The Freedom Harness has both front-and-back attachment points. This gives you flexibility: A front-attachment point for control and a back-attachment point for long-line use.

freedomThe Freedom does not interfere with the range of motion in the dog’s front legs, so it’s safe to be left on your Labrador when running off-leash.

The Freedom Harness can be bought by itself, or along with with a matching double-ended leash as part of an affordable ‘training package’.

I would strongly recommend the leash as well, since this will enable you to attach to both front-and-back attachment points at once.

The Freedom Harness has an extremely soft, velvety strap to go behind the dog’s front legs – minimising rubbing or irritation. Labradors are relatively short-coated, so this is a concern.

The harness is really good quality and the metalware is likewise.

The Freedom comes in a huge range of colours. If black doesn’t float your boat, this might be one to check out.

CONS:

The Freedom has to go over the dog’s head. Not a good option if your Labrador dislikes this.

When both attachment points are in use, there is slight gaping at the side. This does not cause any functional problems.

There is a martingale on the back-attachment point. But we can get around this one: I recommend sizing the girth strap so that, when the martingale is closed as tight as possible, it is snug and secure – but does not constrict the dog’s body. That would be mildly uncomfortable for the dog, but I don’t think it would function as an effective aversive to deter pulling on the leash.

Depressingly, the Freedom website tries to imply just this, stating that this tightening ‘discourages pulling behaviour’. Just in terms of company ethics, this is a disheartening statement from a force-free perspective – even if it’s incorrect, and even if we can bypass it by fitting the harness so it doesn’t constrict the dog’s body.

The girth strap runs right behind the dog’s front legs. It is velvety, and I have never known it to cause discomfort, but I’d ideally like the girth strap to be further away from the back of the dog’s front legs.

Lastly, although the Freedom is secure for 99% of dogs, I have known one experienced harness escapologist able to back out of it. This is a Labrador, which had previously learnt, on another harness, to put his head down and back up quickly.

SO:

√ Two attachment points mean greater flexibility of use
√ Does not affect range of motion in front legs; can be left on the dog when running off-leash
√ Matching double-ended leash available
√ Soft, velvet-like girth strap prevents chafing
√ Good quality fittings
√ Excellent colour range

X Slight amount of gaping at the side
X Martingale back-attachment point has potential for discomfort if not fitted large enough
X Harness has to go over dog’s head; not good choice for dogs afraid of this
X Girth strap passes immediately behind dog’s front legs

SCORE OUT OF 10: 7/10

The Balance harness by Lori Stevens/Dolan’s Dog Doodads

– Front-and-back attachment

Confusingly, there are two similar harnesses available called the ‘Balance’ harness, so make sure you follow this link to reach the right one for this review.

PROS:

Unlike the Freedom, the girth strap on the Balance sits well away from the dog’s front legs, further down the rib cage. There is therefore no risk of the harness rubbing behind the legs.

There are no martingale attachments anywhere on this harness, so there is nothing to tighten anywhere when the dog pulls.

The Balance harness has both front-and-back attachment points. Just like all front-and-back attachment harnesses, this gives you great flexibility.

The Balance will not interfere with the range of motion in the dog’s front legs, so is safe to be left on the dog when running off-leash.

The harness is really good quality and the metalware is likewise.

The Balance has a version with a snap-up buckle for the part that is usually placed over the dog’s head. This means that dogs that dislike having something placed over their heads, can have the Balance put around their neck in a similar way to a snap-up collar.

Any gaping really is very minimal when both attachment-points are used, even less than on the Freedom.

It would be really hard for even a seasoned escapologist to get out of a Balance harness: Backing out doesn’t really work…

CONS:

The Balance has very limited colour-choice. It is essentially always a black harness, but the vertical strap on the back comes in different colours. If you have multiple dogs, the coloured back strap is sufficient for telling you which harness belongs to which dog. But if you are someone who loves different coloured harnesses, the Balance may not suit – check out the Freedom.

According to the manufacturer, you can attach just to the front-attachment point. But the Balance works best when used in conjunction with a double-fastening leash. Unlike the Freedom, the Balance doesn’t come as a ‘training package’ with this leash. So you will need to purchase one separately.

The Balance harness does tend to rotate slightly when in use. The neck and girth straps slightly pull the coloured back strap off vertical. The manufacturer’s website says this is normal and in no way affects performance, but is an aesthetic issue only. If this troubles you, check out the Perfect Fit (below).

SO:

√ Two attachment points mean greater flexibility of use
√ Does not affect range of motion in front legs; can be left on the dog when running off-leash
√ Girth strap sits well away from dog’s front legs, so no chafing
√ Good quality fittings
√ Almost no gaping at the side
√ No martingale attachments with potential for discomfort
√ Version available with snap-up buckle on the neck, for dogs disliking something going over the head
√ Secure even for seasoned escapologists

X No ‘included’ double-ended leash available, must be purchased separately
X Limited colour choice
X Rotates/twists very slightly, but this does not affect performance

SCORE OUT OF 10: 8/10

The Perfect Fit harness by Dog-Games

– Front-and-back attachment

PROS:

The Perfect Fit is unique amongst the harnesses reviewed here, since it consists of three parts which can be bought separately and put together to create a ‘perfect fit’ for your individual Labrador: The ‘top’, the ‘front’ and the ‘girth’. Undeniably, I found it the best fit out of all the harnesses I’ve reviewed.

With both attachment points in use, this harness has the least ‘gape’ at the side of any harnesses I’ve reviewed. Similarly, it would be really hard for even a seasoned escapologist to back out of a Perfect Fit harness – because there’s no ‘play’ or slack to allow this to happen.

For a growing Labrador puppy, it is possible just to purchase and replace one piece of the three needed for a harness. Should the chewing-machine that is your Labrador puppy, succeed in chewing through the front of the harness, again, just that part would need to be replaced.

The Perfect Fit – unlike any other harnesses reviewed here – also has a 40mm thick option. This is a very comfortable and stylish-looking harness for large or strong Labradors. (However, my 21kg working Labrador girl is slightly swamped by the 40mm and the weight of the fittings and metal attachments! Don’t assume that, just because you have a Labrador, a 40mm is indicated!)

The Perfect Fit harness has both front-and-back attachment points, just like the Freedom and Balance, giving the same flexibility.

Like all the front-and-back harnesses reviewed here, the Perfect Fit will not interfere with the range of motion in the dog’s front legs, and is safe to be left on the dog when running off-leash.

The girth strap on the Perfect Fit sits away from the dog’s front legs, further down the rib cage. There is therefore no risk of the harness rubbing behind the legs.

The harness is webbing, backed by soft fleece. This makes for a really comfortable and soft harness, for your Labrador.

There are no martingale attachments anywhere on this harness, so there is nothing to tighten anywhere when the dog pulls.

It is possible to snap up the buckle for the part which is usually placed over the dog’s head. This means that dogs which dislike having something placed over their heads, can have the Perfect Fit put around their neck.

CONS:

I have a 40mm Perfect Fit on my labrador at the moment. The front-attachment is a large metal D-ring. When my labrador runs off-leash, this metal clunks down loudly on the plastic fastener beneath it – with each stride, there’s a loud clunk. My plan is to wrap the metal D-ring in duck tape, to silence it. But when a harness is as expensive as the Perfect Fit is, you don’t expect to be wrapping bits of it in duck tape.

And that’s the next point: The Perfect Fit is by far the most expensive harness out of all those I’ve reviewed. The 40mm harness cost approximately £42. And this doesn’t include a double-ended leash. You will need to purchase one of those separately.

After just one gentle wash at 20degrees – with no fabric conditioner – the fleece on the Perfect Fit became ‘bobbly’. I anticipate this getting worse with the next few washes. This does not affect the comfort or function of the harness, obviously. But it does look less ‘smart’ and you would again expect more from a harness of this cost. Labradors love to swim, and have been known to roll in stinky things!

Out of the three parts of the harness, only one part – the ‘top’ – comes in a good range of colours – not quite as wide a choice as the Freedom. The other two parts of the harness – the ‘front’ and the ‘girth’ only come in black.

Lastly, I should say that I had heard about the Perfect Fit harness for about a year before I finally bought one to trial. The reason I didn’t buy one sooner, is that I repeatedly got to the website to place an order and would then be overwhelmed by the quadzillion options available. Selecting three different-sized component parts for a harness and choosing a width of strap is a much more involved process than choosing one size. The Dog-Games website has become a lot easier now, with breed recommendations, but some buyers might still find it confusing. Dog-Games will, free of charge, swap bits of harnesses if you want to exchange them, but you still have to post back and wait…

SO:

√ Two attachment points mean greater flexibility of use
√ Does not affect range of motion in front legs; can be left on the dog when running off-leash
√ Girth strap sits well away from dog’s front legs, so no chafing
√ Comfortable and soft fleece-backed webbing
√ No gaping at the side
√ No martingale attachments with potential for discomfort
√ Snap-up buckle on the neck, for dogs disliking something going over the head
√ Secure even for seasoned escapologists
√ 40mm straps are a great choice for very large or very strong dogs
√ Bought in three separate sections; each can be purchased/replaced separately

X Metal front-attachment ‘clunks’ on the plastic beneath, at every bound of my dog
X Fleece became ‘bobbly’ after just one wash
X Very expensive
X No ‘included’ double-ended leash available, must be purchased separately
X Limited colour choice of ‘front’ and ‘girth’ parts
X Difficulty sizing and fitting three different parts and choosing the right width

SCORE OUT OF 10: 9/10

The Front Range Harness by Ruffwear

– Front-and-back attachment

PROS:

The Front Range Harness is very light-weight. Holding it, it weighs hardly anything.

ruffwearThe Front Range harness has both front-and-back attachment points, giving the same flexibility as the other front-and-back harnesses here.

The manufacturers advise not using the front-attachment point by itself, though.

Like all the front-and-back harnesses reviewed here, the Front Range will not interfere with the range of motion in the dog’s front legs, and is safe to be left on the dog when running off-leash.

The girth strap sits away from the dog’s front legs, further down the rib cage. There is therefore no risk of the harness rubbing behind the legs.

There are no martingale attachments anywhere on this harness, so there is nothing to tighten anywhere when the dog pulls.

CONS:

Unlike all the other harnesses reviewed so far, the Front Range does not consist only of webbing. It also has a soft padding on the back and belly of the dog – secured by webbing straps. You’re either going to be a fan of this arrangement, or not.

I’m not: The more ‘material’ on the dog, the more ‘stuff’ there is to get dirty, marked and need washing. When it gets wet, it stays wet for the duration of the walk – and, unlike webbing, it covers much more of the dog. But this one may be personal preference.

There is quite a bit of gape at the side when both attachment points are in use, and this is especially ugly-looking because it involves substantial soft material gaping – and not just webbing.

There are only four colours available for the Front Range.

The front-attachment point is a strange vertical rubbery loop, and I would question the security of this, for a strong, large, Labrador. (This is probably why it is advised not to use the front-attachment by itself.)

SO:

√ Two attachment points mean greater flexibility of use
√ Does not affect range of motion in front legs; can be left on the dog when running off-leash
√ Girth strap sits well away from dog’s front legs, so no chafing
√ Light-weight
√ No martingale attachments with potential for discomfort

X Substantial gaping
X No ‘included’ double-ended leash available, must be purchased separately
X Limited colour choice
X Front-attachment point may not be very secure

SCORE OUT OF 10: 5/10

Summary

I recommend a front-and-back fastening harness over a front-only or back-only harness.

And my top three picks of front-and-back fastening harnesses for Labrador Retrievers are:
Freedom Harness
Balance harness
– Perfect Fit harness

Happy walking!

 

22 COMMENTS

    • Hi Louise, I have found a distributor that appears to have them in stock and linked to them in the article – hope you find your perfect harness there! Best wishes, Lucy

  1. Thanks for the great article! I was all set to buy one of the harnesses you recommended, when I realised that one of the major problems I have with my young ESS is that he constantly has his nose on the ground sniffing (and hence, pulling like a steam train to follow the scent). My understanding is that these harnesses won’t stop the dog from sniffing; how do I keep his nose up, which I think will dramatically help to reduce the pulling in the first place? Many thanks!

  2. Please could you let me know where to get a Balance harness in the uk as the link on your site is still not working. I do not want to get the wrong ‘Balance’ (you say there are 2 types). Also, is the size adjustable for a growing puppy? My lab is a slim working type, weighs 9kg and is 14 weeks old, so would there be a choice of sizes and if so which would be best for her to wear now and grow into? Thanks

  3. I would love to buy the balance dog harness that you reviewed but your link doesn’t work and I can’t find a uk supplier.
    Can you help please? Many thanks

  4. I use an Easy Walk Harness on my year-old English Shepherd but he is well-trained to loose-leash walking. He loves the harness and gives me no problem.
    My 6 month old Lab mix, however does not do well with that harness as she is very distracted by EVERYTHING!
    I have a front and back hook harness that should be arriving today and I think, after reading this, that it will help with control. She is SO much more “wiggly” than her brother ever was!!
    (I love how they are both so smart but also so different–it reminds me of my kids when they were young!)

  5. My six month old Lab puppy hates having a harness put on and will run all over the house to avoid it even though he loves walks. I have never had a Lab or other breed exhibit this behavior, so it really surprised me. I know it fits him perfectly too. Anyway, it was comforting to hear that other Labs may not like harnesses or collars going over their heads. Thanks!

    • My girl does that, too, as does my English Shepherd.
      They LOVE going for walks and have no problem once the harnesses are on but they act like they are about to be beaten or something (they have NEVER been beaten, fyi, or anything even close! it’s embarrassing, sometimes)!
      I don’t get it.

  6. I am in the UK and noticed that your top 3 is hard to get. The Freedom harness retails at £80 on amazon (ouch!), the balance does not seem to be sold in the UK at all (tell me I am wrong!) which leaves the Perfect Fit as the only option? (your other ones get a fairly low score from you)

  7. We use the K9 Bridle on our three when walking on lead as they are strong pullers. It works brilliantly and does not restrict movement of legs at all. Best thing we ever got for our three 🙂

  8. I have the perfect fit harness for my labs. Bought when they were puppies with a larger piece swapped later on. Perfect Fit are often at dog shows and will fit, check and custom build the harness for you there. This is where I bought them and they were really helpful.

  9. I have two very strong and ‘pully’ labradors and now use Perfect Fit harnesses on both of them after trying out numerous collars, leads and harnesses. They were recommended by a trainer and now I wouldn’t be without them. One I use with double ended lead most of the time and the other only front clip most of the time. My dogs are 3 and 4 and for the first time I feel they really walk nicely and don’t get choked with their collars. I would certainly recommend them. They are expensive but I’d hate to add up the cost of everything I’ve bought to get to this point. I’ve washed them at 30 and had no bobbling problems. However I’d also have to say they are not a miracle cure and we are still continually putting in the effort training our dogs, I don’t believe this ever stops.

  10. Hi I have a 15 month old LABRADOR cross MALAMUTE. he big and strong . when he walks he leaps and pulls like as if he was pulling a sledge or something. He had a ordinary harness on and the straps just ripped apart. I’ve looked on line and read reviews and I’m going to order a 5 point harness it sits further back on his back and has a handle at the back which I could do with when going on bus to keep him seated instead of jumping about. I know it will prob need cleaned most of the time being that there will be a bit more material on it.

  11. I use a Mekuti harness and it is brilliant. its constantly muddy and being washed but is still as good as new. It has front and back anchor points but you can thread the front one through to attach to the side D ring which gives even more control. Very fast delivery too from sole supplier in the UK.

  12. I use the perfect fit harness for my black lab when we are doing a lot of walking on lead, otherwise the julius harness because it has a great handle making him easy to grab if necessary!! I’ve found different harnesses work well in different situations. Any harness seems better for him than a lead and collar…

  13. I have had the perfect fit harness for my Black Lab who is now 2 yrs old I wash it regularly and I have never had any Bobbling. Yes it is expensive but in my opinion well worth every penny. When you buy the perfect fit harness you can return any part that doesn’t fit free of charge and as many times as you need to without any quibble.

LEAVE A REPLY