When selecting the perfect dog harness, you may wonder what is this step-in harness which I often read about? After all, the types of harnesses abound. From Roman to tactical to no-pull harnesses, there is an endless supply on the market. And among the most common is the classic step-in dog harness.
So let’s look at this harness, whether it’s a good option for your dog, and how to put it on.
What Is A Step In Harness For Dogs?
The step-in dog harness is one of the most common options for your dog. It is simply a harness you can lay flat on the ground and encourage your dog to step into. From there, you wrap it over the dog’s shoulders and clip it at the back. This means a step-in harness is also a back-clip harness.
One benefit of this harness is that anxious dogs can really hate having something pulled over their head. The step in pet harness circumvents this problem by only involving the two front legs in the process of getting your dog ready for a walk.
What Does a Step In Harness Look Like?
The basic step in harness is a straightforward design with a lightweight, minimally invasive straps that fit across and under your dog’s chest, as well as looping over your dog’s torso. It has a single D-ring clip on the back where you can attach your leash.
More intricate designs usually involve a harness vest. This has a portion of padding or breathable nylon webbing that will fit across the chest instead of straps to limit chafing. Some may include added features, such as a reflective dog harness vest for visibility in dim light.
Some step-in harnesses also have a dual clip system. This means there is another D-ring on the dog’s front area where you can attach a leash for better control and to discourage pulling. This then makes the step-in harness a no-pull harness. This is a better choice to discourage pulling than a head harness or Halti harness that tightens around the chest since it discourages pulling without causing discomfort.
You can read more about how no-pull dog harnesses work here and more about the different types of dog harnesses here.
But to decide if this is the suitable harness for you, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of a step-in dog harness.
Advantages of a Step-In Harness
The primary advantage of step-in dog harnesses is that they are much safer than a collar. Collars are responsible for significant damage to the neck area, where fragile cartilage protects the airways, nerves, and vital arteries.
Small dogs are particularly vulnerable to trachea collapse from the force of pulling on a collar. But even a sudden jerk can damage the trachea of large dogs too. They can also be a choking hazard if they get caught on something.
Generally, collars are fine for ID tags. Still, they are not ideal for walking, so a good harness is the better option for attaching the leash. This way, any force and pressure from the leash is distributed across a dog’s chest and shoulders and not over their vulnerable neck area.
The second advantage of a step-in harness is that you do not have to pull it over your dog’s head. Skittish dogs often hate the process of having something pulled over their head. Hence, a step-in harness is usually a far easier option. In fact, it is probably the most effortless harness to put on your dog.
Thirdly, a well-fitted harness should allow your dog to move freely without impeding movement. Any equipment you put on your dog should allow for a full range of motion. If it forces your dog in an unnatural pose, you risk damaging its spine, ligaments, or muscles when exercising.
Disadvantages of a Step-in Harness
There are not many disadvantages to step-in harnesses. However, you do need carefully consider which step-in harness you get for your dog to avoid issues. Some issues to keep in mind include:
You need to correctly measure your dog for the harness, particularly the chest area. Ensure you buy the correct size for your dog by carefully reading the company’s size chart before you purchase. You need to be able to insert two fingers at any point between the harness and your dog’s skin for a secure and comfortable fit.
Be careful with dogs with longer fur, as poorly fitted harnesses rubbing against the fur may cause matting or damage to their coat.
If you notice any bunching of skin, the harness is too tight. Tight harnesses, particularly ones with straps as opposed to a vest harness, can cause chafing, pinching, and general pain and discomfort. On the other hand, if the harness is too loose, you risk having your dog slip out and escape.
Do not purchase a harness that only has a D-ring clip on the back if your dog is not well-trained to walk correctly on the leash. A harness with only a back clip limits your control over the dog and can encourage them to pull. One study on dogs tempted with a treat showed that they pulled harder on harnesses that only used a back clip than on a collar.
So, if you have a dog that is not well-behaved, invest in a good no-pull harness with a D-ring attachment for the leash in the front.
If you choose a vest or mesh harness, ensure the webbing is breathable and durable. Reflective strips are also a great safety feature.
Finally, by definition, a step-in harness is a back-clip harness, so be sure to look for a harness with a sturdy clip that won’t snap loose. A metal clip is best, especially for big dogs, as it is less likely to break.
Is A Step In Dog Harness Right For Your Dog?
A step-in dog harness with a back clip for the dog leash is a good choice for well-behaved dogs who are not traveling long distances or engaged in excessive activity.
It’s perfect for puppies and small dogs that are more at risk of spine and neck damage if there is a sudden jerk on the leash. It is also safer for short-nosed (brachycephalic) dogs such as Pugs as pressure on their airways can become dangerous, particularly on their eyes.
Older dogs with arthritis may also have a more challenging time getting mobile. A harness is a better option for them as it distributes pressure across their body rather than on one point that may be painful.
For dogs that are unsteady on their feet, a harness also provides the owner a safer way to give their dog more support. Finally, a step-in harness is the easiest one to get your dog into. For excitable dogs or dogs who don’t want items pulled over their head, a step-in is the best choice to avoid a lengthy battle before every walk.
The lightweight strap time dog harness is fine for most dogs. However, a breathable vest is more comfortable, and it is also safer when traveling. A vest distributes force more evenly across the chest, helping to prevent injury if your dog is buckled in and you brake suddenly.
However, if your dog is not well-behaved on a walk, do not choose a step-in harness with only one leash attachment at the back. Look for a dual clip or a front attachment that can help curb pulling. Remember, even though harnesses are safer than collars, pulling on the leash is still dangerous and makes going for walks unpleasant.
How To Put Step In Harness On Your Dog
Finally, let’s look at how to put a harness on your dog if it is a step-in.
- Ask your dog to sit and lay the harness flat on the ground at their front feed. If your dog is too excited to sit, you can ask somebody to help hold them still. But be sure to reward your dog for sitting and standing still to teach them proper harness-fitting etiquette.
- When you have your dog in position, lift each paw so that it steps inside the loop. There should be a chest strap that fits between the legs, moving down the chest.
- Grab the outer edges of the harness and pull them up and over your dog’s shoulders. Clip it closed over the back.
- Reward your dog and praise them for their patience. If they have never worn the harness before, give them time to get used to it. Let them wear it while you distract them with treats or a game so that they make a positive association.
A step-in or back-clip harness is a very safe and common type of harness. It may be a minimal strap type or come with a vest. The idea is simply that your dog steps into the harness with their front legs and you clip it shut over their back.
Always make sure your harness fits correctly to avoid your dog either slipping out or being chafed by straps digging into their skin. If your dog is a puller, look for a no-pull front clip option and use obedience training to teach your dog to walk calmly beside you.
Shih, H.-Y. et al., 1AD. Dog pulling on the leash: Effects of restraint by a neck collar vs. a chest harness. Frontiers. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.735680/full [Accessed September 8, 2022].
Phys.org. 2022. Collars risk causing neck injuries in dogs, study shows. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 September 2022].
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.