I feel the need to caution people about using harnesses on active dogs.
I believe that harnesses are better than collars for dogs when they are being active. However, a harness does have one big downfall for active dogs.
It can cause severe harness chafing if you’re not careful.
My warning harnesses chafing primarily applies to smaller dogs, dogs with thin skin, dogs with little hair, and/or overweight dogs. Keep in mind it can happen to any dog though.
My caution is that, no matter what harness you use, you should periodically check to make sure your dog is not being rubbed or chafed.
How Do I Know if My Dog’s Harness is Rubbing?
The one way to know for sure if your dog’s harness is chafing is to check regularly while you are hiking or walking.
The most common place for chafing to occur under your dog’s arm in the armpits. The second most common place is on the rib cage or abdomen. It can also happen on the neck, back, or face if you use a head-lead type harness.
Some signs you may not notice when you check, or after you are done with your activity, include:
- Hair loss where your dog’s harness comes in contact with their body.
- Spots on your dog that are rubbed raw, red, and potentially warm to the touch.
- Irritated spots on your dog’s skin that looks like a rash.
If y our dog’s harness is chafing them, try to figure out why. That can help you decide whether you need to get a different harness, make some adjustments, or work on training.
What Causes A Dog’s Harness to Chafe?
Many factors can cause a dog’s harness to chafe and cause irritation or hair loss.
Some of the most frequent causes are:
- A harness that is too tight or too lose.
- A harness that sits directly in a dog’s armpits.
- A dog that constantly pulls against the leash.
- Excessive running.
- Dirt or sand getting trapped between the harness and your dog’s skin that acts like sand paper.
I also find it depends on how close your dog’s legs, or elbows, are to the body. For example, I have Dachshunds and there is not much space between the leg and body in the arm pit area because of their dwarfisim.
Dogs that are overweight often have more “cushion” on their legs and body and this can cause the space in the arm pit to be narrow than most dogs. The smaller space alone can put pressure on the harness in that area and cause movement because the leg is constantly moving against it.
If you notice your dog’s harness is rubbing or chafing, first inspect it for fit. Adjust it if you can so it’s not too tight but also not lose enough that it shifts around a lot or easily allows dirt and sand to get trapped between the straps and your dog’s skin.
It’s possible that you may need to switch to a collar or a different fitting harness until the chafed spots heal in order to truly tell if the adjustments helped.
If you adjust the harness the best you can and it still doesn’t look like it fits right, or is still causing chafing and discomfort, you will need to get your dog a different harness.
If the problem is that your dog keeps pulling hard on the leash, train them to walk on a lose leash.
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Some Situations That Can Cause Dog Harness Chafing
As diligent as we try to be as pet owners, sometimes accidents happen. It’s happened to my dogs a few times and I’ve heard stories from others.
Some situations that come to mind are….
I LOVE Ruffwear dog gear so I was excited when I got a Webmaster Harness for Chester and Gretel. I thought it made them look like real badasses on the trail.
We went on an amazing hike to Broken Top Mountain in Oregon. It was a sunny day but we crossed several streams.
They started to slow down and lag behind on our way back to the trailhead but I thought they were just getting tired. However, I felt really bad once we got back to the hotel.
I took off their harnesses and realized that the harness straps fit tightly into their armpits. When the webbing got wet, dirt stuck to it and had chafed them raw.
Although I loved the harnesses, we weren’t able to use them again because I just couldn’t get them to fit right.
Another situation involved a harness that I recommend for Dachshunds.
I received a message from a reader saying that she bought one for her dog but was very upset that it injured her dog.
I asked her to tell me what happened and she said that her and her pup had a busy beach weekend with lots of walks and running. When she got home and took the harness of, she was horrified that he was completely chafed in both arm pits and was bleeding.
I felt really bad but explained that it wasn’t so much the harness that caused the chafing but the wet combined with the sand and lots of running. Although the harness is meant to fit into a dog’s armpit, I’d never had or heard of an issue with it if it stayed dry.
What Should You Do If Your Dog’s Harness Rubbed Them Raw?
If you get home and notice that your dog has some raw, red spots, there are some things you can do to help with their discomfort.
Putting water on the irritated skin can hurt but it may be necessary to gently wipe the skin to remove dirt and debris.
Try not to use the harness that caused the chafing until the skin heals. That means you may have to take a break from activity for a while or use a different harness that doesn’t touch the sore spot(s).
Which Harness Do You Use for Hiking with Your Dog?
I’ve tried several different harnesses for my dogs. They’re Dachshunds though and their funny shaped bodies are notoriously hard to fit.
I’ve found one harness so far that fits pretty well and that we’ve never had an issue with it chafing (and we’ve been using it for a couple of years).
It’s the Casual Padded Y-Harness for Dogs.
As you can see by the picture above, the chest strap does slide a little to the side because of my dog’s pointy breastbone but we’ve not had any issues because it body strap does not sit in her armpits.
It also has some neoprene padding to provide cushioning between the strap and the dog.
Has your active dog ever experienced chafing from a harness or collar?