How to Measure Your Dog for a Harness, Clothes, and Costumes

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Not all dogs are built the same—some have stockier builds, some have thinner necks, some have longer torsos. So not every small dog will fit into a small sweater, which is something you might not have realized the first time you went shopping for a dog sweater. Perhaps the last time you bought a harness or dog hoodie for your pet, it didn’t go so well. Maybe it was the right length, but a little too tight around the middle, or loose around the collar. If so, you’re not alone.

Welp, it turns out that eyeballing your dog’s measurements for a harness or other dog clothing isn’t the best methodology. In fact, learning how to measure your dog for harnesses, clothes, or pet costumes is harder than you’d think.

Rienne, the owner of a mini-dachshund named Gizmo, found this out firsthand. “The thing about dachshunds is they have the strangest shape out of all the dogs. Their resemblance to a T-Rex shape is uncanny! With their short legs, long bodies, and love for food it’s already a combination for cuteness overload. So, me being me, I wanted to make cuteness even cuter… little did I know HOW DIFFICULT it was to find clothes for his body type!”

Gizmo wearing a relatively easy-to-size bandana.

She tried and failed with a harness. “They have little arms, but they also have broad chests like a normal dog. So here we are trapped between a small harness and a medium-sized one (too big he would squeeze through it) so a smedium is really what we needed,” she says.

“We finally found one we had to train him to get into,” she recalls. “In my mind, I thought if I got a small it would fit his arms and his neck (it did) and that it would just stretch around the chest fitting perfectly (it didn’t). Instead, we were left with it constricting the movement in his arms.” She laments that buying clothes is just as difficult: “I still can’t find the right size for him, so I have come to the conclusion that I’m just going to have to make some myself…. so for now, we stick with hats.”

But Rienne shouldn’t fear! Because there’s actually a tried-and-true method to get the best fit for your dog’s harness and clothing. Here’s how to measure your dog for a harness, clothes, and costumes—the right way, every time.

Dog size chart

First, take a look at various dog size charts.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a good illustration of how to measure your dog. It breaks down the three main checkpoints in visual form.

I like this one from Tootsie’s Boutique because, well, look at the drawings.

Dog clothing company Pet It Dog Apparel has an excellent size chart illustration for specific breeds, using girth and length as its guide.

Not all dogs are sized the same, and by that, we mean that all 18-inch-long dogs aren’t necessarily the same size. Instead, girth tends to be a more consistent measure for dogs.

Barrel- or wide-chested dogs like a pug, Boston terrier, the toy bulldog, and the French bulldog all fit in the same category. Though they have a similar girth as a fox terrier, a Westie, and a cocker spaniel, they may not fit in the same harness or sweater.

Notice, for instance, the border collie and the English bulldog are both in the XL category, but they’re very differently shaped, especially around the neck. Meanwhile, you’ve got slender dogs like a whippet or a Chihuahua who defy the “standard” sizes.

How to measure your dog for girth

There are three main factors to measure: neck girth, the topline or back, and chest girth. These are important measurements for comfortably fitting dog clothes, harnesses, and costumes, as they’re often the best indicator of how a certain piece of clothing will fit.

How to measure a dog’s neck girth

Take a tape measure and loop it around their neck to get the circumference. The AKC advises that you “position the tape measure from the dog’s withers—the ridge between the shoulder blades— to the top of his chest.”

This would be about where a collar would fit. You’ll want to make sure you use the so-called “two-finger rule,” meaning that once you have a collar on the dog, you can slip two fingers in between, so it’s not too tight or too loose. A general rule—if it’s in between sizes, go up a size. Better to be a little too loose than too tight.

How to measure a dog’s chest girth

Measure the largest part of your dog’s body, just behind the front legs, wrapping the tape measure around their chest.

Again, use the two-finger rule.

How to measure a dog’s height

This is also known as measuring a topline or dog’s back. Take your tape measure and position it at the base of the neck where the collar is and measure along the spine to the base of the tail. The AKC suggests that for male dogs you keep an eye on where the clothing stops on their underside.

“If the clothing you’re buying doesn’t have a cut out for his groin and belly, you might want to shorten the length a bit to minimize the chances he’ll urinate on his new clothes,” they advise.

Additional measurements: You can also measure the underside—from the notch at the front of the neck to the waist or to where the clothing should end (especially helpful for male dogs), height (shoulder to ground), and neck length (which might help you figure out of it your stocky dog can fit in a sweater).

How to measure your dog for a harness

Now that you know how to measure a dog, you can better understand how to measure your dog for a harness. According to the American Kennel Club, you need the chest and the neck measurements, as most harnesses don’t go further than that on the body.

This is where some people might err, thinking that the neck measurement (which is how you choose a collar) will suffice. You do need both.

Three top dog harnesses

We have lots of recommendations for harnesses, as well as a guide for putting on a harness properly and a professional trainer’s guide to the right dog harness. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Puppia Dog Harness: The Puppia brand is very popular, as its soft mesh polyester gives a lot of comfort with control and comes in just about every color and size imaginable, from extra small to double extra-large to yellow, orange, and purple. It’s a favorite choice for small dog breeds.
  • Ruffwear Front Range Harness: “No pull” harnesses aim to retrain a dog from pulling. Some, like this Ruffwear one, have a loop in the front that gives you more control—by taking over the forward motion, they won’t be able to pull as easily. 
  • Halti No-Pull Harness: The Halti has a similar concept but also comes with a Halti Training Lead. The dual clip leash can be attached at the front and back of the harness.

How to measure your dog for a sweater or coat

For dog clothing, you’ll need all three measurements: topline, neck, and chest. As we mentioned earlier, make sure that for boy dogs the clothing doesn’t run too long, as they will pee on it. You can opt for a slightly shorter length in cases where the clothing doesn’t allow enough room for his manliness.

Top dog sweaters for fall and winter

It’s fall and about to be winter, so it’s a prime time for cozy and cute sweaters. (Not to mention, Halloween costumes!). These three are affordable choices on Chewy and come in a variety of patterns.

If you’re considering a dog Halloween costume and wondering about how some of the popular styles fit in real life, check out our comprehensive guide here and see them in action in the video review below.

Top dog coats for fall and winter

  • Extreme winter dog coat: Perfect for cold weather, this custom made dog coat is made of waterproof diamond ripstop outer material, and a warm Polartec 300 fleece.
  • Hound Waterproof Dog Raincoat/Snowsuit: If you have a skinny Minnie (think whippet, border collie, greyhound) these jumpsuits cover their delicate bodies with more style and warmth than a jumper for people. It’s lined with fleece or mesh (depending on your needs) and is waterproof and windproof, and ridiculously swanky. (There’s also one for dachshunds and other short-legged friends.)
  • Carhartt Dog Vest: For your worker dog, Carhartt makes a rugged water-repellent duck canvas with a corduroy collar. Choose from Army green, Hunter orange, Carhartt brown, or black.

How to measure your dog for boots

Yes, dogs need boots sometimes! In those cold winter climates and on city streets dusted with salt that can hurt your poor puppy’s paws, dog booties are a must. Canine Style has a nice chart for dog boots, illustrating extra-large paws, large paws, medium, and small (all the way down to tiny). Their guideline: measure from the tip of the longest toenail to the bottom of the biggest heel pad. Always size up if they’re in between sizes.

One easy way to measure is to place your dog’s paw over a piece of paper and outline with a pencil. Poochie Boots, one of the brands carried by Canine Style, has a nifty paw chart, too.

Poochie Boots gives examples of size correlations and dog breeds as a rule of paw. For instance, size 0 = Chihuahua; size 3 = French bulldog; and size 7/6 = Bernese mountain dog.

Once you have the right fit, find some good booties for the dog and make sure to test them out at home for an hour so they can get used to the sensation of walking around with boots on. Once you have the shoes on the dog, make sure you don’t leave it on for too long.

 Top dog boots

  • QUMY Dog Boots Waterproof Shoes: With reflective Velcro and anti-slip soles, they won’t necessarily win a fashion award, but they will keep your dog’s paws safe from the cold and other elements.
  • HiPaw Breathable Mesh Dog Boots Protector: It’s still hot in some places of the country (and the world) and it’s equally important to protect paws from getting scorched. Featuring a rubber sole that protects their paws from hot pavement as well as glass or sharp rocks, with breathable mesh.
  • abcGoodefg Anti-Slip Dog Socks: Okay, we mostly love these for the faux Burberry print, which is very entertaining and stylish. These sock boots have a non-slip waterproof rubber sole and come with adjustable straps.

Further Reading

Now that you know how to measure your dog for harnesses, sweaters, and costumes, you should check out our recommendations for the very best in dog wear.

Featured Image: Pixabay

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