Table of Contents
- This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
You’re a pet parent on a mission for your dog’s first harness—or maybe you’re in the market for a sweater or a Halloween costume. You look at the piece, and you look at your pup. You measure your dog with your eyes. That seems about right, you think. But it isn’t. Three orders and two returns later, you’re at your breaking point. How are you supposed to measure your dog?
We feel you. Buying a harness—or anything that needs to be fitted to your dog’s body—is tough. Not all dogs are built the same: some have stockier chests, some have thinner necks, some have longer torsos. What’s worse, manufacturers of dog wear are as different as our pups. A dog who’s a “medium” at Rubie’s Costume Company might be a “small” at Ruffwear.
It adds up to a sea of conflicting information that can be hard for pet parents to navigate.
Rienne, the owner of a Miniature Dachshund named Gizmo, knows the difficulties well. “The thing about Dachshunds is they have the strangest shape out of all the dogs. Their resemblance to a T-Rex is uncanny! They have little arms, but they also have broad chests,” she says.
Gizmo’s unusual proportions made the search for a harness especially difficult. “In my mind, I thought if I got a small, it would fit his arms and his neck (it did), and it would just stretch around the chest (it didn’t). It constricted the movement of his arms. So here we are, trapped between a small and a medium. A smedium is really what we need.”
But Rienne isn’t out of luck yet! There’s a tried-and-true method to get the best fit for your dog’s gear: taking your dog’s measurements in the same way that professionals and manufacturers do. Armed with your pup’s real dimensions, you can shop around to find the brands and products whose size charts best align with your furry friend’s needs.
So break out the tape and we’ll show you how to measure your dog for a harness, clothes, and costumes so you can get it right on the first go.
What Measurements Should You Take?
If you look at a dog size chart, you’ll usually see three different measurements: neck girth, chest girth, and body length (sometimes called the topline).
Neck girth is the circumference of your dog’s neck, measured about where your pup’s collar hits. You’ll place one end of your tape at the nape of their neck, just above the shoulders, then wrap the cord down to the top of their chest and around to meet the other end. You want to be able to fit two fingers comfortably between your dog’s gear and their body—so follow suit with your measuring tape and leave a little room.
Chest girth is the circumference of your dog’s chest. To take this measurement, you’ll want to find the widest part of your dog’s rib cage. On the German Shepherd above, that happens to be right behind the forelegs—but it doesn’t have to be. Some pups’ rib cages widen more a little farther back along their bodies, like this Dalmatian’s.
Chest girth tends to be the most reliable measurement for sizing dog clothes, but body length is still good to have in your back pocket.
Body length is measured from the base of your dog’s neck to the base of their tail—or, put another way, from the start of their shoulders to the end of their hips. Pro tip: if you’re buying a long sweater or a costume for a male dog and there’s no groin cutout, consider shorting this measurement a little so your pup has room to pee in peace.
Dog Size Charts
Once you have your dog’s measurements, you’ll want to find the size chart for the product you’re considering. Most trusty manufacturers of harnesses, clothes, and costumes have a sizing chart you can reference, like this one from Rubie’s Costume Company.
You’ll notice chest girth, neck girth, and body length (“neck to tail”) all show up alongside helpful information about sleeve lengths and armhole widths. Breed suggestions and weight estimates are great supplementary tools—though as Rienne learned, poundage alone won’t help you find the right fit, especially with pups of unusual dimensions.
Once in a while, you’ll hit a snag: your dog is between sizes, with a body length suited to one size but a chest girth suited to another. When that happens, it’s usually best to go with the larger option. A garment that’s a hair loose is better than one that restricts your pup’s movement—or is too small to be wearable at all. You can often adjust a costume or sweater to make it a little tighter, but it’s difficult to add fabric when there’s none to spare.
Another handy tool if you’re on the fence is product reviews. Not every review is reliable—but if there’s a consensus in the comments that a sweater or a harness is running small despite the measurements (sometimes the result of material without much give or smaller components not listed in a size chart), we’ve found it’s worth heeding!
As you’re shopping, you might also run into other measurements. This popular winter dog coat, for example, offers dimensions including underside (measured from the dip at the front of the neck to the base of the rib cage, or where the clothing should end), height (top of the shoulder to the ground), and neck length (base of the neck to top of the head).
How To Measure Your Dog for a Harness
When it comes to harnesses, sizing is especially important—and sometimes especially difficult to get right.
The mistake a lot of pet parents make is focusing only on the neck-girth measurement. That’s helpful, but it’s not enough, since harnesses also need an excellent chest fit, especially for no-pull and comfort options to succeed.
Harnesses are also the exception to the “in doubt, size up” rule, since with a harness, a loose fit can mean a loose pup. If your dog is between sizes, check out your chosen product’s adjustment options—do buckles or fasteners make it possible to alter the size for a better fit? If not, consider a more customizable Velcro harness, or take a look at some harnesses popular for your dog’s breed:
- Australian Cattle Dogs
- Australian Shepherds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Pit Bulls
- Shih Tzus
Not seeing your breed on the list? Try a more general guide by size—or check out our all-time favorites.
It’s normal to need some help! We find this guide for putting on a harness properly and a professional trainer’s recommendations especially useful. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, we suggest starting with one of these classics:
- Puppia Dog Harness: The Puppia brand is very popular. Its soft mesh polyester gives a lot of comfort with control—and it comes in just about every color and size imaginable, from extra small to double extra-large.
- Ruffwear Front-Range Harness: No-pull harnesses are for dogs who have a mind of their own when walking—and a lot of power to pull you off course. This Ruffwear piece features a loop at the front of the harness instead of the back, giving you the control and making it tougher for your dog to tug with force.
- Halti No-Pull Harness: The Halti harness makes use of a similar concept, but this time with two clips for two leashes, one in front and one in back.
How To Measure Your Dog for Clothing and Costumes
For dog clothing and costumes, you’ll need all three measurements: body length, neck girth, and chest girth. Amber and fabulous model Olive demonstrate the easiest way to take all three measurements:
Armed with this knowledge, you can now go to town and equip your dog with a smashing wardrobe for all seasons. Dog tanks are a surprisingly useful summer tool for keeping your pooch safe and cool, while autumn is prime time for fleeces and hoodies (not to mention Halloween costumes). Winter means holiday sweaters and warm gear, and spring—well, if you live in Seattle like we do, your dog is going to need a rain coat…or several.
If you and your pup are just starting to explore the wonderful world of dog clothes and costumes, we like these affordable choices from Chewy for style and comfort:
- Basic Dog Hoodie: This stretchy piece is a dog sweatshirt for all occasions, marrying style and practicality with fun colors and a handy slit in the back for a leash attachment.
- Halloween Fair Isle Dog Sweater: Get ready for Halloween with this spooktacular entry-level sweater featuring ghosts and pumpkins.
- Cable-Knitted Sweater: This sweet fall and winter look in a classic style is an easy in for a pup new to clothes.
If you’re ready to dive in with a more elaborate piece like a dog Halloween costume, check out our comprehensive costume guide and see the pieces in action:
If you’re more interested in weather gear and protection from the elements than party pieces, not to worry! There are great basic options for you, too.
- Extreme Winter Dog Coat: Perfect for cold weather, this custom-made dog coat features 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. They’re lined with fleece or mesh (depending on your needs) and are waterproof and windproof. (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
To measure your dog’s paws, start from the tip of the longest toenail and run your tape to the bottom of the biggest heel pad. One trick to make the job easier is to have your dog stand on a piece of paper while you draw an outline of their paw with a pencil—then all you have to do is measure the outline.
Just like with clothes, we recommend opting for the larger size if you’re in any doubt.
Dog booties can be a harder sell than dog harnesses and clothes, so once you have the right fit, we recommend letting your dog test them out at home for an hour or so before you hit the pavement. That lets your pup get the hang of them in a comfortable space. We don’t recommend leaving your dog in boots for too long, though—dogs sweat through their paws, and they generally need their toe beans free to breathe.
These are some of our favorite shoes to keep your dog’s paws safe from the elements:
- Ruffwear Grip Trex Outdoor Dog Boots: These are some of the best all-purpose dog booties out there—for snowy walks and summer scorchers, your pup is covered.
- QUMY Dog Boots Waterproof Shoes: With reflective Velcro and anti-slip soles, they won’t necessarily win a fashion award, but these will keep your dog’s paws safe from the snow.
- HiPaw Breathable Mesh Dog Boots: These breathable mesh booties are a nice choice to protect your dog’s paws from sizzling pavement and sharp rocks—a good option for summer hikes and riverbed splashing.
Now that you know how to measure your dog for harnesses, sweaters, costumes, and boots, go wild with our recommendations for the very best in dogwear:
- The Best Dog Harnesses for Every Kind of Dog
- The Best Dog Hoodies and Sweatshirts
- Our Favorite Dog Halloween Costumes by Breed
- Top Dog Raincoats for Rainy Season Walks
- Matching Human and Dog Pajamas for the Holidays and Beyond
- 10 Best Dog Clothes for Large Dogs Because They Deserve to Dress Up, Too