Let’s Talk About Harnesses

Harnesses Are A Common Sight

More and more people are becoming dog owners in the United States, and at some point they have to decide what kind of restraint to use on their dog during walks. Some people go with a regular buckle collar, some choose a martingale, and many decide to go with one of the various harness designs available on the market. Harnesses have many great applications, but their real purpose is poorly understood by most dog owners.

Dogs Who Pull On Leash

A common reason that people switch to a harness from a flat collar is that their dog is pulling hard into the leash, and they are worried about them chocking themselves. This is a concern that is not unfounded, and it isn’t appropriate for a dog to constantly be having pressure on their throat. However, harnesses do not impede pulling. In fact, harnesses make it much easier and more comfortable for a dog to pull.

A typical harness distributes body weight evenly across the chest, which does not press on sensitive areas, and allows the dog to put their full strength into pulling. This can be a great thing for working dogs such as sled dogs, who we want to be able to pull comfortably for long distances. This is not, however, a good thing for your family pet.

No Pull Harnesses

In an attempt to change the fact that harnesses make Pulling more comfortable, some manufacturers have developed “no pull” harnesses. There are several different models, but the general idea is that they restrict movement and make it harder for a dog to pull into the leash. Unfortunately, these harnesses very rarely achieve what they are supposed to.

There is some concern amongst the veterinary community that no pull harnesses cause damage to shoulders and can alter your dog’s gait. This makes sense when you consider the fact that the harnesses typically tighten on the chest and pinch the front legs closer together.

The no pull harness is also a training tool that is not well suited for teaching a solid loose leash walking or heel command, which is the gold standard for a truly well mannered dog. The harness does not allow control of the head, is not precise, and can be hard to fade down to a collar because the harness itself is a big cue to the dog. There are several other tools that are easier to use, easier to fade, and are less likely to confuse the dog.

dog pulling
Harnesses encourage pulling.

Good Uses for Harnesses

There are some fantastic uses for harnesses and you will find harnesses specially designed for these purposes. Sled dogs are perhaps the biggest one, as these dogs could not perform their jobs at all without them. Weight pull and draft dogs are in a similar boat, and each sport has a type(s) of harness specific to them.

Harnesses are super useful for sports like AKC tracking where the dog is supposed to lead the way and may be pulling quite hard. The same is true for detection dogs in various fields. Sometimes people in the sport of flyball will use harnesses with a handle on the back to make it easier to hold onto a dog who is fired up and ready to run.

Harnesses are also a big tool used by people training protection dogs, for both sport and working applications. Puppies doing bitework are encouraged to be very excited and the harness makes it comfortable for them to express themselves through pulling and barking. Harnesses are also good for protection work because of one of the reasons they are a poor choice for teaching heeling: just wearing a harness is a big cue that the dog can use to predict that something he is familiar with will happen. This can help build up motivation for an activity that we want to be fun and high drive.

dog harness
Cash the Rottweiler. We were working on his grip, and back pressure on the harness makes him work harder to hold onto the bite pillow.

Guide dogs have specially designed harnesses that allow them to guide their visually impaired partner. Mobility dogs usually wear a design of harness with special padding that allows them to take on the weight of their handler to assist with balance or to pull them up the stairs.

Lastly, the harness has great uses in the veterinary field. Some dogs physically cannot wear collars due to throat or back issues, and harnesses are perfect for those dogs. Special harnesses can also allow owners to help support a dog who is recovering from orthopedic surgery.

Find the Best Tool for Your Dog

Not every training tool is well suited for every dog, but we rarely recommend harnesses for dogs who are not doing one of the sports listed above. Their propensity to encourage behavior problems makes them a poor choice for most pet dogs. If you cannot decide what type of collar to get for your personal dog ,contact a trainer who can help you make the right decision.