So, you may have heard the myth that “Harnesses Encourage Pulling”. Whilst this understandably stems from the use of harnesses for sledding, it is an incorrect statement.
To understand this, we need to pick this apart. To encourage any behaviour, it must be rewarding for a dog. There is no reason why the harness itself should be any more rewarding for the dog when the dog is pulling compared to when it is not. This means that the harness itself is not encouraging the dog to pull.
So why does my dog pull more on a harness?
Some individuals state that their dog appears to pull more on a traditional back clip harness. This is because when pulling on a flat collar, they were restricted by how much they could pull by how much pain they would tolerate on their neck. In a harness, it is less painful to pull, so they will use more power. This is NOT a reason to stick with the flat collar though. A dog’s neck has an identical structure to ours with one exception, they have a thinner epidermal layer. This means everything we would feel, they would feel.
Imagine you put your dog collar around your toddler’s neck. You then ask your child to run at speed to the end of a lead and try to drag you along by your neck. You would worry about your child damaging themselves. There is no less risk when you clip your dogs lead to their collar each day (NOTE: this is particularly important for dogs who pull. For dogs who don’t pull, this is less relevant as they will not put pressure on their necks).
So how do I stop my dog pulling?
This is one of the most common issues amongst dog owners. This is because pulling is self-rewarding. What I mean by this is that the dog wants to go forward. They pull, we walk, they get to go forward. So next time they want to go forward, they will pull to get us to walk. For those who have new puppies who have never been on a lead, this is much easier to teach.
Start long before your puppy can go out on regular walks and practice loose lead walking. Show your dog where you DO want them to walk with a clicker and some treats. Reward them every time they are in the correct position. If they go forward and pull on the lead, stop immediately and lure them back into position. This means you are never rewarding pulling by going forward. For young puppies this is much easier. They haven’t been reinforced by pulling and they only need very brief walks. This means your whole walk can be a training walk showing them how to walk nicely.
For the older dogs, this can take a little longer. You need to show your dog that it is now MORE rewarding to walk with a slack lead. This includes rewarding when they have a slack lead and stopping immediately when they pull. This may seem tedious, but it is the only way that you can ensure you are not rewarding your dog for pulling forward. Once the lead slackens, you can move forward again (this is the reward).
There are so many harnesses out there it can be a minefield to find out which one you need. I do not recommend no-pull tightening harnesses. This is because they work through punishing your dog for pulling. Your dog pulls because you haven’t yet shown them otherwise. You need to show them what you DO want them to do, NOT punish them for what you don’t. This doesn’t make it clear to your dog what you are punishing. Maybe it is their pulling, but maybe it is also that car we just passed or that dog. You don’t want your dog to start forming negative associations with things you are passing or interacting with on your walks.
Across the shoulder harnesses – These cut across the shoulder and some correlational data has found a link between these harnesses and a change in gait in how the dog walks. This can lead to permanent damage, particularly in growing puppies.
My recommendation is a sturdy “Y front” Harness. Many have an additional D-ring on the front as a management tool for pullers or reactive behaviours. This allows further control whilst you are teaching your dog the polite way to walk. The Y shape prevents restriction when walking and running also.
There are many many brands out there. My personal recommendations are:
· Perfect Fit Harness (Dog Games)
· True Love Harness
· Ruffwear Front Range Harness
· Ruffwear Webmaster
· Embark Active
· Mekuti Balance Harness