Train Your Dog to Walk with a Harness
Follow these simple steps to teach your dog to walk nicely while wearing a harness.
M. Christine Zink, Ph.D., D.V.M.
Q: My dog always pulls on the leash when we walk. His collar slips down to the base of the neck, and he leans into the collar and pulls like a draft horse! I am thinking of switching him to a harness, but I don’t know which one to choose. Do you have any ideas?
A: The type of harness that is most successful in stopping a dog from pulling is one that crosses over the dog’s front legs and around the front of the chest. The leash clips to the strap that goes across the dog's chest. This harness restricts your dog's ability to use his shoulders, essentially physically preventing him from pulling. Unfortunately, it is exactly that characteristic – preventing the front legs from moving forward – that concerns me. I do not recommend that type of harness for use in taking a dog for a walk, because they restrict the dog’s gait and could lead to musculoskeletal abnormalities. A non-restrictive harness, such as those used in canine sports like mushing and weight pulling isn’t appropriate either, since these harnesses are used to promote pulling.
A much better solution for your problem is to take the time to teach your dog that he will not be rewarded in any way (including moving forward) for pulling. This solution will get your dog thinking about what he is doing and making choices, rather than just being passively manipulated by a jumble of straps on the body. It also will have the pleasant side effect of improving your bond with your dog as he learns to work with you.
During the training process, you may still want a tool to keep your dog from pulling you everywhere. One trick that is very simple and will not restrict your dog’s gait is to use your leash to make a loop around the dog’s waist. Attach your leash to the dog’s collar as usual, then hold the leash so that it is parallel to your dog’s spine, with the long end of the leash hanging down on your dog’s left side. Take that end of the leash and pass it under your dog’s abdomen, just in front of his hind legs. Bring it up the dog’s right side and loop it under the part of the leash that is along the dog’s spine. This creates a loop around your dog’s waist that will tighten if he pulls and loosen as soon as he stops, giving the dog a natural consequence of pulling that does not negatively affect his gait. This trick is not a replacement for training—use the following training technique so you won’t have to depend on a device for control.
With a pocketful of luscious food treats chopped into very tiny pieces, wait until your dog looks at you. When he does, say, “Let’s go!” and take a step forward. If he doesn’t pull, he gets another treat. Continue rewarding him for taking steps without pulling, working up to longer distances. Only add enough challenges so that he will be successful. This process might take several weeks, but the reward is a lifetime of being able to walk with your dog on a loose leash.
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