The truth about harnesses

Today I'll let you in on a big dog training secret: harnesses DO NOT teach dogs to pull.

Let it sink in for a moment.

Despite of this being repeated over and over again by even otherwise reputable trainers around, it's an utter nonsense. A harness is a piece of equipment, a few nylon straps and several plastic clips, and a d-ring. It's like saying that buying chocolate will make you fat. It's what you do with it that may make you fat, if you eat it all in one go, you may gain a few grams instantly. If you give it to your friend, you will stay slim but they will get fat, wouldn't that be great?:-)

If you allow your dog to pull you, it completely doesn't matter what they wear. Have you never seen a dog pulling on a collar? Either flat, or half-choke or even a choke chain or a slip lead? I certainly have. And it doesn't look good, and sounds even worse. The dog's body is all strained, his neck bent and his front feet scraping the pavement? His eyes are bulging and he makes choking noises as he ploughs on dragging his owner at the other end of the leash. So maybe the collar taught him to pull??? Why the same trainer, who would banish the harness in this situation will never banish the collar then? Because what other thing do they have left? But if it was a harness, OMG, take this off, it's a devil's device, here put this slip lead on, without the oxygen they will have less strength to pull...

I love harnesses, I've used them on all my own dogs, my foster dogs and most of my clients' dogs. Some of them pulled when I got them but guess what? Not because of wearing harnesses, many of them never had a harness on. And no, putting a harness on didn't instantly cured them either, it takes time and experimenting with the proper technique for a particular dog.

So why a harness is one of my favourite pieces of gear?

They are more comfortable for the dog. And this matters a lot to me. A well fitted harness with a nice padded chest plate doesn't restrict movement, doesn't press on any vital organs, doesn't put a strain on the spine. When I climb I wear a harness too, not a rope around my waist and thighs like it was years ago. We made harnesses for the climber's comfort and safety, the same goes for dogs.

The dog's neck is a very, very, did I say very?, sensitive body part. Under the skin there are: the spine with all the vertebrae and the discs between them; spinal cord with all the nerves running down to the rest of the body; veins and arteries including the major one; oesophagus; trachea; thyroid; and of course muscles and other soft tissue. I may have missed something but even this is enough if you understand that pressure on this area affects all of the above.

Regular compressing of this region with a collar, particularly the tightening ones like the slip aka gun dog lead and a choke chain will lead to discomfort for the dog, if not pain. Which will not be detected immediately due to the fact that dogs are very reluctant to show both. Even flat collars, if the dog pulls a lot, will cause the same issues. Dogs with collapsed trachea come to mind first, ocular problems, thyroid problems, stiff neck... All can be linked to the collar pressure on the neck.

Not all harnesses are created equal though. I'd never recommend a no-pull harness which is basically designed to make it uncomfortable or painful when the dog pulls. Another type of harnesses which I don't like are the very popular JuliusK9 harnesses and similar ones. The ones with the horizontal strap across the chest. I'm sure some of you reading it will be quite angry now because they are so great, you'll say. All the detection dogs wear them, the guide dogs, other service dogs... Well, yes they do. And still I never liked them and turns out I was right. At the end of this post, there is a link to a post on Facebook. There is a video showing how a dog moves naturally, without a harness versus when he's wearing this type of harness. This is not a first post on this topic, we are now finally recognizing the negative influence these harnesses have on a dog's posture and movement. Something I kind of always suspected looking at dogs wearing them.

So what is my favourite harness? There is no particular brand although my dog wears one of the TrueLove harnesses bought on amazon for £20 (see the picture). I have two, different colours, they are well designed and well made, padded, fully adjustable, with a front and back attachment ring and a handle at the top. These are the features that I'm looking for in a harness.

Other brands that make similar products are: Ruffwear, Hurtta, Perfect-Fit, DogCopenhagen, X-traDog. And more.

Now: there are a couple more things to mention here. Sometimes a dog can't wear a harness. For instance my older dog has spinal arthritis and on his back he has a spot which is very painful to him, it's a soft tissue problem, maybe a slipped disc. He's never liked harnesses (or coats, or brushing) 'cause they touched this area causing him pain or discomfort. I never insisted much and he quite rarely wore one after he started showing these signs, he was off leash a lot anyway.

And then there are dogs that are so laid back and biddable (naturally, not as a result of training) that pulling is not a problem and the risk of injury is minimal. Although personally I'd still use a harness, these dogs could be walked on anything.

Below is the link, let me know if it's not working.