Harnessing Your Wayward Dog
Walks can be enjoyable, manageable, and painless.
She lunges. She races. Worst of all, perhaps, is when she digs in her heels and slips out backward, Houdini-like, leaving you with only a leash and collar where once was your dog.
If your daily excursions with your energetic canine raise your heart rate for all the wrong reasons, you might want to seriously consider swapping out your dog’s collar for a harness. Wrapped around your dog’s chest, belly and back rather than just her neck, a harness provides excellent control over how fast your dog walks and in what direction, while also preventing lunges and dives toward other dogs (and people, and squirrels) that leave her choking and you shaken with the effort of maintaining a hold on the leash while feeling like a very wayward parent.
The harness will let you do all this without punishing your pet. The problem with neck collars is that dogs who are inclined to strain against them while racing ahead can end up with damage to the soft tissue of the neck or worse, to the trachea. Dogs’ neck muscles are strong, but there’s a limit. Just as problematic, neck collars can teach your pet to associate her walks with physical discomfort or outright pain, particularly if you have been resorting to a metal choke chain or pinch-prong chain. And that only frays her bond with you.
A punishing neck collar will not help you gain real control over your dog’s behavior, anyway. Most dogs will continue to try to race ahead or linger, even though in pain, causing themselves harm and raising their anxiety and yours with each outdoor excursion.
A harness, on the other hand, allows you to humanely redirect your dog’s attention. A gentle tug, sometimes barely perceptible, will do the trick. Harnesses are particularly critical for brachycephalic dogs, whose breathing is already compromised. That’s a rather long list of breeds, including but not limited to pugs, French and English bulldogs, and Boston terriers.
There is a plethora of harness choices out there, with particular models suited to your dog’s specific needs. Your small or perhaps easy-going larger dog may not need more than a simple back-clip harness, which allows you to attach the leash to a ring located on your pet’s back. This provides a nice comfort level—not too restraining when you tug.
For dogs who need a bit more control, a front-clip harness will let you fasten the leash to a ring on the dog’s chest area, which makes it easier to prevent lunging or racing ahead because your tug will stop short your dog’s forward movement. It will not be jarring but will turn her a bit back toward you, redirecting her attention in the process. The downside to this method is that you need to keep watch so that the leash doesn’t get caught up between your dog’s legs.
The ultimate apparatus for training or maintaining control over a dog, particularly a large one with a prey drive that has her running and lunging, is a no-pull harness that has both front and back clips for a dual leash attachment. The dual leash is a single line that acts like two leashes because it has an attachment at either end that you connect to both clips. When your dog attempts to chase something down, you can stand close to her and pivot her direction with both lines to navigate her away from her intended target. It will be surprisingly effective in shifting her attention.
You will not only be preventing a crisis but also training your dog to enjoy her walk with you rather than get worked up over stimuli. This is a painless redirection—more of a nudge—and can be eased up over time so that you only attach the leash to the front clip, which allows you to redirect your dog from her front area so that she is aware of you again and rights herself. It also doubles the length of the leash because now it is no longer being used as two lines.
Something to keep in mind when looking for a good harness: leather can be tough and will cause chafing. Soft materials such as nylon work well. Two key descriptors to look for are “mesh” and “padding.” A handle on the back of the harness for quick pull-back by you is an added plus.
Fit matters, so pay attention to the measurements for size provided by each manufacturer. The wrong fit can also lead to chafing, which will make your dog uncomfortable and distressed about having to wear the harness.
Following are some of the best no-pull harnesses on the market, which can easily become just a front-clip or back-clip harness if you attach only from one end.
All the harnesses listed here have received top ratings for durability, comfort, and fit. There are other good brands out there with overlapping features. But this sampling should put you well on your way.
Freedom No-Pull Harness is endorsed by a number of groups that work with dogs and has been used on the It’s Me or the Dog training show on Animal Planet. It is also one of the favorites of the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM. The harness tightens with the help of a martingale loop on the top back portion near the scruff of the dog’s neck. It stays loose except when there’s lunging, and then it tightens only enough to secure your dog without risking pain or injury. The tightening and then releasing of the loop provides a conditioning benefit for the dog as she begins to associate her calming down with the loosening of the harness. The harness will also hug your dog’s body to some degree, similar to a compression jacket, which assuages anxiety. Comes in 14 colors, x-small and small ($28.99), medium and large ($29.99), x-large ($31.99), and 2x-large, ($33.99). Available on Freedomnopullharness.com, Amazon.com, and other sites.
The Company of Animals Sporn Non-Pull Harness is another favorite of Dr. Borns-Weil. Elastic webbing and mesh covering for the dog’s chest area provide ease of movement, while padding near the legs stops rubbing. When your dog pulls on the leash, she creates a “squeeze and lift” effect as the harness tightens, lifting her front feet up ever so slightly while the gentle squeezing on her body stops her unwanted behavior. The harness is easy to put on. After it’s placed over the dog’s head, the legs are positioned through the loops, the shoulder straps are adjusted, and the sliding security lock is tightened to keep the fit in place before attaching the harness to the lead. Comes in x-small ($11.99), small ($12.69), medium ($8.44), and large/x-large ($16.31). Available on Chewy.com and Amazon.com.
Deluxe Easy Walk Harness allays all the concerns that come into play when walking a dog. The front-clip design has a martingale loop in the form of a nylon strap—and lets you gently steer your dog to the side enough to regain his attention while helping prevent the chances of the leash twisting. The neoprene-lined chest straps are padded, and the belly strap is a different color to let you know which part of the harness goes underneath. Quick-snap buckles and four adjustment points keep the fit right and also make it easier to put the harness on and take it off. Reflective strips add to safety. Comes in small ($21.95), medium ($24.99), medium/large ($25.07), and large ($25.07). Available on Amazon.com, Store.petsafe.net, and other sites.
DEXDOG EZTrainer No Pull Front Attachment Clip Dog Harness for Training Running Comfort is a bit of a misnomer as it comes with both front-clip and back-clip attachments. Adjustable reflective straps can be fit to prevent chafing. Comes in xx-small ($17.99), x-small ($18.99), small ($19.99), medium ($20.99), large ($21.99), and x-large ($22.99). Available on Amazon.com, Dexdog.com, and other sites.
Julius-K9 Power Harness has been a favorite of police, firefighters, and agility trainers. It slips over your dog’s head and then connects via a buckle under her tummy. Your pet does not need to step into the harness, and you don’t need to figure out which side is front or back. The harness has Velcro patches with the company logo in large, reflective material lettering on both sides, and these removable patches can be replaced with personalized patches showing your dog’s name in reflective lettering. Comes in mini-mini ($36.99), mini ($33.87), x-small ($20.15), small ($34.95), medium ($31.83), large ($45.22), x-large ($50.99). Available on Amazon.com, Chewy.com, and other sites.
Ruffwear Front Range All-Day Adventure Harness has reinforced webbing on the attached aluminum rings for greater security while walking. The harness slips over your dog’s head and has side-release buckles as well as four points of adjustment, providing a very secure fit. And the padded chest and belly panel will keep your pet comfortable. Comes in xx-small, x-small, small, medium, large/x-large, all for $39.95. Available on Amazon.com, Ruffwear.com, and other sites.
Truelove Front Range No-Pull Harness has adjustable wide straps and a combination of lightweight mesh and soft spongy padding for the chest and belly area, which makes it particularly comfortable. Comes in x-small ($19.22), small ($20.88), medium ($20.66), large ($21.66), x-large ($22.22). Available on Amazon.com, Truelove-pet.com, and other sites.