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  • Writer's pictureRenée at Bravo Dog

My dog hates their harness!

If your dog hates their harness ...

This is NOT uncommon. I've worked with thousands of clients over the years and many of them have reported that when the harness comes out, their dog runs. Or, they put the harness on and the dog freezes and may not even want to go for a walk.

black and white dog laying down with harness on

I shared on Instagram this week how despite my best efforts, Penelope has NEVER been a fan of wearing a harness. We have tried the most minimal of harnesses and the best-fitting and comfortable ones that have been recommended. I introduced the harness to her at 10 weeks of age and while I am well versed in desensitization and counter-conditioning it may have been that I should have gone slower, or made an error. Let's go over some of the reasons why your dog hates their harness and what are our options?

Why Do They Hate It?

One thing you'll need to think about is pain. A LOT of my clients after consulting with a vet or veterinary behaviourist have determined that pain is contributing to their aversion to wearing a harness.

However, it CAN be that your dog doesn't like the feeling of restriction on their body.

Or.... did the introduction to the harness go wrong in some way and they now have a negative association?

These are all variables to think about and we may never know why. Some clients report that after the harness on, their dog appears to be "fine". Some tell-tale signs to look for that things are NOT fine:

  • constant shaking off when wearing the equipment

  • yawns and lip licks

  • scratching

Is It Too Late?

Not necessarily. I have worked with some clients in which a very incremental training plan has successfully conditioned their dog to be completely fine wearing a harness. It is SO important to understand your dog's body language so that you know when you are pushing things too far. Consider working with a professional like myself so I can help design a plan for you based on your dog's preferences and history.

Do We Need To Use A Harness?

My first choice is always going to be a Y-shaped harness that fits your dog comfortably. However, we have to ask ourselves this question; if my dog is more stressed wearing a piece of equipment that is intended to give them an enjoyable walk with freedom of movement, is it worth it?

An illustration showing how a correctly fitting harness looks

My biggest concern is your dogs trachea, neck and spine alignment. I do see a lot of dog guardians that use their leash for "corrections" which is often a sharp jerk on the leash. This pressure is applied to the neck/trachea and travles all the way down their spine. If you aren't doing this, fantastic! Next question would be whether your dog pulls so much on leash that a collar would choke them. You may need to experiment with using a longer leash to prevent this, which to be honest I recommend anyways. Giving your dog more freedom on walks when safe is excellent for their mental health.

So, using a collar may be the best option for your dog. And, that's ok as long as we are aware and pay mind to the above health concerns.

Favourite Harnesses?

If you are using a harness or are shopping for a new one, I do recommend these two options:

black Balance dog harness

(don't recommend using the front clip)

black Petsafe dog harness

What Kind of Collar Should We Use?

I know that some folks will prefer a martingale collar which has been designed to prevent a dog from slipping out of their collar. I do worry about them as they do tighten up around the neck and many trainers and training schools have used them as "training collars" in which leash corrections are delivered and essentially the collar is popped as a punishment.

Flat collars would be my recommendation with a simple buckle if possible.

dog colalr with donuts

Where Things Stand With Penelope

Penelope doesn't pull on leash so we are low risk for any time of injury or damage. Right now, we are taking time off from working on the harness. She is much happier with this approach as I was noticing she wasn't happy to go for a walk when the harness was involved. I want you to do what is best for YOUR dog and of course what is safe! There are no hard and fast rules, even if social media has made you feel like there are.



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