Introducing your puppy to a harness for the first time can be daunting for you both. For many puppies, the first time they wear a harness is often the first time they go for a walk- but it shouldn’t be! Outside has lots of new sights, sounds and smells they may never have experienced. This coupled with a strange piece of equipment they’ve never worn before and your puppy’s first walks can turn out to be a disaster.
If you’ve rehomed a new dog, or purchased a new harness, these tips work for you too! Let’s go!
Here are our top tips on teaching dogs to love wearing their harnesses:
Make sure the harness fits well and doesn’t restrict their movement or dig in.
For most dogs this will be a y-shaped harness that’s also padded. Ruffwear, Hurtta, Dog Copenhagen, and Kurgo all make nice ones.
A harness that has two points of contact is a good idea.
Having a place to attach your double-ended training lead at the front as well as on the back can help with balancing the dog later on if you have problems with pulling. Having the lead attached twice can also be good as an extra safety measure…so great for slippery puppies or rescue dogs.
Avoid harnesses with moving parts.
Many dog harnesses sold as ‘non-pull’ work by applying pressure or discomfort (aka pain) when the dog pulls on the leash. We don’t want our dogs to experience pain when they’re walking, this will make the harness aversive to wear, so avoid these.
Let your dog see the harness before putting it on.
Pairing the sight of the harness with food will build positive associations, and make your dog feel good when they see it. Do this by simply showing them the harness and giving them a treat. Practice this for a few sessions before you try putting it on your dog.
Let them sniff the harness.
Dogs take in a lot of information with scent. They need to understand what the harness is, sniffing is totally fine!
Teach them to put their head through.
This gives them an element of control about putting their harness on. Being given choice and control is very powerful for all animals, especially pets!
Reward frequently when doing harness training.
Turn putting the harness on and taking it off into a pleasant experience by doing mini sessions with lots of yummy treats – you’re not going anywhere just yet.
Scatter food while you do the harness clips up.
Sometimes the clips can be noisy and cause a startle response. By scattering food on the floor you can take their mind off the clips and instead teach them that hearing the noise can be nice.
Practice lead walking inside with the harness on but no lead.
Start off by teaching them that walking next to you in the harness = fun! This will really help with loose lead walking later on, and will continue building up your pup’s love of the harness.
Play games while wearing the harness.
You can continue building up the association that the harness equals fun times.
Finally, think ‘seatbelt not steering wheel.’
The leash is there to keep your dog safe. Don’t use it to pull or drag your dog around – we can teach direction and following using our happy voice and positive reinforcement training easily enough.
About the Author
Petrina Firth is a Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behaviorist of over 10 years who now mainly specializes in Separation Anxiety (CSAT) and also creates content, lessons and articles for the Zigzag puppy training app and website. Petrina is a member of the Pet Professional Guild, the head of marketing and board member for the APDT UK, and a member of the CAPBT committee. She is also a tech and gadget enthusiast who enjoys city living with her rescue French Bulldog and partner.
Zigzag* is a puppy training app with a difference, rather than focusing solely on obedience we take puppy guardians on a journey through Life Skills and important developmental stages, to hopefully give them happy, confident and well-behaved puppies, with an understanding that puppies and dogs aren’t robots, they have big feelings, and that’s ok!
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Zigzag is a Pet Professional Guild Corporate Partner.