can harnesses be used to train dogs not to pull
can harnesses be used to train dogs not to pull

In our latest article, we explore the question of whether harnesses can effectively be used to train dogs not to pull. We all know that walking a dog who constantly pulls can be a frustrating and sometimes even dangerous experience. Harnesses have become a popular alternative to traditional collars, with many dog owners praising their ability to distribute force evenly and prevent choking. But are they truly effective in teaching dogs to walk calmly by our side? Join us as we explore this topic and delve into the potential benefits and drawbacks of using harnesses for leash training.

Understanding the Problem of Dogs Pulling

Why do dogs pull?

Pulling on the leash is a common issue that many dog owners face during walks. As social beings, dogs are naturally curious and eager to explore their surroundings. This instinctual behavior often leads them to pull on the leash, attempting to reach interesting scents or sights. Additionally, dogs may pull due to excitement, a desire to greet other dogs or people, or simply because they haven’t been taught proper leash manners. Understanding the reasons behind pulling is crucial in finding effective solutions.

The negative effects of pulling on walks

While some may view pulling as a minor inconvenience, it can actually have detrimental effects on both the dog and the owner. For the dog, consistently pulling on the leash can cause discomfort and potential injury, especially if they have a collar around their neck. This can result in strained muscles, neck and back injuries, or even tracheal damage. For the owner, walking a pulling dog can be a physically demanding and frustrating experience, leading to a decrease in the enjoyment of walks and discouraging regular exercise for both parties. Additionally, excessive pulling can make it difficult to establish a bond of trust and cooperation between the dog and its owner.

Harnesses as Training Tools

Different types of harnesses

Harnesses provide an effective and humane solution to address the problem of dogs pulling on their leashes. There are various types of harnesses available on the market, each designed to serve different purposes. The two most common types are front-clip harnesses and back-clip harnesses. Front-clip harnesses have the leash attachment point located in the center of the dog’s chest, whereas back-clip harnesses have the attachment point on the dog’s back. There are also harnesses with both front and back attachment points, providing versatility in training and handling. In addition to these, there are specialized harnesses for specific needs, such as no-pull harnesses and head halters.

Benefits of using harnesses for training

Harnesses offer several benefits when it comes to training dogs not to pull. Unlike collars, which put pressure on the neck, harnesses distribute the pulling force across the dog’s body, reducing the risk of injury and discomfort. They also offer better control and prevent the dog from slipping out, particularly for dogs with smaller necks or certain breeds prone to slipping out of collars. Harnesses can also help in redirecting the dog’s attention and reducing the pulling instinct. By attaching the leash to the front of the dog’s chest, the harness provides increased control over the dog’s forward movement, making it easier to guide them and encourage loose leash walking.

Choosing the Right Harness

Factors to consider when selecting a harness

Selecting the right harness for your dog is essential to ensure comfort, safety, and effectiveness during training. Several factors should be taken into consideration when making the choice. Firstly, the size and breed of your dog are crucial in determining the appropriate harness size. It’s essential to measure your dog’s chest girth accurately and refer to the manufacturer’s sizing guide to find the right fit. Additionally, consider the material used in the harness. High-quality, durable materials are recommended to withstand the tension and maintain the harness’s integrity over time. Finally, evaluate the specific needs of your training goals. If you’re dealing with a strong puller, a front-clip harness might provide more control, while a back-clip harness can be suitable for dogs with already established walking manners.

Types of harnesses recommended for training

When it comes to training dogs not to pull, certain harness types are particularly effective. Front-clip harnesses are commonly recommended due to their ability to discourage pulling by redirecting the dog’s forward motion. The leash connection at the chest prompts the dog to turn towards the handler when tension is applied, causing a natural disruption to the pulling behavior. This redirection encourages the dog to walk beside or slightly behind the handler, promoting loose leash walking. Back-clip harnesses and dual-clip harnesses, on the other hand, are better suited for dogs who are already well-mannered on the leash but still benefit from the comfort and control of a harness.

Introduction to Proper Fit

Importance of proper fit for effectiveness

Ensuring a proper fit is crucial for the harness to work effectively in training dogs not to pull. A harness that is too loose can allow the dog to slip out or move freely, minimizing the control and redirecting effects. On the other hand, a harness that is too tight can cause discomfort, restrict movement, and potentially lead to injury. A well-fitted harness should be snug enough to prevent the dog from slipping out, but with enough room for the dog to move comfortably. It should not cause any chafing or pressure points and should sit securely around the dog’s chest and back.

Measuring and adjusting a harness for a dog

To measure a dog for a harness, you’ll need to accurately measure their chest girth. Using a soft measuring tape, wrap it around the widest part of the dog’s chest, just behind their front legs. Make sure the tape is snug but not overly tight. Take note of the measurement and consult the sizing guide provided by the manufacturer of the chosen harness. Once you have the right harness, it’s essential to adjust it properly to achieve a secure and comfortable fit. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adjusting the straps and buckles, making sure the harness sits in the correct position and is neither too tight nor too loose.

Step-by-Step Training Process

Introducing the harness to the dog

Before starting leash training with a harness, it’s important to introduce the device to the dog in a positive and gradual manner. Begin by allowing the dog to sniff and investigate the harness while offering verbal praise and rewards. Once the dog appears comfortable with the harness, gently place it over their head and secure it around their body. Make sure to take it slow and offer plenty of positive reinforcement throughout the process, associating the harness with pleasant experiences and rewards.

Positive reinforcement techniques

Positive reinforcement is key to training dogs not to pull on the leash, regardless of the training method or equipment used. Combine the use of the harness with rewards, such as treats or verbal praise, to encourage good behavior. Whenever the dog exhibits loose leash walking or responds to gentle leash cues, reward them promptly. This positive association reinforces the desired behavior and motivates the dog to continue behaving appropriately on the leash.

Teaching loose leash walking

To train a dog not to pull on the leash using a harness, the focus should be on teaching them the concept of loose leash walking. Begin by walking the dog in a low-distraction environment and rewarding them for walking by your side with a loose leash. If the dog starts to pull, stop walking and wait for them to come back to your side. Reinforce the behavior of walking on a loose leash by rewarding and praising the dog whenever they maintain the desired position. Gradually increase the distractions and duration of walks as the dog becomes more proficient in loose leash walking.

Addressing Common Challenges

Dogs resistant to wearing a harness

Some dogs may initially resist wearing a harness due to unfamiliarity or discomfort. Patience and positive reinforcement play a crucial role in overcoming this challenge. Start by associating the harness with positive experiences, such as offering treats or engaging the dog in their favorite activities while they wear the harness. Gradually increase the duration of time the dog wears the harness, always rewarding them and providing verbal praise. With time and consistent positive reinforcement, most dogs will become more accepting of wearing a harness.

Dealing with adjustment periods

During the initial adjustment period, it’s common for dogs to exhibit certain behaviors such as scratching, pawing at the harness, or trying to bite at it. These behaviors are typically a result of the dog getting used to the sensation of wearing a harness and should diminish over time. To help the dog adapt, ensure that the harness is properly fitted and comfortable. Continue to use positive reinforcement techniques during walks and gradually increase the duration of time spent wearing the harness. If the dog continues to display extreme discomfort or distress, it may be necessary to consult with a professional trainer or behaviorist for further guidance.

Handling distractions and reactivity

It’s not uncommon for dogs to become easily distracted or reactive during walks, especially when they encounter novel stimuli or other dogs. When using a harness to train a dog not to pull, it’s important to address these challenges. Incorporate methods such as redirecting the dog’s attention using treats or training commands, stepping away from the distraction, or employing techniques like “look at me” to regain the dog’s focus. Consistency in training, gradual exposure to distractions, and positive reinforcement are key in helping dogs remain calm and focused during walks.

Additional Training Tips

Consistency and patience

Consistency and patience are essential when training dogs not to pull on the leash. Establishing a routine and consistently reinforcing desired behaviors will help the dog understand and retain the training. Patience is key, as every dog learns at their own pace. It’s important to remain consistent in training methods, rewards, and expectations, while also being patient and understanding towards any setbacks or challenges that may arise.

Avoiding leash corrections

Using a harness for training purposes allows for a more positive and effective approach compared to traditional leash corrections. Avoid resorting to yanking or jerking the leash to correct the dog’s behavior, as this can create negative associations with the harness and worsen pulling tendencies. Instead, focus on redirecting the dog’s attention and rewarding desired behaviors. Positive reinforcement is not only more effective in achieving long-term behavior change, but it also strengthens the bond between the dog and its handler.

Gradually reducing reliance on the harness

While harnesses are valuable training tools, the ultimate goal is for the dog to develop good leash manners and be able to walk without relying solely on the harness. Once the dog consistently demonstrates loose leash walking, gradually reduce reliance on the harness by incorporating short periods of walking with just a collar or a regular leash. This gradual transition allows the dog to generalize the desired behavior and learn to respond reliably to leash cues. However, it’s important to remember that the harness can still serve as a useful tool in certain situations or when extra control is needed.

The Role of Professional Trainers

When to seek professional help

In some cases, training a dog not to pull may require the expertise of a professional trainer or behaviorist. If the dog exhibits extreme pulling tendencies, aggressive behavior, significant fear or anxiety, or if the owner feels overwhelmed or unable to address the issue effectively, seeking professional help is recommended. A professional can assess the specific needs of the dog, identify underlying causes for pulling, and develop a customized training plan to achieve optimal results.

Harness training in conjunction with other methods

Harness training often goes hand in hand with other training methods, such as positive reinforcement, reward-based techniques, and consistency in commands. Combining harness training with obedience training, socialization, and mental stimulation can help address the root causes of pulling and provide a holistic approach to leash training. Professional trainers can guide dog owners in incorporating these various methods effectively while using a harness.

Harness Safety and Maintenance

Regular inspections and adjustments

Ensuring the safety and proper functioning of the harness is essential for both training and the well-being of the dog. Regularly inspect the harness for any signs of wear, such as fraying or weak attachment points. Check the fit of the harness periodically, especially as dogs may still be growing or gaining/losing weight. Adjust the straps as needed to maintain a snug yet comfortable fit. Additionally, ensure that all buckles and clips are securely fastened before each walk.

Cleaning and storing the harness

Proper cleaning and maintenance of the harness not only contribute to its longevity but also promote the dog’s comfort and hygiene. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, as different harness materials may require specific care. Generally, most harnesses can be hand-washed with mild detergent and air-dried. Avoid using harsh chemicals or machine washing, as this may damage the harness. When not in use, store the harness in a clean, dry place away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures.


Using harnesses as training tools to address pulling behavior in dogs offers numerous benefits, both for the dog and the owner. The right harness can provide comfort, control, and a helpful redirecting mechanism to encourage loose leash walking. It is important to select a harness that fits properly, introduce it gradually, and combine training techniques with positive reinforcement. While harnesses play a crucial role in training, patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are key components in achieving leash training success. In some cases, seeking professional guidance may be necessary, and gradually reducing reliance on the harness can lead to greater leash manners. By understanding the problem of pulling, selecting the right harness, and following a step-by-step training process, dog owners can enjoy peaceful and enjoyable walks with their furry companions. With patience and perseverance, leash training success is within reach for every dog and owner.

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Brian Moore
I'm Brian Moore, a veterinarian with over 10 years of experience. I graduated from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. After graduation, I worked as a general practitioner in a small animal clinic for several years. In 2017, I opened my own veterinary practice, Moore Animal Hospital. I'm passionate about providing compassionate and high-quality care to all animals. I'm skilled in a wide range of veterinary procedures, including surgery, dentistry, and internal medicine. I'm also a certified animal behaviorist, and I take a special interest in helping animals with behavioral problems. In addition to my clinical work, I'm also active in the veterinary community. I'm a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association. I'm also a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences. I'm dedicated to providing the best possible care for my patients and their families. I'm a compassionate and knowledgeable veterinarian who is always willing to go the extra mile. I'm originally from San Francisco, California. I'm married and have two children. I enjoy hiking, camping, and spending time with my family. I'm also a member of the local animal shelter and volunteer my time to help care for homeless animals. I'm excited to continue my career as a veterinarian and help even more animals in need.