How to get your dog used to wearing a harness

Linn Cecilia Svensson

Linn Radsted

How to get your dog used to wearing a harness

These days, both dog trainers and veterinarians recommend using a harness for dogs, since they pull more evenly than a collar and therefore reduce the risk of injury. 

The first time you put on a harness 

It is quite unnatural for a dog to wear a harness (or collar for that matter!), and so she will need to get used to it. Therefore, it is important that you start practicing with the harness as early as possible so that your dog learns that a harness is just a part of everyday life.

Many dogs may feel that putting on a harness is almost like an attack, since they do not like to get anything over their heads. That's why you need to train with lots of goodies and good spirits, says dog trainer and behavior therapist Merethe Børgarth.

Sit in front of your dog so that you are at the same height and do not seem threatening.

Coax his head through the harness with a treat, so that your dog himself must take the initiative and stick his head through.

Take off the harness properly

When you are ready to remove the harness, do so carefully, so your dog doesn’t think it’s being attacked either. 

Simply open the harness and allow your dog to pull his head backwards while holding onto the harness yourself. That way the harness just slips off.

Practice makes perfect

When your dog is a puppy (or the first time you bring her home), practice this plenty of times, and allow the dog to walk around with the harness at home before going out.

Practice both getting the harness on and taking it off a few times, and remember to praise and reward.

The more times the dog experiences success, the better it will be with a harness. And the great reward, of course, is getting out to experience the world once the harness is put on.

Walking with a harness

Harnesses are not an excuse for not teaching your dog to walk with a leash, although many people forget that part of the training because it can be easier to control the dog when wearing a harness. But it is neither pleasant for you nor for your dog to be pulled along. Your dog can get back injuries - and you probably don't think it's fun to have your arm torn halfway off.

Avoid the following if your dog is pulling on his leash

  • Do not train your dog to walk with a retractable leash. It is impossible for the dog to know how long the leash is and he quickly learns that the leash will get longer if he pulls.
  • Avoid keeping the leash constantly taunt. When your dog is walking nicely or sitting and waiting, it is important that you have the leash loose, so she knows that is the reward for "walking nicely."
  • Avoid walking in the direction your dog is pulling in. If there is a bird, cat or scent that the dog insists on investigating, change direction and go the opposite way.

Good advice to teach your dog to walk with you

  • Always start by getting your dog's focus. Before starting the walk, take 1-2 minutes to do some contact exercises or the like that will make your dog focus on you.
  • Have lots of goodies and train her only when you have the time and patience yourself.
  • When the dog pulls, stop and stand. Wait for the dog to contact you (look or walk back towards you) so that the leash is loose again and only then continue the walk. You may only move a few meters at a time for a period of time. Remember: you are walking him. He is not walking you!
  • Reverse or change course if your dog becomes too interested in scents or other things and loses focus on you.
  • Remember to praise the dog when walking well, and remember that the leash should always be loose.