This question comes up so regularly, and I really want to take a moment to debunk this.
Some people claim that having a flat collar around your dog’s neck can give better control, others will claim that front-clip harnesses are the best solution, some even claim head collars are the solution – but truth be told? The equipment is not responsible for your dog’s pulling, only the person attached to the other end of the leash is.
The opinions of professional dog trainers tends to differ, however, this is partially because there is a lot of issues with the industry being unregulated.
Rest assured, this is based on the most modern science (positive reinforcement) as opposed to anecdotal evidence.
Do Harnesses Make Dogs Pull More?
Short Answer: No.
non-aversive equipment (aka, equipment that doesn’t cause pain or discomfort) is never the reason that your dog does something, most of the time? It’s a human thing. Afterall, we have bigger brains, opposible thumbs, and we elect to bring our dogs into our lives – why would it be anyone elses’ fault but ours?
Why Do Dogs Pull?
Your dog pulls for one of three reasons;
1 – because they’re untrained and dogs naturally walk faster than humans
2 – because of something called an opposition reflex – some dogs are bred to pull, so when something resists for them (be it the dog’s collar, a harness or a choke chain, they will pull.)
3 – because they’ve not been taught that they shouldn’t.
And instead of blaming the gear, teach your dog using positive reinforcement based training to achieve a wonderful loose leash – because you don’t need any additional training tool, or choke collar, or prong collar. All dogs (even dogs bred to pull in a harness!) can learn to walk nicely on their daily walk.
And trust me when I say that all dogs, of all sizes, can learn to walk loose leash without tools.
Does The Size Of The Dog Matter?
No, if you have small dogs or big dogs, it really doesn’t matter. Yes, a larger breed or a breed with more physical strength, is going to be able to pull more than a smaller dog (and consequently, a lot of smaller dogs pull more than larger dogs because it’s accepted that a human can overpower them). But ultimately, it doesn’t matter, all dogs can learn to walk loose leash easily enough – and if they’re not? It’s likely that it’s human error.
Pick a good harness for the size of your dog and then practice loose leash walking – oh – and if you need a course on that…
But Don’t Sled Dogs Wear Harnesses? They Pull?
Yes, they do, however the structure of this style of harness is very different to that of the sort of harnesses that dog owners tend to use on their daily walks. These would be describes as a canicross, mushing or pull harnesses. But the pull dog harnesses are designed in such a way that they will distribute the weight across your dog’s body. And do you see where the back leash attachment on the main types of dog harnesses used for regular walks is? It moves from behind the dog’s shoulders to basically at their tail joint – and that gives a dog the most availability to pull without too much impact on their body.
But my trainer said harnesses make them pull?
There really aren’t many in the category of certified dog trainer who would say this, so if your trainer is saying this as opposed to encouraging you and listing the cons of dog collars, then you may well need a new dog trainer.
Why would I use a harness, over a collar?
The biggest benefit of a dog harness, is the safety they come with. They protect your dog’s throat and do not create the same collar pressure. They give you a much more secure anchor on your dog. The ease of use may be simpler with a collar, but whether it’s incidences when you’re walking, or just wanting to keep them extra safe, or help them over obstacles while you hike – a harness is a huge benefit.
(And trust me, when you see people trying to draft their sink-y frenchie out of a canal by a collar? You won’t argue…)
When Should I always use a Harness?
If your dog pulls! Because pulling puts the trachea at risk, and this is the single, best way to protect it. You should also use a harness if you’re using a long line or flexi-leash. Also, with older dogs, especially those that make have arthritis, or weak muscles, this would allow your older dog to relax, and feel less pressure if them move awkwardly as they’ve aged.
So when should a dog wear a collar?
Really, the only time my dogs wear collar is when they’re in the yard with their ID tags on as a “just in case”. Afterall, my hounds are flight risks and Indie looks enough like a wolf that I feel if he did get out (which giving him freedom no way means he’s running off) someone *might* shoot at him because of his wolf-y colouring.
This said, you can also choose to switch to a collar when their loose leash training is complete, or at family events etc.
Does The Type Of Harness Matter?
Yes, the type of harness is important when you’re looking at this, because, we really want to elect for a y-shaped harness (so the strap comes over the shoulders, joins on the dog’s chest and goes between their front legs). These types of harnesses are usually the most beneficial because (when properly fitted) they don’t inhibit your dog’s movement.
And, if you have a large dog, I’d encourage you to get a harness with back clips, behind the shoulders, and a clip on the chest, and then couple that with a double ended leash. This leash should then attach to the back of the harness and the front of the harness. That then removes a lot of the strength and gives you some control back.
You can couple this with a neck collar (or flat collar), and I like to do this if I’m working with a reactive dog) in case of emergencies.
What Harnesses & leashes Do You Recommend?
Personally, I have two harnesses that I really use with indie, one is a bigger, heavier harness, and one is more of our hacking harness. So, I switch between the RAM Nomad and the Perfect fit.
However, I recommend two harnesses (both front clip harnesses), in the main, they work for the vast majority of dogs, but if you want other options or a broader recommendations of harnesses, check out the best harnesses list! Personally, I’m a big fan of a harness with leash clips on the front of the chest and shoulders. Obviously we need to ensure it’s a good fit, I like wider straps for bigger dogs (because I’m a big dog mum!) , then we make sure the harness fits!
These are your best choice / best products to start your loose leash journey, if your dog is particularly strong you may want to ensure that in addition to the back attachment, the front part of the harness has a connection point too, this is sometimes referred to as a “two point” harness, a “no pull harness” (misleadingly), or a “Front attachment” harness.
This is a very light harness that’s strong enough for the average dog. It suits slightly narrower breeds, and is very strong despite it’s minuscule weight.
But if this isn’t enough information for you, head over to the best dog harnesses or harnesses for your escape artist! There’s absolutely something in there for you (though, the perfect fit really is the cream of the crop).
Note: If your one of the multitude with dog breeds classified as large, or strong, please make sure the structural connection ring is of premium quality. Check for steel or stainless steel ideally!
Things To Check On Your Harness
You want a harness with that is at least one of the back-clip harnesses, you want to make sure you consider medical conditions, whether your dog is comfortable with it going over your dog’s head, whether it might chafe your dog’s skin (usually padding mitigates this), and what’s going to be the most comfortable way for you to achieve this. Then you’ll want somewhere for ID tags, adjustable straps, maybe even some reflective piping!
But Why Would I Use A Harness over (insert gear type here)?
A prong collar, choke collars, a martingale collar, and head halters (also called a gentle leader) are sometimes described as the best way to stop a dog from pulling. But what they’re not telling you is that:
a) They all cause pain or discomfort (with exception of a properly fitted martingale)
b) You don’t need to inflict pain or discomfort to your dog in order to accomplish a loose leash walk.
Most of these risk neck injury, they risk your dogs throat, they mainly work by creating a negative association. i.e. if I pull, it hurts. This, typically, results in dogs feeling trapped, and forced into a strict position, and removing a lot of the potential enjoyment from their walks.
Need a step-by-step guide on how to Walk Loose Leash?
The bottom line is that the right choice of comfortable harness will not make your dog pull, but that it also enables the best chance of achieving a loose leash walk. Whether you have large dogs or tiny dogs, the right harness works wonders when you’ve got proper guidance.
So, let’s stop blaming the gear, and let’s be better!
If you need help to stop your dog pulling, go check out Loose Leash Walking Challenge!
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is a professional, qualified, and multi-award winning trainer is the founder of rebarkable. She has always believed animals deserve kindness and champions force free methods. Believing that dog guardians will all choose the kindest options if proper information is provided, she aims to help all dog guardians who need it and make dog training as accessible as possible
Ali lives win Maryland, US with her husband and her three dogs.