How to get your dog used to wearing a harness

How to get your dog used to wearing a harness

Author: Terry Hearn

Getting your dog used to wearing a harness is not always easy, but with some time, patience, and a tub full of treats, they will soon be feeling happy and comfortable.

Well-fitting harnesses provide security and comfort for your dog, making long walks enjoyable for everyone. Better still, the right type of harness can also help to reduce the risk of neck injuries. From adjustable back clip harnesses to an H-shape nylon strap harness or reversible Y-shape harness, you can find the perfect balance of style and comfort for your four-legged companion.

In this guide, we identify the steps for building familiarity and enthusiasm, as well as considerations for older dogs and rescues.

Step 1: Positive initial associations

If your dog has never worn a harness before they will need time to get used to the sensation. Use treats to reassure and slowly lace the harness over their head, offering more rewards and praise while they are wearing it around their neck. Repeat the process multiple times and, if they are happy, keep extending the amount of time the harness stays on.

If they react negatively or show signs of stress, calmly remove the harness and begin again. Ideally, your dog should be calm when the harness is removed to avoid creating negative associations.

Securing the harness

Once your dog is comfortable with the harness around their neck you move towards clipping up the rest of the harness. Make sure that it has been adjusted to be as comfortable as possible at this stage.

The sound of the harness’ fastenings could cause alarm. Before putting the harness on, click the straps together and offer more treats, helping to build an association between the sounds and sensations of the harness.

Unseen or unexpected movements can sometimes cause concern, so get down to your dog’s level and avoid reaching over to buckle the harness. Use praise and treats while strapping them in to continue building positive connections between the harness and fun times.

Any signs of resistance or concern should be respected and it may take a few attempts to get to this stage. Sometimes you will have to move back a stage until they show signs of becoming comfortable with this new ritual.

Step 3: Get your dog used to moving in a harness

Ready for a walk? Not quite yet! First, we need to gradually build up the amount of time they are wearing the harness, providing praise and treats when taking it on and off and slowly extending the wearing time.

When you are up to a few minutes of comfortable wear, try some fun indoor play activities to emphasise that harnesses mean fun. Being allowed to play while wearing the harness will allow them to get comfortable with the sensation of the straps reacting to their movement.

After a few sessions, you should notice a lack of resistance to wearing the harness. This is the sign that it is time for the first walk!

Top Tip: Introduce the harness early

The earlier your dog is introduced to their harness, the better. Establishing familiarity will help to develop positive associations between having their harness put on and good things like treats and going for a walk.

How to get older dogs used to wearing a harness

Introducing a harness at an early age is not always possible, especially if you have a rescue or older dog. The world can be a scary place and if your dog is nervous this can make things much more difficult.

Do not force your dog into the harness as this could validate their concerns that the harness is a negative. Instead, patience is the answer. Place treats around the harness and allow them time to investigate and become familiar.

Encourage them to come to you while holding the harness and then begin to follow the steps above, but be prepared to take things at your dog’s speed over multiple sessions. Repetition will help this to become a routine and desensitise them to the anxiety they initially felt.

The most important thing is to build trust. If you see indicators of anxious behaviour stop and move back a step in the process until they are comfortable to continue. Signs to watch out for include:

  • Backing out of the harness
  • Refusing to come close
  • Stretching to reach treats
  • Tension in the body
  • Leaning away
  • Crouching with a tucked tail

Why do some dogs dislike harnesses?

Many owners may notice that their dogs are not enthusiastic about wearing a harness and may freeze or run away when they approach to try to put a harness on.

The most likely reason is that they associate the harness with a previous negative experience, perhaps with a previous owner, or see it as a form of punishment.

The other factor is simply that the harness is uncomfortable. Wearing the wrong size or an incorrect fitting could be a major source of discomfort and result in a reluctance to wear it. Use Topdog’s harness size guide to make sure your pup is measured correctly and is as comfortable as possible in their harness and soon they will be thrilled to be wearing their new harness on their latest adventure!

Check out our stylish selection of harnesses for dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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