How to Train Your Dog to Walk With a Harness

How to Train Your Dog to Walk With a Harness
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon1-3 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

Having a dog that can walk well on leash is one of most frequent desires for any dog owner. A dog who pulls or strains on their leash can make for a stressful walk, if not a painful one for a sensitive throat. Collars can place pressure on the airway when a dog pulls or yanks at his leash and this can make walks a very stressful ordeal.

Luckily, there are alternatives for dogs who pull, whether they be large or small. One of the most popular solutions is to fit your dog with a harness that allows you to train him to walk properly without the physical discomfort on the throat that pulling with a collar can cause. However, a harness may give the dog more leverage for pulling, so training is required to have an appropriate loose-leash walker as your walking companion.

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Defining Tasks

Adjusting to the harness is generally the first step. Once your dog can wear it comfortably, you’ll then be responsible for teaching him to walk properly on a loose leash without pulling. This requires teaching him proper restraint, ignoring distractions, focusing on your pace and step, and learning an appropriate 'heel' at your side. Practicing every day is important to develop good habits.

Harness walking can be started at about 14-16 weeks of age after your dog has had the appropriate vaccinations. Walking him prior to this may result in him developing an illness from an outside virus or bacteria. Once he begins walking, keep him on a routine and walking once or twice daily. With repetition and practice, walking in a harness will become familiar and easy for your dog after a week or two. Remember to take your dog walking only when you are not stressed and are in the right mindset for training.

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Getting Started

Before taking your dog out, be sure that you find a harness that fits him appropriately. A proper harness should be snug but not tight and allow you to place two fingers in between it and your dog. Adjust it as needed and be sure the clasps that hold it in place are solid and not broken. Find a leash that is at least five to six feet and hooks onto the harness properly. Bring along some treats in a small pack or a bag to reward for good walking habits. Have these on hand, as you’ll want to reward quickly so your dog attributes good behavior with the treat. Taking too long may render the reward ineffective.

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The Heel Method

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1

Position correctly

Determine how you want your dog to heel. Typically, the dog stays at the left of you, but you can go with what you feel comfortable with.

2

Reward for correct positioning

Use a treat to mark the proper ‘heel’ position. Repeat a few times with a treat and then without a treat. Use your hand and the treat as a lure to begin with to get him into the appropriate position.

3

Start your walk

Once your dog is familiar with it, place your dog into the heel position and start walking. Take a step and allow him to follow. If he follows at your side, reward appropriately.

4

Increase your step count

With each attempt, increase the number of steps you take before rewarding. Be gradual about it so you do not move faster than your dog can handle. If he fails to stay at your side, go back to the last number of steps he was successful at and try again.

5

Keep training short

These training sessions work best when they are kept between 10 and 15 minutes in length. Give your dog plenty of breaks to go and play or get water. You may want at least two to three times a day in order for your dog to pick up what you want him to do and have good manners on his harness.

The U-Turn Method

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1

Let your dog know it’s walk time

With harness properly fitted and leash in hand, give your dog a command that tells him it’s okay to start walking. ‘Let’s go’ or ‘walk’ both work fine.

2

Allow your dog to take a few steps

As you start walking, your dog will usually start somewhat next to you or a little bit in front of you. Let him walk until he starts to get to the end of about two to three feet of leash and is significantly ahead of you.

3

Say ‘slow down’ or ‘easy’

When he begins to get ahead of you, use a verbal command to let him know he should relax. Any verbal command works as long as it’s stated in a calm manner while still being distinct enough for him to hear it.

4

Use ‘turn’

Turn and walk in the other direction to interrupt his stride as soon as he starts to apply pressure to the leash by pulling, using a word to let him know that you will be doing so. Any other word will work fine as long as you remain consistent. Things like ‘try again’ or ‘listen’ can work in the same manner.

5

Reward as your dog catches up

Before your dog has a chance to pass you up again, reward him for the few steps where he’s at your side. Take the reward away when he gets too far ahead.

6

Repeat as necessary

Training this way will take many repetitions. Stop and turn around each time your dog gets ahead of you, rewarding for good behavior as necessary. Keep these training sessions mild in length, somewhere around ten to fifteen minutes, increasing in length until your dog can walk on a loose leash effectively for the duration of an entire walk.

The Stop and Go Method

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Start the walk

Be sure to give your dog a cue that indicates it’s okay to walk. Any sort of verbal cue will work. Take a few steps forward along with her.

2

Reward for good walking behavior

While your dog is at your side, reward her with plenty of treats. Remove the treats when she passes you and starts to walk ahead.

3

Stop

Once your dog starts pulling on the harness, stop walking entirely and interrupt her.

4

Call your dog to you

With a treat in hand, have your dog return to your side and reward once she does. You can either use your usual recall command like ‘come’, or you can use a new one to specifically use during your walks like ‘back up’ or just ‘back’.

5

Resume the walk

Start walking again, rewarding for her being at your side. The result is her realizing that the walk stops when she pulls on the harness and does not resume until she is at your side once again.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 01/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Trinity

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German shepherd mix

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2 Years

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1 found helpful

We recently brought Trinity home and are having difficulties integrating her into our two cat household. In her previous home she lived with an aggressive cat who swiped at her, unfortunately my two cats are docile and submissive and Trinity is acting aggressively toward them by charging after them. We intervene, instinctively yelling "hey" (which I know may be problematic), then telling her to leave it and praising her when she goes back to laying down looking at me instead of the cats.

Oct. 24, 2021

Trinity's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Felicity, Check out the resources below. If you find pup's aggression toward the cats is severe, I would hire a professional trainer experienced with this type of behavior and training to help you in person with the training. Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E Severe cat issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MLJV5PBh7Y More e-collar work with cats with the same dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8lkbX0dhT0 Work on impulse control in general with pup, by teaching things that increase impulse control and calmness - such as a long, Place command around lots of distractions. Practicing the command until you get to the point where pup will stay on Place while you are working with the cats in the same room. You can also back tie pup while they are on place - connecting a long leash attached to pup to something near the Place just in case pup were to try to get off Place before you could intervene. This keeps kitty safe while practicing and reinforces to pup that they can't get off the Place. The leash should be long enough that pup doesn't feel the leash while they are obediently staying on the Place because it has some slack in the leash. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Below are some other commands in general you can practice to help pup develop better impulse skill/self-control - impulse control takes practice for a dog to gain the ability to control herself. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the room: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Oct. 25, 2021

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Ginger Rose

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Golden Retriever

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16 Weeks

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A lot of Energy she’s digging and walking is not good all she does is pull

Nov. 2, 2020

Ginger Rose's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jennifer, For the digging I recommend teaching the Out command, using the section on How to Use Out to Deal with Pushy Behavior to enforce pup moving away from where she is digging, and not leaving her outside unattended at this age. Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ For the pulling, check out the Turns method and work on getting pup's focus on you by making your energy more exciting and using food rewards while she is first learning how to heel. Start the training somewhere with few distractions like your own yard, and very gradually progress to places with more distractions like a cul-de-sac, neighborhood, calm park, busier park, ect... Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Week 1, pt 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnhJGU2NO5k Week 1, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-1-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 1 https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 2, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-2-part-2-home-jasper-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 3, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-3-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 4, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-4-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 5, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-5-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 1: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-1-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1 Week 6, pt 2: https://www.dogstardaily.com/videos/week-6-part-2-sirius-berkeley-puppy-1-0 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Nov. 3, 2020


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