How to Train Your Dog to Walk With a Harness

Easy
1-3 Weeks
General

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.

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.

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.

The U-Turn Method

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Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Stop and Go Method

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Step
1
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.
Step
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.
Step
3
Stop
Once your dog starts pulling on the harness, stop walking entirely and interrupt her.
Step
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’.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Heel Method

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Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Shamas
AnimalBreed object
5 Years
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Question
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Shamas
AnimalBreed object
5 Years

Hello I have a training question. I'm getting along fairy well with teaching Shamas not to pull. We have switched to a front-clip harness and are using the stop and go methid...but we are challenged by his reaction to small dogs. I don't know if it's "prey drive" or "dog aggression" but Shamas can't walk by a small dog on the street without heavy breathing, barking and lunging if it's too close(20-30 feet). I have been taking the maximum possible distance, and sitting him, whilst plying him with treats to hold his attention. His threshold seems to be about 100 feet. At Petsmart he's completely different, and can meet small dogs almost witout issue. The only exception is the Chihuaha..which my husband theorises that he may not recognise as a dog. He reacts to that the same as he'd react to a small, fast cat-wants to chase it.

Shamas Has been attacked by small breed dogs, one of which came out of it's house and went for his throat. Most of those little things were uncontrolled and on retractable leads while the owners were on cell phones. I find them unpredictable, and have my own suspicions of them, which I'm sure are transmitting to the dog...any suggestions?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
674 Dog owners recommended

Hello Michell, Because of his history of being attacked and the fact that he does better at the pet store, his issue is probably mainly fear aggression. His attitude may be "Attack first rather than be attacked, or act scary so that they will stay away". The issue is likely worse in your neighborhood than in the store because I am assuming that he has never been attacked in the store before but was in a neighborhood setting when the attacks happened. He likely feels the need to defend himself in your neighborhood but not in the store. If it was a Chihuahua that attacked him, then that might be why he especially dislikes Chihuahuas. If it was not, then he may have some prey drive toward Chihuahuas, in which case you may never he able to trust him around that breed because that is a different issue entirely. The fastest way to address his issue is to attend a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area that has small breed dogs also attending. If you can find one near you, then I highly recommend doing that. That class will require all of the dogs to be muzzled for safety reasons and will rapidly socialize them all together in a structured environment to help them overcome aggression. It tends to be very effective, especially for fearful dogs. The next best option is to find a trainer with extensive experience dealing with aggressive dogs with traumatic histories, who is part of a larger training group where they can set up controlled interactions and concentrated sessions around small dogs at their facility, and then also do sessions in your neighborhood around small dogs to transfer that training. A trainer who has access to lots of different small dogs who can bring the dogs to you and set up those same types of interactions in your neighborhood would also be great. Make sure that the sessions also involve your neighborhood though, since that area seems to be where the specific issue is the training will need to be transferred to that environment also. On your own or in combination with the professional training you can also do a couple of other exercises with him. The first is to teach him a firm "Heel" command, where he has to walk right by you, pay attention to you, and stop and sit when you stop. You can teach it with the harness that you already have, but because of his dog issues you might need to switch to a Prong collar. For more information on fitting a prong collar, using it fairly and correctly, and working on dog aggression check out Jeff Gehlman from SolidK9Training's YouTube channel. Prong collars are very effective tools as long as they are used fairly and correctly. They can be a bad tool if you do not know how to properly fit or use them though, and most people who run out and simply buy one without looking into their use, end up using them incorrectly. While you are working on his heel command also get him comfortable with wearing a basket muzzle using lots of treats and gradually working him up to wearing it with it buckled over time. When he can wear the muzzle without it causing him stress, then recruit a friend with a friendly small dog and practice "The Passing Approach Method" from the article that I have linked bellow. Once he can walk past the other dog calmly, then switch to "The Walking Together Method" with the dogs several feet apart, such as on opposite sidewalks. As both dogs begin to ignore one another and focus on you better, then gradually decrease the distance between the dogs, until you can walk down the sidewalk together with the dogs on either side of you and your friend. This will likely take several sessions with the same dog before Shamas will be ready for you to walk together with the other dog. While you are doing this, if he starts to react poorly toward the other dog, then correct him with the leash just enough to interrupt his behavior, and then get his focus back on you by changing directions, reminding him to heel, or practicing some of his obedience commands, like "Sit" and "Down". Here is that article: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Do not use the "Slow Approach Method" from this article with Shamas. While you are working on getting the dogs used to walking together, whenever Shamas walks calmly with you, heels by your side, ignores the other dog, looks at the other dog and remains calm, or looks at the other dog and then looks back at you, praise him and give him an easy to eat treat, such as real chicken or freeze dried liver or something else that is small and soft. When he can walk down the sidewalk with the other dog calmly, then recruit another friend and start the exercise over with the new small dog. Repeat this with as many friendly small dogs as you can. Make sure that he continues to wear the muzzle though while you are training, for safety reasons. You can also go to places with lots of space, stay far enough away from the small dogs for him to notice them but remain calm, and reward him for looking at the small dogs and then looking back at you, looking at them and remaining calm, or ignoring them. When you encounter a small dog in general it is important for you to act confident and upbeat. Like "GOOD BOY!", "Look Buddy!!", "Way to Go". Do whatever you need to do and say in order to make yourself feel better about the other dog and situation. If that means skipping down the sidewalk or acting silly with your dog, then do it! Your silliness will make the appearance of another dog fun and will actually help him overcome his fear. Unfortunately many small dogs are not properly socialized as puppies and it shows in their behavior, but not all small dogs are mean. I have worked with many wonderful ones. Small dogs are just dogs and how to raise them has a large impact on their behavior just like any other dog, so ask around and see if you can find some friends with nice small dogs to help you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Critenden

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Question
Lexi
AnimalBreed object
4 Months
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Question
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Lexi
AnimalBreed object
4 Months

She is scared of the harness and continues to try to get out of it.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
674 Dog owners recommended

Hello James, First, what type of harness are you using. Many cheaper harnesses or even harnesses designed for looks, rub and chaff or restrict movement in uncomfortable ways. Pay attention to the quality of the harness and choose one that is designed to fit well and has padding in the correct places, such as under the armpits and chest. Second, I suggest going back a few steps and introducing the harness again using treats. Take her potty on a martingale collar right now if you can safely do so - while introducing the harness. First, place the harness on the ground and sprinkle treats around it - such as at mealtimes. Do this until pup feels very comfortable simple touching the harness again. Next, proceed to the steps in the video linked below. The dog in the video is already comfortable with a harness, so their process is all in one video - your dog is already afraid of the harness so you will probably spend several training sessions on each step before pup is relaxed and happy enough about the harness to move to the next step - don't rush this but do practice very frequently - such as several 10 minute training sessions throughout the day each day to make this process move quicker. https://www.google.com/search?q=introducing+a+harness+to+a+shy+dog&oq=introducing+a+harness+to+a+shy+dog&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l7.4118j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_GuiVXpqqIs3SsAXgjr-4CQ43 The harness she uses for the video if the band Ruffwear, notice the fit and padding of the harness, look for something that's comfortable for pup like that. To minimize pulling, you can also choose a harness like that but one that has a clip in the front to redirect pup's pulling motion still - such as Ruffwear's front range harness or something similar. After pup is comfortable wearing the harness, take pup to really fun places or do really fun things like canine games while pup is wearing it at first, so that pup begins to look forward to having the harness on in anticipation of activities they like also. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Chance
AnimalBreed object
3 Months
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Question
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Chance
AnimalBreed object
3 Months

I've been training him off leash since I got him few days ago... gonna start training with leash and a harness...wondering what do when they just sit down and don't want to comply? Like they are scared or comfused..

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
93 Dog owners recommended

Hello! This is likely due to being unfamiliar with a leash or how to walk along with you in general. I am going to provide you with information and tips on walking. Leash training is essential for both dogs and their owners. Not only is it a part of good dog etiquette, but a leash-trained dog will be safer and more comfortable out for walks. Not all dogs adjust easily to leashes, however, and when a dog refuses to walk or pulls on the leash, there are several tricks that can help correct that behavior. Choose the Right Leash and Collar Before leash training can begin, it is important to have the right collar and leash. The collar should fit snugly but not tightly around the dog's neck, without chafing or pinching. Harnesses are not recommended when leash training, since a dog's pulling power is in its chest, and it will be harder to correct inappropriate behavior with a harness. The leash should be long enough to allow some slack, but not so long that the dog has free movement over a large range. Longer leashes can be introduced after training, but until the dog has learned proper leash manners, a length of 4-6 feet is best. Both the collar and leash should be in good condition without any fraying or damage that could break under unexpected pressure. The clip connecting the collar and leash should be firm and secure, and the collar and leash should be wiped clean as often as necessary so no dirt can build up that could cause irritation to the dog. Correcting Walking Problems There are many reasons why dogs may pull on a leash or resist walking. If the dog has not been leash trained before, the sight, smell and feel of the leash and collar could be frightening or make the dog nervous, which can lead to resistance or balking. A dog that has been cooped up may be overly excited to go out on the leash, which can lead to more pulling or ignoring commands. Similarly, if dogs are interested in nearby items, they may be more likely to pull, or if there is something in their sight that scares them, they may resist walking. Once you understand why a dog may have problems walking on the leash, there are several techniques that can encourage proper behavior… Familiarize the Dog If the dog is not used to the collar or leash, allow them to see and smell the gear first. Rub the leash through your fingers to transfer some of your scent along its length to help your dog adjust, and allow them to wear the collar without the leash long before going for a walk. Adjust Collar Position The upper part of a dog's neck is the most sensitive area. The collar should fit in this area, which will allow for more gentle corrections because the dog will feel the effects more quickly. If the collar is too loose or low, corrections will not be as effective. Shorten the Leash A shorter leash allows firmer control without the dog getting so far away that they are tempted by more distractions. The touch of the leash and collar is an important part of dog-owner communication, and a shorter leash keeps the owner in better control of their pet. Check the Feet If a normally well-behaved walker starts to have problems, check the dog's legs and feet for thorns, bruises, cuts or any swelling or tenderness that can indicate an injury. Visit a veterinarian to help with serious issues, or allow the dog to heal before resuming leash training. Use Verbal Commands Dogs have excellent hearing, and verbal commands can be an important part of leash training. Use an excited voice to say "Let's go!" to encourage forward movement, and use harsher, firm tones with "No!" to discourage improper behavior. Stay Still If a dog pulls, stand still and do not allow them to advance toward whatever has caught their interest. When the dog stops to look around at you, reward that pause with a friendly word or small treat. If they resume pulling, stay still until they stop again, then move in the proper direction to lead them correctly. Pick Up the Pace If a dog is easily distracted on a walk, a quicker pace can reduce unwanted behavior by giving them less time to notice new things that could lead to pulling. Dogs will also enjoy the excitement in their owners' pace, and a brisk walk is better exercise than a slow stroll. Walk More Frequently Any training is more effective if it is repeated and refreshed. More frequent walks will not only remind a dog about proper leash manners, but will be more exercise and more bonding between dog and owner. Try Treats Small treats can reward good walking behavior, though it is important to use them as a tool only, and reinforce the dog's successes verbally or with a happy pat as well. Eventually, the dog should have mastered easy, comfortable walking without a treat. For the best training, combine several techniques to continually reinforce your dog's behavior. Always be patient with your pet, and in time you both will enjoy hassle-free walks. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thanks for writing in!

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