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Being a pet lover, I’m sure you care about your dog's health, wellbeing and safety above all else. This is why harness training is so important. A harness is often the best option for your dog, especially if your four-legged friend is a bit of a puller. In these instances, using collars is dangerous, because it compresses the structures in the neck. This is especially dangerous in breeds such as Yorkshire terriers, which are predisposed to a collapsing windpipe, a condition which can eventually be life-threatening. Another example of harnesses protecting the safety of your pet is when they’re out on the lead, before they are trained to walk off lead. Having a harness on your dog, and therefore good control of them, means you can avoid hazards such as an aggressive dog walking around off lead or environmental hazards such as steep drops. These are hazards that your young pup may not be aware of as they’re just a baby working out how the world works. Therefore, it is extremely important to train your pup to wear a harness from a young age.
Another reason why there’s no excuse not to harness train your pup is that it’s super easy. Most dogs will take to a harness well, with few exceptions. Puppies can be taught to wear a harness practically from day one as well, as you’ll get your pup at a minimum of 8 weeks of age. Give them a chance to settle in for a few days and then start teaching them. Wearing a harness will also come in handy in the car as you can strap them in with a doggy seatbelt, another example of why harnesses are better than collars and how it will keep your pupper safe-- it is also a legal requirement in many places to have your pup either strapped in or in a crate during car journeys. Although it’s best to teach your fluffy friend when he’s young, older dogs that are more set in their ways can also be taught this trick with relative ease and getting them used to the harness should take a few days at the most.
To get started, you’ll need a quiet environment for your pupper to learn. Try playing with him first to wear him out a little, but not too much as you don’t want him to take a pup nap. You’ll need a comfortable, well-fitting harness. It’s well worth investing time and money in finding the correct one, as the last thing you want to do is cause your pup any discomfort. You’ll want to buy one from a reputable pet store or manufacturer of dog harnesses. And of course, you’ll want some tasty treats to reward your pooch when he’s a good boy and accepts the harness well.
The Puppy Method
Introducing the harness
Get your pooch to love that brand new harness. Pop it on the floor and let him have a good sniff.
Loving the harness
Give your pupper a delicious treat and tell him how much of a good boy he is when he shows interest in the harness.
It is well worth desensitizing your pup to the harness by giving him a day where it’s just lying around the house and he can show interest in it, this way he’ll be less scared when you put it on him, as it’s a familiar object.
Wearing it around the house
Pop your pupper into the harness. As harnesses can be variable, be sure to read the instructions so you can fit it properly. This might be a two-man job, and can be easier if you get someone else to hold the pup while you fit the harness. Make sure you give your pup a treat and lots of praise when he wears the harness around the house to begin with.
Go somewhere fun
You don’t want your pupper associating the harness with bad experiences, so take them to one of their favorite places to walk. Make sure their vaccinated before you venture outside with them though!
The Old Dog Method
Getting it right
Make sure you choose the right harness for your pupper; an older dog will be more set in his ways. Ask the pet shop or manufacturer for advice on what harnesses your breed of pooch tends to like.
Make it boring
Older dogs will tend to get excited when they see a harness, or anything that relates to going walking for that matter. To desensitize them to it, keep the harness somewhere accessible so that he’s used to it but loses interest in it pretty quick.
Keep the harness hanging around the house for a couple of days.
Put the harness on in the house, giving your pup much praise when he accepts it. Let your pooch wear the harness for the afternoon.
Don't be negative
You don’t want your pup to associate the harness with bad things, so make sure you give him praise when he does things right, rather than telling him off if he’s playing up in it.
By now, your pooch should be ready to go out walking in his smart new harness. Be sure to also teach him how to heel, so he doesn’t pull on the harness too hard.
The Repetition Method
Becoming familiar with the harness
Introduce your pupper to the harness by letting him have a good sniff. Give him a treat when he shows interest.
Place the harness on
Place the harness on your pupper's neck/back in a similar position to how it will go on. Do this for 10 seconds and give him a treat and lots of praise if he accepts this. Repeat this a few times.
Fasten the harness
If your pupper is behaving with the harness placed on his neck/back, he should now be ready for it to be tightened. Give your pupper a big fuss and a treat if he accepts the harness.
Keep taking the harness on and off of your pupper, giving him a treat each time he has it on- but only if he is behaving. If not, keep repeating this process until he does and give him a treat and a big fuss then. This means that your put will enjoy wearing the harness as he will associate it with praise.
On the lead
Have a go at walking him around the house with the harness on, giving him treats and praise when he behaves well. Now you’ll be ready to take him outside, when he’s had all his vaccines, of course.
By Catherine Lee-Smith
Published: 10/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021