How to Train Your Dog to Wear a Harness

Easy
1-4 Days
General

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Introducing the harness
Get your pooch to love that brand new harness. Pop it on the floor and let him have a good sniff.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
Be patient
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.
Step
4
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.
Step
5
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!
Recommend training method?

The Old Dog Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
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.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
Adjustment period
Keep the harness hanging around the house for a couple of days.
Step
4
Start indoors
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.
Step
5
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.
Step
6
Go outdoors
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.
Recommend training method?

The Repetition Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
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.
Step
2
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.
Step
3
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.
Step
4
Keep practicing
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.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Dakotah
Gerberian Shepsky
5 Years
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Question
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Dakotah
Gerberian Shepsky
5 Years

All dog harnesses that I have tried so far cover his "hackles". Do you know of any harness that is open backed? Probably stupid question but as you can see all harnesses will crush his fur when he is excited.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Check, That partially depends on what you are wanting the harness for - off leash work, walking, service dog work, ect...Most harnesses that go further on the back will encourage pulling for mobility assist service dogs. To help with off leash work and walking the harness generally needs to have support in that area of the back but some have more padding and will lie more on top of the fur than others, so you could minimize how much pressure was put on the fur. Check out the harnesses linked below. Most will still will crush some of the fur but not as much as some harness will and as long as the harness is made with good material, the fur should be fine once the harness is removed again as long as it's not being worn 24/7. https://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/507065?originalProduct=83814&productId=1401706&attrValue_0=Blue&pla1=0&mr%3AtrackingCode=C451DA02-BFE7-E511-80ED-00505694403D&mr%3AreferralID=NA&mr%3Adevice=c&mr%3AadType=plaonline&qs=3136884&gclid=CjwKCAiA9JbwBRAAEiwAnWa4QywHrwLFzDX-nwm4uMf27zqL8R0KbpRKWNkc7Ah0M0-KrWOfw5qFIxoCMHcQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds https://boldleaddesigns.com/shop/everyday-working-harness/ https://www.2houndsdesign.com/product/black-freedom-no-pull-harness/ https://www.thinbluelineusa.com/products/dog-harness-thin-blue-line https://www.petexpertise.com/halti-front-attachment-no-pull-harness/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Dracula
Pomchi
11 Weeks
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Dracula
Pomchi
11 Weeks

My puppy was okay wearing his harness and sweater and now I can’t get him to stay still while I put it on. He squirms out of my arms and backs away. I’ve been working with him since Monday on having him eat treats off of it and giving treats for sniffing it... keeping it in his play area on the floor even. But he still backs away if I try to touch him while near it or try to touch him with it - not even putting it on. I’m getting frustrated as I haven’t taken him outside in almost a week!! I don’t know what else to do except force him into it again. I wish I desensitized him to it first before just putting it on him. He has a step in harness as he’s only 3.5lbs and I was worried about one going over his head. The sweater he’s wearing in this picture goes over his head and I hurt him getting it off the first time.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ashley, First of all make sure that it still fits him correctly and is not chaffing or constricting him too tightly somewhere. Since puppies grow fast, it can happen easily and that can keep a puppy from getting over his fear. Most likely he just remembers being hurt when you put it on before. When you feed him breakfast or dinner, whichever meal you have more time during, hold the sweater out so that the head opening is at his level in front of him. Hold a piece of his food in front of the sweater to entice him to come toward the sweater to eat it, and keep repeating this with pieces of his food until he stays next to the sweater to get the next piece, without running off between. When he will stay by the sweater instead of dashing away between pieces, then put the piece of food through the sweater head hole just a bit, so that he has to reach slightly into the sweater to get it. Practice this at meal times until he will put his head through the sweater hole to get each piece of food without dashing away from that too. Keep the sweater still while you do this. As he gets more comfortable, hold the piece a little further away through the sweater hole, so that he has to put his head further and further through the hole, until he is wearing the sweater. Start saying a command when you hold the piece of food through it at this point, such as "Get Ready!". Try to sound cheerful when you say it. Focus on just teaching him to put his head through the hole at first. When he can do that willingly, then touch his harness buckle or his belly or chest and give a piece of food every time that you do. Do this to get him used to having straps and fabric adjusted also. You can practice this with both the sweater and harness, but only do one object per meal time. Feed him his entire dinner or breakfast, or both, one piece at a time this way for several days. Try to stay cheerful and relaxed while you do this. Purchase a martingale collar and walk him on that without the sweater while you are still training him to get used to the harness and sweater again, if you can. The martingale collar will tighten just a bit to keep it from slipping off as easily as a buckle collar, and his fur should keep him warm if you do not have snow yet. You may need to make your walk a bit shorter though if the weather is under fifty degrees where you are. You can also try a different coat and harness combination. Choose ones that look different than the current ones. If you go this route, look for something more like a puffy vest rather than a sweater so that it will look different, and perhaps a padded harness for better comfort. Look for ones that are easy to put on and comfortable, and when you introduce them, start out by doing the meal treat feeding exercise above, to get him used to cooperating with you and enjoying the outfit from the start. Also, in general work on handling exercises with him. After you get him used to the sweater and harness again, continue working with him to get him more and more used to being touched and handled. To do this, get his dinner or breakfast kibble or small treats, touch an area of his body, like his ear, mouth, paw, tail, or belly, and every time that you touch something, give him a treat. Repeat this for a couple of minutes every day until he is a year old. Most puppies start out enjoying touch, but many will become less tolerant and some even start to bite when touched if you don't continue to help them enjoy it. This is also helpful for trips to the vet's, groomers, small children, nail trimmings, baths, and taking care of injuries. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nebula
Blue heeler mix
5 Months
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Question
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Nebula
Blue heeler mix
5 Months

My dog loves going for walks and i have no problems when the harness is on... what i have trouble with, is putting the harness on! I think she thinks i'm playing or just gets too excited as she bites me the whole time while putting it on. Any advice how to avoid this behavior?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Daniela, Check out the video linked below to teach him to cooperate with the harness and make sure he is not feeling uncomfortable with it being put on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Yogi
long haired chihuahua
11 Weeks
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Question
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Yogi
long haired chihuahua
11 Weeks

My long haired chihuahua is a little bundle of energy, he loves to play in our backyard, run around and chase toys. But he’s tried to get away from us twice now and we simply can’t take him out without his harness anymore. We were trying to acclimate him to it very slowly, but we can’t risk him getting away (our yard is enclosed, but he’s trying to go around to the front of the house where there’s road access). He doesn’t mind the process of putting the harness on, and he doesn’t back away from it when I bring it out (he actually wants to chew it), but once it’s on, he becomes immobile. Our playful little pup becomes sulky and lethargic. Treats don’t do much to entice him, he doesn’t even care about his favourite toy. We’ve tried luring with high value treats, making very minimal progress, we run around and act very animated trying to get him to engage with us. I’ve taken him out to visit the city center and meet my colleagues at work, which he loves. Attention from strangers is awesome to him, but as soon as I put him on the ground, he freezes up and lays down. At the office, he showed signs of wanting to engage with my colleagues, but he just wouldn’t let himself get up and play with the harness on. As soon as I took it off, he got up and went from person to person, getting petted and loved on, and he was back to happy, playful Yogi again. We only put his harness on to go outside as I couldn’t take watching him act depressed around the house for hours. What can I do to get him to love life in his harness and actually move around when he has it on.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emily, I would actually consider using a different harness or making sure the fit is correct. If the particular harness you are using is putting pressure on certain spots, limiting mobility, or causing discomfort, some dogs will refuse to walk because of the way it feels. This is most common with many no-pull harnesses or cheap webbing harnesses that cut into the armpit areas. In these cases I generally recommend switching to a better harness (if the model is the issue), such as Ruffwear's front range harness - which is padded and doesn't restrict movement but can be clipped at the back for long leash training or at the front to help with pulling issues. The Ruffwear Webmaster harness or a similar well-made but less expensive brand of the same type of harness - is my favorite harness for escape artists. Before you buy another harness I recommend adjusting the size if that could be an issue (style of harness is more likely an issue since sizing issues are generally more obvious but stick your fingers through the harness to check tightness, inspect under the arms for signs of rubbing, ect...). If another harness or re-sizing don't help, I suggest using something that also prevents escaping but is less restrictive like a martingale collar (better than a buckle collar but a harness is still safer). If you switch to a martingale collar you definitely need to work on the running off (which is always a good thing to work on anyway). Check out the Reel In method from the article linked below - this would be taught in your fenced-in backyard on a martingale collar at first for safety reasons. Reel In method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Continue taking pup places that he loves - like around people as you did before. Doing that regularly should help him get over any dislike of future harnesses if any comfort issues are removed from the situation. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Boba
Pomeranian Mix
3 Years
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Boba
Pomeranian Mix
3 Years

My boy Boba has been through training and is getting ready for his CGC. He does fine on a collar, but he doesn’t seem to respond well to a harness. I bought him 3 different harnesses so far, the Ruffwear (2 models and sizes), and the Charlie’s Backyard Easy Harness, which he took to all of them immediately, but when he’s in any harness, he would start pulling and refusing to walk at times. When he was walking on his collar, i always have loose leash and even when he pulled lightly, all I needed to do was saying his name, and he came to me immediately. I know harness is better for dogs, and I really want to switch him to harness, but I can’t seem to control him in a harness as compared to him in a collar. Please help

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jeany, A backclip harness actually encourages a dog to pull. I only recommend them for escapees and off-leash trained dogs. When a dog feels the pull back on a back clip harness, their natural response is actually to move against the harness and to pull even harder - like a sled dog on a team. Many no pull harnesses work by constricting a dog's shoulders, which the dog might try to resist. I suggest working on off-leash heeling using a long leash and the Turns method from the article linked below, so that pup is really staying next to you because he is focused on you and not because of the pressure of the harness or leash, then it shouldn't matter whether you use a leash or harness, and honestly I would just use a collar at that point because it's easier and shouldn't cause any neck issues if pup isn't pulling to begin with. To pass the Canine Good Citizen, I suggest working on the Turns method with either a collar or a front clip leash, like Ruffwear's front range harness if that's one of the ones you have, but see if you can only use your body to correct pup's pulling and keep the leash loose the whole time. Especially practice cutting 90 degrees directly in front of pup as soon as pup starts to move his muzzle past your leg. Don't worry about bumping into pup a little when you do this, he should learn to stay a bit further behind you to avoid a slight bump next time, just be sure not to step on his paws. Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
May
French Bulldog
4 Months
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Question
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May
French Bulldog
4 Months

Every time i put the harness on my puppy . He literally freezes and refuses to move . What should i do ?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mayling, First, spend time showing pup the harness and giving treata each time they touch or sniff it. Next, put the harness on pup but loosen it a lit so that it doesnt constrict pup at all. Leave the harness on for up to an hour, sit a few feet away and temp pup with treats, balls and tug toys, but act calm and confident during this time. Pup needs time to adjust to the feeling of the harness and decide to move. If pup still wont move after the hour, take the harness off and try it again three more, separate time. After that if pup still hasnt moved, you will need to try switching to a harness that doesnt constrict in the same places. Check out something like ruffwear front range harness, that has padding, or a martingale collar. If pup does move, leave the harness on for several hours but keep that time fee un with food stuffed chew toys, play and treats. As pup gets used to the harness, gradually tighten the harness over the course of a few days and attach a leash to thr harness for pup to get used to dragging around while you are there to supervise (only leave the leash on while you can supervise in case it gets caught). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Dakotah
Gerberian Shepsky
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Dakotah
Gerberian Shepsky
5 Years

I spent a lot of money trying different Harnesses. The first one was a Dog Freedom no pull harness. He wore it reluctantly. Then refused to wear it. Later, at age 8 months, I got a Ruffwear Front Range Harness and when it arrived he almost put it on himself! But after a couple of wearings he didn't want it on either. Thinking it was the over-the-head syndrome I purchase one more that fastened up around him. A PoyPet No Pull Harness. Again first time one ... great. But next time NO! I have included two pics that show his hackles raised. That fur ball gets squashed by all Harnesses and I do believe that is what the problem is. Do you agree or am I just grabbing at straws??

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Chuck, I would be interested to know what his response is to the harnesses, indicating that he doesn't like them? Honestly, he doesn't have to love wearing a harness for it to be alright for him to wear one - as long as it's not a traumatic or painful experience for him. If he wears the harness often enough during really fun activities - many dogs will learn to tolerate them fine because although they may not love something being on their body, they know that wearing it means they get to do something they love, so they adjust. Some dogs simply don't like being confined. My dogs prefers to be off-leash and wear less and are off-leash trained so can be at times, but sometimes leashing is necessary and they adjust to that alright when it's needed. The hair being squished might be something he doesn't enjoy but it shouldn't be causing him anything more than a minor annoyance typically. As long as the harness isn't fitted too tightly and is well made, he may just not like the feeling of something around his body. What is his response to the harness? If he acts really afraid or traumatized by it, I would consider other options. If it's simply not his preference, that's pretty normal. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bennie
American Cocker Spaniel
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bennie
American Cocker Spaniel
7 Months

Bennie doesn't like getting his harness on. He's fine once it's on, but when we pull it out he runs away almost as if its a game. we've done everything for desensitizing, but he just wont wear it. he even avoids treats when the harness is nearby. what do we do?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
66 Dog owners recommended

Thank you for the question. Is Bennie wearing a harness because he pulls too much? I have a dog who wears a harness because she has trachea issues and it is a two person job to put it on, I agree! If Bennie indeed needs a harness, then make sure that the fit is proper and not cutting in or chafing in any way. That could be an issue, perhaps the harness is uncomfortable. Don't use a head harness, this can be difficult for a dog to ever adjust to. You could try a special toy for Bennie to hold when he is getting the harness on as a distraction (and he could even bring it on the walk). It could be that it is a game for Bennie that he will eventually grow out of so unless it is a major issue, I would just keep working on it and give him lots of praise when he cooperates.

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Croissant
Morkie
6 Months
0 found helpful
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Croissant
Morkie
6 Months

We have had Croissant almost a month now, and I really want her to use her pad. She pees in her crate each night before bed. She also chews on her wee wee pads so we switched to reusable ones. What should I do? I take her for walks twice a day (I want her getting used to wee wee pads due to where we live its hard taking her for walks so frequently throughout the day)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
623 Dog owners recommended

Hello Christina, I would suggest switching to the Exercise Pen method from the article linked below and have her sleep in there at night as well. Place the pad on one end of the Exercise Pen and a non-absorbent bed, like a cot or www.primopads.com type bed, on the opposite end of the pen. Don't put anything absorbent in the pen with her. Exercise Pen method - this method mentions a litter box, but it can be used with most indoor potties, such as reusable pads, disposable real grass pads, and doggie litter boxes: https://wagwalking.com/training/litter-box-train-a-chihuahua-puppy Only give treats for pottying on the pad during the day - no food at night so that pup won't stay awake waiting for rewards. If you also want pup to learn to go potty outside half of the time, then although not necessary, you may want to switch to using a disposable real grass pad inside instead of pads, for the sake of consistency. Bellow are a couple disposable real grass pad brands - also on Amazon: www.freshpatch.com www.porchpotty.com www.doggielawn.com If there is anything absorbent in the crate with her, that also might be leading to accidents in the crate and removing the absorbent material may fix the issue so that you can continue with crate training. If the accidents in the crate continue after removing soft material though, she may have a history of going potty in a confined space from her past, making crate training ineffective until after she is potty trained. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Bernie
Pomeranian
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Bernie
Pomeranian
6 Months

we have brought a step in harness for our puppy but he simply refuses to let us put it on him. normally we would place it on the floor and then place his paws in one at a time then bring it up round his neck and clip it in, however, when the harness is brought out he immediately tries to bite it and us when we try to put it on.

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Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd