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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-2
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

ribbon-method-3
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?
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Written by Catherine Lee-Smith

Published: 10/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Monster
Pomchi
12 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Monster
Pomchi
12 Weeks

He was picked up by his harness and he is now afraid of it being put on. I have been working with him, but his panic is just getting worse and has also been transferred to his collar.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, make sure that the harness is not too tight or chaffing pup under their legs. If so, I recommend switching to a padded harness or one that fits better. If the fit is good, I recommend going slower with the introduction. Harness introduction how to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title It sounds like you are trying to go from no harness to harness on and buckled in one sitting - which may be moving too quickly for pup. Instead of trying to get pup's head in the harness all at once, spend one day simply laying the harness on the ground and sprinkling treats around it several times a day. Do this until pup is comfortable touching it without you holding the harness - go at pup's pace. Watch their body language and stay at this step until pup is relaxed again around the harness. That may take one training session or a week - depending on how suspicious pup is of the harness at this point. Practicing for short periods multiple times a day can help things go more quickly. Once pup is comfortable just touching the harness, hold it in your hand and have pup eat treats out of the hand that is holding the harness. Do this until pup isn't worried about you holding the harness up anymore - don't try to suddenly put it on pup yet or that will set you back. Practice at this step until pup looks happy and confident again with the harness just being held up. End the training session while pup is doing well still. Next, loosen the harness as much as you can so that it makes a large loop, hold the harness up with one hand and hold the treats through the harness' neck hole with your other hand, so that pup has to move their head toward the harness hole to eat the treats - don't require pup to put their head through the hole yet, just in front of the hole. Do this step until pup is happy and confident about the harness being held up and approaching it - do NOT suddenly try to throw the harness over pup's head or move it toward them - pup is the one moving, you are keeping the harness still at this point. Practice that step until pup is relaxed - even if that takes several sessions. Next, hold the harness the same way, but offer the treats a bit closer to the harness, so that pup has to poke the end of their muzzle through the harness loop to take them. Practice this until pup is comfortable doing that. As pup relaxes, move your treat hand a bit further back so that pup is poking their head through the harness more and more as they improve - again, don't move the harness toward pup at this point. Let pup move their head in and out of the loose harness freely to get treats. Practice until pup has no issues with placing their head through the harness. Go back a step and practice at that step for longer before continuing if pup becomes nervous again. Next, once pup is comfortable poking their entire head through the harness, move the harness very slightly back and forth while holding it up, and holding treats in the harness for pup to move their head through it - you are just getting pup used to the harness moving, not putting it on yet. The harness should still be a large loop at this point - not fitted. Practice until pup can handle the harness moving. As pup improves, gradually increase how much the harness is moving back and forth while pup reaches their head through it, and begin moving the straps together like you will when you buckle the chest area too. Next, have pup poke their head through the harness, and reward pup with several treats at a time for keeping their head in the hole for longer. Also, reward pup when you move the chest straps together as if you were going to buckle them. Gradually increase how long pup holds their head in the harness for by spacing out rewards as they keep their head in the hole. Next, when pup can hold their head in the harness for longer, have pup poke their head through the harness, sprinkle several treats on something that's at pup's chin height so that your hands are free, and slide the buckle that adjusts the harness size back and forth while pup eats the treats. Start with small movements then stop touching the harness - you are just getting pup used to you messing with the harness a bit. Practice this until you can gradually work up to being able to adjust the size of the harness completely without pup feeling worried, while they eat the treats off the object at chin height. Once pup is can hold their head in the harness for several minutes while you adjust it, without being worried, adjust it to the proper size, clip the chest straps together and leave it on pup for a couple of hours when you can spend time playing with pup and distracting them with treats and kibble stuffed toys, to help them get used to the feel of it. Practice this daily for a couple weeks, making each harness wearing full of treats and play while its on, until they get to the point where they can forget they are wearing it. Most dogs will scratch at it and feel like it's itchy for at least a week when you first have them wear a harness. Choose a harness that's fitted correctly and doesn't chaff. When you catch pup itching at the harness, distract pup with a fun toy. Check out the video linked below for an example of getting pup to poke their head through an opening. The dog in that video wasn't afraid of the harness during training - so the training was done in one sitting for the sake of showing the steps, but expect your pup to need several sessions between each training step - moving too quickly will likely set pup back. Pup needs to get to the point where they are completely relaxed at the current step before you proceed to the next step - how long that takes will simply depend on pup's specific temperament. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
SHERMAN
English Bulldog
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
SHERMAN
English Bulldog
3 Years

SHERMAN USES THE YARD TO PLAY EXERCISE & GO THE BATHROOM.
BEFORE COVID HE HAD NO PROBLEM WITH HIS HARNESS & LEASH.
NOW HE IS VERY STUBBORN & GIVES A HARD TIME PUTTING IT ON

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

Hello! Teaching or re-training a dog to walk on a leash is often a multi-step process. The leash can be very challenging to some dogs, especially once they decide they no longer like it. So I have included a link to a very thorough article that goes over everything you need to teach this behavior. https://dogcoachingacademy.com/leash-training-an-older-dog/

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Question
stella
toy poodle
7 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
stella
toy poodle
7 Months

i have a 7 month old toy poodle who refuses to step into her harness. she always backs away and wont let me pick her up and place her into the harness. we have tried an over the head harness but she hated it as well.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amanda, First, make sure that the harness is not too tight or chaffing pup under their legs. If so, I recommend switching to a padded harness or one that fits better. If the fit is good, I recommend going slower with the introduction. Harness introduction how to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title It sounds like you are trying to go from no harness to harness on and buckled in one night - which may be moving too quickly for pup. Instead of trying to get pup's head in the harness all at once, spend one day simply laying the harness on the ground and sprinkling treats around it several times a day. Do this until pup is comfortable touching it without you holding the harness - go at pup's pace. Watch their body language and stay at this step until pup is relaxed again around the harness. That may take one training session or a week - depending on how suspicious pup is of the harness at this point. Practicing for short periods multiple times a day can help things go more quickly. Once pup is comfortable just touching the harness, hold it in your hand and have pup eat treats out of the hand that is holding the harness. Do this until pup isn't worried about you holding the harness up anymore - don't try to suddenly put it on pup yet or that will set you back. Practice at this step until pup looks happy and confident again with the harness just being held up. End the training session while pup is doing well still. Next, loosen the harness as much as you can so that it makes a large loop, hold the harness up with one hand and hold the treats through the harness' neck hole with your other hand, so that pup has to move their head toward the harness hole to eat the treats - don't require pup to put their head through the hole yet, just in front of the hole. Do this step until pup is happy and confident about the harness being held up and approaching it - do NOT suddenly try to throw the harness over pup's head or move it toward them - pup is the one moving, you are keeping the harness still at this point. Practice that step until pup is relaxed - even if that takes several sessions. Next, hold the harness the same way, but offer the treats a bit closer to the harness, so that pup has to poke the end of their muzzle through the harness loop to take them. Practice this until pup is comfortable doing that. As pup relaxes, move your treat hand a bit further back so that pup is poking their head through the harness more and more as they improve - again, don't move the harness toward pup at this point. Let pup move their head in and out of the loose harness freely to get treats. Practice until pup has no issues with placing their head through the harness. Go back a step and practice at that step for longer before continuing if pup becomes nervous again. Next, once pup is comfortable poking their entire head through the harness, move the harness very slightly back and forth while holding it up, and holding treats in the harness for pup to move their head through it - you are just getting pup used to the harness moving, not putting it on yet. The harness should still be a large loop at this point - not fitted. Practice until pup can handle the harness moving. As pup improves, gradually increase how much the harness is moving back and forth while pup reaches their head through it, and begin moving the straps together like you will when you buckle the chest area too. Next, have pup poke their head through the harness, and reward pup with several treats at a time for keeping their head in the hole for longer. Also, reward pup when you move the chest straps together as if you were going to buckle them. Gradually increase how long pup holds their head in the harness for by spacing out rewards as they keep their head in the hole. Next, when pup can hold their head in the harness for longer, have pup poke their head through the harness, sprinkle several treats on something that's at pup's chin height so that your hands are free, and slide the buckle that adjusts the harness size back and forth while pup eats the treats. Start with small movements then stop touching the harness - you are just getting pup used to you messing with the harness a bit. Practice this until you can gradually work up to being able to adjust the size of the harness completely without pup feeling worried, while they eat the treats off the object at chin height. Once pup is can hold their head in the harness for several minutes while you adjust it, without being worried, adjust it to the proper size, clip the chest straps together and leave it on pup for a couple of hours when you can spend time playing with pup and distracting them with treats and kibble stuffed toys, to help them get used to the feel of it. Practice this daily for a couple weeks, making each harness wearing full of treats and play while its on, until they get to the point where they can forget they are wearing it. Most dogs will scratch at it and feel like it's itchy for at least a week when you first have them wear a harness. Choose a harness that's fitted correctly and doesn't chaff. When you catch pup itching at the harness, distract pup with a fun toy. Check out the video linked below for an example of getting pup to poke their head through an opening. The dog in that video wasn't afraid of the harness during training - so the training was done in one sitting for the sake of showing the steps, but expect your pup to need several sessions between each training step - moving too quickly will likely set pup back. Pup needs to get to the point where they are completely relaxed at the current step before you proceed to the next step - how long that takes will simply depend on pup's specific temperament. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
"Cleo"opatra
German Shepherd
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
"Cleo"opatra
German Shepherd
5 Months

Jumping up on people and things.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Debbie, Check out the articles I have linked below. Jumping on people: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-australian-shepherds-to-not-jump On furniture - the sections on the "Off" command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ On things - the section on the Leave It command - for counter surfing to steal things: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-not-to-chew/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sadie
German Shepherd
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sadie
German Shepherd
3 Months

My beautiful baby does not seem to like her harness. I give her treats and a lot of praise when I put it on,but she bites at it and wants nothing to do with it. She won't play while she is in it. It is adjusted to be loosely fitting. What can I do differently, and how long should I leave her in it throughout the day?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, make sure that the harness is not too tight or chaffing pup under their legs. If so, I recommend switching to a padded harness or one that fits better. If the fit is good, I recommend going slower with the introduction. Harness introduction how to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title It sounds like you are trying to go from no harness to harness on and buckled in one night - which may be moving too quickly for pup. Instead of trying to get pup's head in the harness all at once, spend one day simply laying the harness on the ground and sprinkling treats around it several times a day. Do this until pup is comfortable touching it without you holding the harness - go at pup's pace. Watch their body language and stay at this step until pup is relaxed again around the harness. That may take one training session or a week - depending on how suspicious pup is of the harness at this point. Practicing for short periods multiple times a day can help things go more quickly. Once pup is comfortable just touching the harness, hold it in your hand and have pup eat treats out of the hand that is holding the harness. Do this until pup isn't worried about you holding the harness up anymore - don't try to suddenly put it on pup yet or that will set you back. Practice at this step until pup looks happy and confident again with the harness just being held up. End the training session while pup is doing well still. Next, loosen the harness as much as you can so that it makes a large loop, hold the harness up with one hand and hold the treats through the harness' neck hole with your other hand, so that pup has to move their head toward the harness hole to eat the treats - don't require pup to put their head through the hole yet, just in front of the hole. Do this step until pup is happy and confident about the harness being held up and approaching it - do NOT suddenly try to throw the harness over pup's head or move it toward them - pup is the one moving, you are keeping the harness still at this point. Practice that step until pup is relaxed - even if that takes several sessions. Next, hold the harness the same way, but offer the treats a bit closer to the harness, so that pup has to poke the end of their muzzle through the harness loop to take them. Practice this until pup is comfortable doing that. As pup relaxes, move your treat hand a bit further back so that pup is poking their head through the harness more and more as they improve - again, don't move the harness toward pup at this point. Let pup move their head in and out of the loose harness freely to get treats. Practice until pup has no issues with placing their head through the harness. Go back a step and practice at that step for longer before continuing if pup becomes nervous again. Next, once pup is comfortable poking their entire head through the harness, move the harness very slightly back and forth while holding it up, and holding treats in the harness for pup to move their head through it - you are just getting pup used to the harness moving, not putting it on yet. The harness should still be a large loop at this point - not fitted. Practice until pup can handle the harness moving. As pup improves, gradually increase how much the harness is moving back and forth while pup reaches their head through it, and begin moving the straps together like you will when you buckle the chest area too. Next, have pup poke their head through the harness, and reward pup with several treats at a time for keeping their head in the hole for longer. Also, reward pup when you move the chest straps together as if you were going to buckle them. Gradually increase how long pup holds their head in the harness for by spacing out rewards as they keep their head in the hole. Next, when pup can hold their head in the harness for longer, have pup poke their head through the harness, sprinkle several treats on something that's at pup's chin height so that your hands are free, and slide the buckle that adjusts the harness size back and forth while pup eats the treats. Start with small movements then stop touching the harness - you are just getting pup used to you messing with the harness a bit. Practice this until you can gradually work up to being able to adjust the size of the harness completely without pup feeling worried, while they eat the treats off the object at chin height. Once pup is can hold their head in the harness for several minutes while you adjust it, without being worried, adjust it to the proper size, clip the chest straps together and leave it on pup for a couple of hours when you can spend time playing with pup and distracting them with treats and kibble stuffed toys, to help them get used to the feel of it. Practice this daily for a couple weeks, making each harness wearing full of treats and play while its on, until they get to the point where they can forget they are wearing it. Most dogs will scratch at it and feel like it's itchy for at least a week when you first have them wear a harness. Choose a harness that's fitted correctly and doesn't chaff. When you catch pup itching at the harness, distract pup with a fun toy. Check out the video linked below for an example of getting pup to poke their head through an opening. The dog in that video wasn't afraid of the harness during training - so the training was done in one sitting for the sake of showing the steps, but expect your pup to need several sessions between each training step - moving too quickly will likely set pup back. Pup needs to get to the point where they are completely relaxed at the current step before you proceed to the next step - how long that takes will simply depend on pup's specific temperament. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn5b8u1YS_g&feature=emb_title Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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