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

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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!
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The Old Dog Method

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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.
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The Repetition Method

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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.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

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
422 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
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
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
422 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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Question
Yogi
long haired chihuahua
11 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
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
422 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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