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

Effective
0 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
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
115 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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