Updated: Mar 18
There are many conflicting messages out there about the use of harnesses on dogs in different situations. This article will outline the facts of the situation through research and evidence compiled through the obedience training and development of thousands of dogs during Bonnies’ 47 years in business to date.
History of the “Harness”
Originating all the way back to ancient times, harnesses were originally designed to give war dogs the ability to pull carts and supplies and engage in battle themselves. The harness's original designs, variations of which are still used today, were created to give a canine the ability to pull or carry substantial weight. While the harnesses we use today are not armoured or made of incredibly thick material, the dog's ability to pull has not changed.
Types of Harnesses
There are three main types of harness. However, many variations of them have appeared over time. The three main types, depicted below, are the “Neck and Girth Harness”, “Breast Strap Harness”, and the “Full Collar” harness. Each of these serve their own particular purpose; however, they all have one thing in common; they make your dog stronger.
Photo Reference: https://julius-k9.com/en/the-history-of-dog-harnesses/
Misconceptions Around Dog Equipment:
Many people believe that alternate types of equipment are “cruel” or are reluctant to use them due to misinformation that they may have received at one time or another. However, oftentimes, when people present equipment such as “Head Halti’s”, “Bridles” or “Martingales” as ineffective or cruel, generally the advice is based on tiny sample sizes or from one specific situation in which it may not have been the correct choice for one particular dog. Especially in this age of instant communication and viral photos that do not tell the whole story, an opinion held by a large group of people can be founded on one post on social media. Bonnies has been using various equipment such as the “Halti” for a very long time, and we would not be using it if it could hurt your dog in any way.
Another common misconception about equipment is the “no-pull harness”. They do not exist. The majority of this trend has been created through repetitive and incorrect advertising by companies trying to sell a product to you (Often they will offer you the ability to put a custom name or patch on it, this is all for the owner’s satisfaction rather than the actual function of the equipment). Whilst they may look tactical and effective, Bonnies’ trainers rarely see situations in which these are effective for walking and training.
“So, why shouldn’t I use a harness?”
As previously stated, the use of a harness will increase your dog’s ability to pull you along when you go for walks. Your dog will end up walking you instead of the other way around. It doesn’t take a long time for a dog to develop a bad habit because they are, indeed, creatures of habit. So, if you allow your dog to pull you on walks, it won’t take very long until the dog considers this “normal”. This becomes an extra challenge later, as your situation may change where your dog is no longer supposed to pull, you may have new children in prams/strollers, you may get older and not be able to hold them; you may hurt your arm or a whole host of other reasons where it becomes totally unfeasible to walk them at all, which is not good for any person or dog involved and may result in other unwanted restless behaviours such as excessive chewing and mouthing due to lack of exercise.
You also lose a lot of control when trying to manipulate an entire dog’s body rather than just a specific part. If your goal is to get your dog to a good level of obedience, it can be quite difficult to do on a harness, not impossible, but more difficult. A range of better options, a few of which were listed above in this article, will give you a better result if the equipment is used correctly.
Just like anything else, there are always exceptions to the rule. The first is that harnesses are great to use in a car to tether your dog safely in the backseat. For the same reason that it is bad for walking on, it is great in a car. It uses the dog’s whole-body weight to stop them if you have a collision or have to brake suddenly whilst driving. Bonnies would recommend using a harness in a car to safely protect both the dog and then human passengers.
Another exception is when a dog may have a medical issue that prevents you from safely using different equipment. This may involve neck or spine complications, nose or skin irritation where the equipment would sit, or a prolonged “battle” to get them used to other equipment.
Another very simple exception is if the owner elects to use a harness and they are not experiencing any difficulty with it, well, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Please remember that this article is targeted at those that may be using a harness and struggling with their dog pulling on the lead. At Bonnie's, we still allow people to do our group obedience training sessions using harnesses if everyone involved, both owner and trainers, agree that there is no problem with doing so. However, remember that if the pulling does begin to be a problem, you may need to change what you are using. Remember, pulling on the lead is a problem that can come back even once you think you have fixed it.
Harnesses were designed and first used in ancient times by war dogs. They were created to allow these war dogs to pull an extreme amount of weight or to carry equipment. If you are using one on your dog and they are pulling when you go for a walk, generally speaking, taking the harness off and trying another type of equipment will help eliminate this problem. Harnesses are fine to use in the car to tether a dog in the backseat or if other equipment is unfeasible to use for a range of reasons but try to avoid walking your dog on it as a pulling problem may arise as a result.
If you have any questions about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will respond to any questions you may have. Please remember that each dog is different, and this article is intended to guide what may help you improve your training. Talk to your vet or contact a reputable trainer if you have any concerns.
I hope this helps!
Bonnies Dog Obedience and Puppy School