How Do You Train a Dog To Walk on a Harness?


For any dog owner, training a young puppy, or trying to rehabilitate a dog whose training has been lacking, one of the first items on the agenda is to get them to walk properly beside you. Without this, walks are simply going to be a battle of wills otherwise.

In terms of the actual training method, there as many theories, books, and courses on that, as their dog breeds, and as this is an article and not a volume of books, we obviously not going to cover them.

Instead, we will look at a question that gets raised often, and that is how to train a dog to walk in harness. So, let’s look at what steps you can take to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible, for both you and your dog.

Choose the Appropriate Harness

Before you can attempt the ‘how’ of training your dog, you need to look at the ‘what’, which is the harness. No matter how good a dog trainer you may be, or how well behaved your dog is, if you have them wearing the wrong harness, training is not going to be easy.

You need to determine which type is going to be the most appropriate which usually boils down to a choice between the step-in type harnesses or the over-head harnesses. Thereafter, choices with regards to front or back clip need to be made, or if you are going to go for the double clip option.

Once the type of harness is sorted, you next need to ensure that the size of it is suitable for your dog. Choosing one which is either too big or too small, results in a dog that can easily get free from the harness, is uncomfortable when wearing the harness, or worse, is in pain while wearing the harness.

Whichever of these occurs due to you selecting the wrong sized harness, it all results in the same outcome, and that is that dog which is not going to be interested in training to walk with you.

Allow Your Dog to Get Used to Their Harness

A big mistake many dog owners make is they put the harness on their dog and take them immediately to the park to start their lessons. Meanwhile, the dog is at best bemused by this new thing it is wearing, or at worst distressed, because it does like the sensation of wearing a harness.

Obviously, neither of these mindsets is going to help a dog learn what its owners are trying to train them, and so the task of training them is made harder.

One of two scenarios usually exist, and that is a puppy wearing a harness for the first time before being trained the basics, or an older dog which needs training, but having worn a collar all its life, suddenly finds itself being expected to wear a harness.

Rather than simply putting the harness on them, and going on a training session, allow your dog to get used to the harness. Let it sniff the harness before it wears it so they can get used to its scent. If it seems wary, tempt them with a treat held close to the harness.

You can also do things like opening and closing the buckles, so your dog gets used to the clicking noises. You can also try connecting their leash to the harness without them wearing it, so they get used to that noise too.

Wearing the Harness for the First Time

With many dogs, putting on a harness for the first time can either be a simple matter, or one that causes them extreme distress. If you have followed all the guidance thus far, your dog will have a harness that is going to fit them properly, is the correct type, and they should have had a chance to see, sniff and hear their harness.

Unless any of those has caused any uneasiness, you next want to try slowly and gently to put the harness on them. Talk to them in a calm and assured voice as this will help them to feel that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. The use of treats once again can help with this process.

Whatever you do, do not get frustrated if your dog doesn’t take to the harness and tries to wriggle free. Shouting at them isn’t going to help either, and simply adds to their stress levels.

Give them a few moments to calm themselves and try to put their harness on again, this time without getting yourself, or your dog into a stressed state. Once it is on, they may still wriggle a little and possibly try to scratch at the harness, but eventually, they should be fine.

Bear in mind it can take some dogs days or even weeks to fully get used to wearing a harness so make some allowances for that when training them to walk in a harness.

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