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Will a harness stop a dog from pulling? The short answer is: Yes, some types of harnesses (front attachment and head harnesses) will discourage pulling behavior in dogs.
When dog owners bring their dogs out for walks, they find out that their dogs love to pull forward for some reason. Such behavior strains the owners’ shoulders and arms and may cause potential injuries in the dogs, so owners want to train this behavior out.
My dogs are no exception. They all pulled on the leash when we first brought them into our family. We had to train them to walk on a loose leash before outdoor walks were enjoyable for our dogs and us. In our training sessions, we found out that certain types of harnesses are good at deterring pulling behavior in our dogs.
Therefore, in this post, I will be addressing the following questions:
- Why do dogs pull on the leash?
- How does leash pulling cause harm to dogs?
- Can training collars stop dogs’ pulling behavior?
- How do harnesses stop dogs from pulling?
- Will a dog harness stop a dog from pulling forever?
- How can I get my dog used to a harness?
Why Do Dogs Pull On The Leash?
A saying that spreads around in the dog owner community goes along the lines of: “If you don’t show who’s the Alpha in the family, your dog will start to ride on your head.”
For those who have not heard of this saying or similar sayings, this sentence essentially has only a meaning. If you do not show your dog that you are the leader of the family, the dog will gain dominance over you and will not obey house rules.
That is not true.
There are essentially three reasons why your dog pulls ahead when you bring it out of the house.
Differences in Mood
Their excitement and eagerness to have their walk is the first reason why they pull on the leash.
Let’s face it – your dog will definitely be more excited about a potential outdoor walk than you will be.
After all, we can choose when we want to go out and where we want to go out, but most dogs can only go outdoors when their owners bring them out.
Therefore, when they are on the way out or outside, they are eager to move forward and explore.
Us, the owners, much less so – usually, we will want a more relaxed pace to start the day off or wind down at the end of the day with some gentle exercise.
Differences in Walking Speed
The difference in walking speed is a second possible reason.
In general, medium- to large-sized dogs and humans have similar walking speeds at 3 miles per hour . Smaller dogs may have a slower walking speed.
However, due to their mood (eager for a walk), they are likely to have a faster walking speed than us.
Also, dogs are likely to have more pent-up energy than their owners as they are cooped up in the house. They will want to release that energy when they go for walks, so they are likely to walk faster than the expected average speed.
Natural Exploration Behavior
We learn about our friends’ experiences on social media and have chats over phone calls.
Dogs have neither the technology nor the ability to do so.
However, dogs can learn about other animals with their noses, which are much more sensitive than humans, through sniffing the environment for traces and marks. To them, a neighborhood walk is equivalent to surfing Facebook or Twitter for us.
Also, dogs find the external environment much more interesting than their owners as they get much more stimuli than us. This is why they tend to pull ahead and forget that their owners are at the back, holding on to their leashes.
How Does Leash Pulling Cause Harm To Dogs?
Usually, when dogs pull on the leash, the area that experiences the greatest impact is the neck area. As such, any body parts that are near or connected to the neck area are at risk.
Occasional leash pulling may not have lasting effects. However, if your dog experiences leash pulling daily or frequently enough, it can undoubtedly exert a toll on your dog’s health.
The thyroid gland is found at the front of the neck, producing hormones for metabolism .
When your dog pulls on the leash, pressure is exerted on the thyroid, which can cause issues such as bruising and inflammation.
Under most circumstances, the dog’s immune system can remove inflammation and minor blood clots in the thyroid. However, frequent repairs will wear down the thyroid and lead to thyroid issues such as hypothyroidism, underproduction of the thyroid hormones.
If your dog pulls hard enough on the leash, you can observe marks at the neck area.
However, things are not as simple as the bruise marks that you see.
Likely, the nerves and the trachea (also known as the windpipe) are also injured in the process.
Injuries to nerves can lead to issues as severe as paralysis, whereas damages to the trachea can lead to difficulty in breathing, which can severely impact your dog’s health in many aspects.
Brain, Ears, and Eyes
Some injuries go unseen and are not as straightforward as the bruise marks that you can see.
Blood carries oxygen from the heart through the neck to the head and any organs there. The most commonly affected areas are the brain, the ears, and the eyes.
When the brain does not get enough oxygen, brain cells will die and lead to neurological issues.
Restricted blood flow to the eyes and the ears can lead to swelling, reduced functioning (inability to see and hear as clearly), and other organ-related issues.
This information may come as a surprise to most owners – the nerves in the front paws are almost directly and very closely linked to the nerves at the neck area .
As such, when you apply pressure to the nerves at the neck area, your dog can feel a slight tingly sensation on its front paws too.
A common way dogs will attempt to relieve this sensation is to lick their paws.
Therefore, if you observe your dog starting to lick its front paws frequently, you should be alert to potential health issues.
Can Training Collars Stop Dogs’ Pulling Behavior?
Most training collars, such as pinch, choke, and electronic collars, use pain to train a dog.
When a dog pulls on the leash and exerts pressure on the training collar, it will feel much more pain than pulling on a standard collar. The pain serves as a deterrence to the dog to avoid doing that particular action in the future.
So, if you ask, can training collars stop dogs’ pulling behavior?
The answer will be: Yes, it can, but it may lead to the rise of other negative consequences while training out the pulling behavior.
Firstly, while most dogs will learn quickly that the pain is caused by a particular action they do, not all dogs can make the association fast enough. As such, dogs that learn slower will suffer more pain and injury before they learn their lessons.
Secondly, your dog is likely to experience the pain when you are training it. This may lead to associating you with negative experiences, and your dog may start to fear instead of loving and trusting you.
Thirdly, the anger, frustration, and helplessness that your dog experience from the painful training sessions may lead to other behavioral issues such as aggression or anxiety.
Lastly, there is always a risk of permanent physical and psychological injury when using training collars that cause pain, regardless of how it is advertised.
Therefore, at Simply Family Dog, we will respect an owner’s decision to use a training collar, but we will not advocate using them.
We want our dogs to trust us and will build a solid and healthy bond with them. Learning through pain will only result in the dogs fearing us and the possible harm we can bring to them.
Therefore, we advocate for and believe that they can learn and be trained through positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training.
How Does Harnesses Stop Dogs From Pulling?
A note to say upfront: while harnesses will discourage dogs from pulling, they are not a magic tool that will eradicate all pulling behaviors when you get it on your dog.
Harnesses come in 3 different styles: back attachment, front attachment, and head harnesses.
Some harnesses may fit into more than one category, such as harnesses with back and front attachment options.
There is no hard and fast rule to which is the best type; each has its pros and cons. Therefore, if you are looking for a harness, you should select one based on your needs.
Back Attachment Harnesses
Back attachment harnesses have a ring on the harness around the dog’s back to attach a leash on it. An example will be the PUPTECK Soft Mash Dog Harness.
They are also the most common type of harness that dog owners can find to replace a collar.
This type of harness takes pressure away from the dog’s neck. Also, as the leash is attached to a similar spot as when a collar is used, most owners find the transition from collar to harness comfortable for themselves.
As the leash is positioned on the dog’s back, it is also unlikely that the leash will get tangled up with the dog’s paws.
Unfortunately, they are not the best type of harnesses to stop pulling behavior in dogs.
Reference the harnesses that sled dogs use, and you will understand why – there is absolutely nothing to deter your dog from pulling towards the front.
Although these harnesses do not stop pulling, they are better alternatives compared to collars. These harnesses spread the pressure from pulling evenly across the chest area and apply much lesser pressure on the neck area. Therefore, your dog is less likely to get injured when using a back attachment harness.
Front Attachment Harnesses
Front attachment harnesses are the opposite of back attachment harnesses. Instead of having a ring on the dog’s back, they have a ring right in the middle of your dog’s chest.
Most front attachment harnesses, like the Petsafe Dog Harness, will have both front and back attachments for you to switch between them for different purposes.
This is the best type of harness that discourages pulling!
When the leash is attached to your dog’s chest, and your dog pulls forward, the leash will tug them towards the side, turning your dog to face you. As such, your dog will not be able to move forward in the direction it wants until you catch up with it.
For every time your dog attempts to pull forward, it will get turned away from where it intends to go and back towards you – the exact opposite of what it wants to do.
Hence, your dog will quickly learn that it can only go forward when you are ready to move forward with it. If it pulls or moves much faster than you, the harness will guide it back towards you.
The downside is that the leash can get tangled with your dog’s legs easily, so these types of harnesses are only suitable for walking. For example, if you intend to go jogging with your dog, you will have to train it not to pull using a front attachment harness on usual walks before switching to a back attachment harness during jogging times.
A head harness fits around a dog’s head with an attachment for the leash at the chin area. An example will be the Halti Head Collar.
Head harnesses also discourage your dog from pulling, but they are much riskier than front attachment harnesses.
As the head harness is attached to your dog’s head, the leash and harness will force your dog to turn its head towards you when it pulls forward.
In theory, it has the same effects as the front attachment harnesses. However, due to the harness being attached to the face area, if the pull is too abrupt and strong, the jerk on the head can easily cause neck and spinal injuries.
Also, some dogs do not like having things placed on or around their heads as it feels constricted for them. This will make fitting on the harness on such dogs a much harder process.
Therefore, if you cannot find a front attachment harness, a head harness will do the job. Just be prepared that your dog may need a longer time to get used to the head harness, and remember to take more care when using it to reduce the risks of injuries occurring.
Will A Harness Stop A Dog From Pulling Forever?
No, a harness will not stop your dog’s pulling behavior forever.
When using a front attachment or head harness, your dog will learn that pulling forward will not result in what it wants, discouraging most future pulling behavior.
However, there will still be times when your dog gets overwhelmed by strong emotions (such as getting very excited or agitated) and forgets the training for a moment. These occasions are rare, but they will occur at some point in time.
Ideally, you will want to use the front attachment or head harness to train your dog to understand that a tight leash (from pulling forward) will not result in what it intends to do. Only a loose leash from walking alongside you or a reasonable distance in front of you can allow it to proceed onwards with the walk.
The best is to use positive reinforcement, such as clicker training and treat rewarding, together with the harness to train out your dog’s pulling behavior.
Simply put, whenever your dog gets from a tight leash to a loose leash, reward with praises and treats and allow it to continue walking forward.
Getting Your Pet Used To A Harness
If you are transiting from a collar to a harness, your dog may not feel comfortable with the additional straps on it. Dogs who are fearful or dislike new objects may even dodge your attempts to put the harness on them.
You can start the introduction by showing the harness to your dog and allowing your dog to sniff and paw at it a few times before the actual try-on session. During these few exploration sessions, reward your dog with treats and praises whenever it interacts with the harness.
Then, have a few sessions whereby you put the harness on your dog but do nothing with it. Place the harness on your dog, leave it there, and take it off. Gradually increase the amount of time the harness is on your dog over the sessions.
This is also when you figure out the length of the straps that are comfortable for your dog. If the harness is too tight, your dog will dislike the sensation and is more likely to refuse to put on the harness.
When your dog is accustomed to the harness, you can start bringing your dog out for walks. Remember to bring along a treat bag packed with treats to reward your dog for good behavior on the harness!
The Right Way Of Using Harnesses
The key point is to remember that the front attachment and head harnesses will not magically stop pulling behavior in your dog.
The harness will discourage pulling behavior, but if you do not train your dog to stop pulling, it will quickly learn that it can get away with pulling on some harnesses and collars.
A front attachment or head harness can easily tangle with your dog’s legs. So, the best is still to train your dog to stop pulling using a front attachment or head harness. When your dog is trained to walk on a loose leash, switch to a back attachment harness for greater safety and flexibility in exercise choice.
All the best in training out your dog’s pulling behavior!