In Defense of Harnesses

YPAM13As dog owners, we are constantly bombarded with product after product recommended for walking our dogs. I cringe when I see dogs choking, coughing, and essentially strangling themselves on walks as a result of their collars. While prong and choke collars are the most obvious offenders, even a flat collar can be damaging to a dog's neck if the dog hasn't been properly taught to walk on a loose leash.

There are some very important reasons why you should consider using a no-pull harness for your dog. Here are just a few:

#1: To prevent injuries

Just one incident of pulling or being jerked back on a collar can cause extensive injuries to a dog's neck, including a crushed trachea or a fractured vertebrae. Even in more minor cases, the dog can still experience bruising and headaches. One study showed that over 90 percent of dogs in the study that presented with neck injuries were subjected to an owner that pulled or jerked on the lead. Other potential health issues include:

  • Hypothyroidism that can be caused from trauma to the thyroid gland  at the base of the neck
  • Ear and eyes issues can be a result of extensive pressure on the neck
  • Behavior problems caused by pain or other physical injuries from the use of a collar. Because dogs cannot tell us about their pain and it is sometimes hard to tell if a dog is suffering, people often punish a negative reaction without realizing that the reaction has been caused because the dog is in pain.

#2: To teach your dog not to pull

Dogs are highly intelligent and responsive to our cues, but they don't think and perceive the world in exactly the same way that people do. You can yank and jerk your dog around time after time, and yet he will still continue to pull on the leash. Why? Because you haven't taught him the right behavior. Leash corrections only serve to suppress behavior in the moment, but they don't actually teach a dog how you do want him to walk. Those types of corrections can also lead to anxiety and reactivity on leash. There's simply no place for fear, pain, or intimidation when teaching a dog how to walk on a loose leash. A no-pull harness can be a great addition to a positive reinforcement-based training protocol for teaching your dog loose leash walking.

#3: For your dog's safety

Even if your dog walks beautifully on leash and you don't have an issue with pulling, you never know what could happen in the environment around you. If you need to get your dog immediately close to you, whether it's because a fast-moving car is approaching or perhaps a stray dog is wandering towards you, a collar isn't going to give you the same safe control and ability to manage your dog that a harness will.

Read more about harnesses vs. collars. 

Ready to get your dog's leash off a collar and onto my Positively No-Pull harness?

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25 thoughts on “In Defense of Harnesses

  1. tracy

    My mum was walking my shih tzu on a collar and my dog stopped for a toilet, mum didn't notice and kept walking and as the collar pulled my dog 'fainted' it was awful to see and quite shocking, she is harnessed now!

  2. Danette Johnston

    I love a front-clip harness as well and recommend them to most of my clients. The only real problem spot is for dogs with very short (or no!) fur on their belly and under arm areas (I have a Pittie mix myself with this problem). I have been unable to find a front-clip harness that does not rub these dogs raw. I have tried putting moleskin around one as well as the velvet step harness still with no success. Any suggestions?

  3. JK

    Nicely written article! Helpful points too 🙂
    But I have some things to mention... Usually dogs aren't choking themselves on their collars because their owners are pulling them, its because they are pulling their owners. Certain methods of training for loose-leash walking should be clearly understood and enforced.
    By suddenly putting a harness on the dog, the dog will be able to pull even more and gain control because the dog is able to use its whole body (even some stubborn dogs can get away with pulling when wearing a no-pull harness, such as the sensation harness, as it can actually act as a reinforcement). In a situation like this, the risk of injury can be even higher then before.
    Obviously the owners being pulled (either on collared or harnessed dogs) have not taught their dogs the way of walking loose leash yet. So like you mentioned in point # 2, the most important thing is to work on loose-leash walking first.
    Of course, in situations with smaller dogs, a harness is a good choice especially for safety.

  4. Sally

    I see you only have really big sizes. Can you let me know when you have/or if you have smaller one's. Thanks! 🙂

  5. Mair

    I wondered what Victoria thinks about using a Halti or Gentle Leader to train a dog not to pull.

    I tried using a harness that had a D-ring at the chest part on Mr.Scoobyy Amstaff cross (regretfully he died

    in Feb this year,I miss him soooo much) This made no difference to him pulling .When I used a Halti he

    was very cooperative (I gave lots of positive feedback and treats )

    Regards Mair

  6. Margo

    Right at the beginning,is the important bit:"even a flat collar can do damage to a dog's neck IF THE DOG HASN'T BEEN PROPERLY TAUGHT TO WALK ON A LOOSE LEASH". So teach the dog to walk on a loose leash - simple. Equipment is not a substitute for training.

  7. Marian Lyons

    I feel that harnesses are fine for some dogs but for others it seems to make them pull more and make them stronger. From what I have learned they were first make for sledding dogs. I really like my Gentle Leader. But you are so right that they need to be taught to walk correctly on a leash. That is one of the hardest commands for some dogs. But so worth it if the owner works with their dog.
    Marian Lyons

  8. patricia surratt

    Is there a reason NOT to use halties, or gentle leaders? I have a very big boy who generally walks very nice on leash, but occasionally he becomes excited by prey, so I must use something that will help me keep the upper hand, especially if we are in a public place, where another person or child could be injured if I lost control. I am on a very tight budget and dog walking is one of the few free activities we can enjoy as a pack/family. I will make room for one of these chest harnesses if it's a must, but all my dogs have done very well with halties.

  9. Janet Carattini

    I was walking my dog Monday afternoon and he got spook came out of he's collar and he cross the street and 2 cars hit him and die. So sad he was 13 yrs.

  10. Janine Turner

    As the owner of 2 GSd´s and a 60kg Mastin at one point as puppies I tried just about everything available apart from prong or choke collars. That includes the chest harness as you have here. I tried a number of behaviourists and also dog training clases. In the end and the only thing that ever worked for me and enabled me to walk two dogs together was the Sporn harness , as was then as nothing was available in Europe. I continued to use that for several years. Now aged ten i still have one GSD (lost the other this year) and one mastin and they are both well behaved on a normal harnedd. I recommend the no - pull harness to many clients and not one has come back to say it didnt work but have recommended it to others. Just what works in every situation. But completely agree about the collars and my vet also told me many years ago about the dangers of collars on the neck and larynx etc. So glad you ahve publicised this article to deter people from collars

  11. Linda White

    I use a martingale harness, and I love them! I walk my 2 dogs (English Setter & Greyhound/Husky hybrid) that weigh about 54-55 lbs. each, with one hand! This type of harness, like the one in this article, while not exactly preventing pulling, discourages it in a gentle way. Plus, I've had one of my dogs at different times decide to run after something and when they hit the end of the leash, the position of the harness on the chest makes them do a complete 180 and they are suddenly standing there facing me! It doesn't hurt them a bit and barely really distracts them, they just turn their heads and bark and what ever they "thought" they were going to chase after. Nothing cruel or painful about it. And really, it hasn't hurt my arm either. Other than being pricey (I ended up making my own, but that means they are form fitted and non-adjustable), I don't understand why more people don't use them or something like a martingale or just any type of harness. Anything is better than a collar.

  12. JK

    Wow so cool about the talk on haltis! I also have had good results with all dog breeds with halti use, especially for immediate changes. Of course though, like Margo said, equipment is not a substitute for training.
    Still the halti is a good choice!

  13. riverdivine

    Yes! So glad to see articles like this. 🙂 Way too many people use prong collars, and spout the insane notion that "the metal prongs digging into their neck don't hurt them at all! - its just like a mother dog nipping her pups to reprimand them.." Time for prong and choke collars to be illegal in this country (like they already are in other countries) as so many people clearly don't know right from wrong unless a law dictates to them common decency/humanity.

  14. RRuin

    Harnesses are great. So much easier on dogs and owners. I agree with riverdivine that banning choke and prong collars should be illegal.

  15. buzz

    Can the no-pull harness be left on my dog all the time, or must it be removed when he is not being walked?

  16. Principal Pets

    I've just had a trainer in my shop stating that the UK Kennel club do not recognise harnesses for their Good Citizen courses. She advocates check and half check collars (not something we'd like to sell). I stated the no-pull harness could be used as a training aid to stop the dogs pulling and in association with training could be used to transition the dogs on to flat collars. But she didn't want to hear it & stated that if check and half check collars are ok by the kennel club, and harnesses are not, then she would continue with the check collars. We agreed to disagree, but any thoughts on the kennel club seemingly advocating check and half check collars?

  17. Kirsty Plane

    Hi, my dog and I have passed the Good Citizen award in the UK and, while the trainer is correct in that the dog can't wear a harness for the test unless it is for medical reasons, they do not advocate the use of check or half check collars - this was probably just the preference of the examiner of the test.
    I prefer a harness for my dog when we're road walking, as I feel that I have better control, so I'm not sure why that don't allow harnesses for the test. Just a stupid rule, I suppose!

  18. Allison

    I am a big fan of harnesses, but I have never seen any definite data on the link to thyroid damage. Could you let me know where you found this? It would be great to have that information.

  19. Dog's Day Out

    I have a pity mix who is pretty much bald on chest/belly and under arms. We have not found any harness (tried Easy Walk, Wonder Walker, Freedom...) that does not rub him raw - any suggestions?

  20. MammaRock

    My daughters Havaton was born with a crushed trachea and the only way to take him for a walk without him choking is with a harness. I must admit though that her Huskies would instinctively pull even harder if in a harness.

  21. Myranda Miller

    I would suggest picking one that fits his body type well, then making or buying fleece "tubes" to go around the straps so they don't rub. Works good usually.

  22. Myranda Miller

    I would just ignore them and only use a collar for the test, you don't have to use a collar any other time. Some people have been taught so strongly that new ideas don't register, even if they work better.

  23. Myranda Miller

    If you can't find one of these that fit your little dog, try the Walk In Sync. It's my favorite, to be honest.

  24. Biddie Mutter

    Please, can you advise us? My friend has an assistance dog. She was in a wheelchair but is now able to walk really quite well and she attributes her increased mobility to her lovely Labrador. However the gentle leader she uses is clearly rubbing the dog's nose. Obviously she can't afford to be knocked flying or being pulled over. Would a no pull harness be 1. a good alternative, and 2, is it fiddly to fit? Thank you

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