To Harness, or not to Harness?

This can be a very confusing decision for new puppy owners.  So much conflicting information about harnesses versus collars, talk of “creating sled dogs”, “damaging trachea from pulling on collars”, etc. 

It’s really hard to decide what is best for your puppy.  Latest research published in Companion Animal Psychology indicates studies show that even low levels of pressure on a flat collar can cause damage to not only the trachea but also eye pressure and blood vessels.  This is made worse because dog’s breathing and panting allows them to cool down, and of course this is exacerbated in the short nosed breeds like Boxers, Bulldogs, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, etc of the Brachycephalic group.

So, for a dog that pulls, a harness may be safer and more comfortable for them. You can still use a flat collar for decoration and ID tags of course.

Sometimes it just comes down to your personal pup’s preference and what works best for them. 

Obviously loose leash walking training will assist with the pulling, and we’ll look at that in a separate blog.

If you decide you would like to try a harness, there are some important guidelines to consider, and many harnesses on the market today do not take any of these into account.

Before you start, check your dog’s personal measurements with a soft tape measure, to ensure you have the right size harness for both neck and girth measurements. Then you'll still  need to be able to adjust the harness to suit your dog’s comfort and safety.

The first and most important consideration is that the harness should not impede any movement, particularly shoulder movement and extension.  Many harnesses for sale have straps that go across the shoulder and completely prevent comfortable walking and these should be avoided.

Secondly the neck opening should sit lower than a collar position, and closer to their sternum, rather than around their throat.  Check the harness allows your hand to slide flat underneath the edges, so that it is not loose, but not tight either.  It must allow for movement when in motion.

Thirdly ensure the harness doesn’t extend down to the dog’s tummy area, it should sit against their ribcage. You don’t want it to pull up against their lower tummy area as this would be very uncomfortable for them when pressure is applied.

Some harnesses, with front rings only, cause the person walking the dog to unintentionally pull their dog off balance when walking, and this can make the dog feel uncertain and anxious.  It is recommended to start with a back pull ring and see how your dog reacts and moves with the back pull ring.

Take your time introducing your pup to the harness, try it out for short periods in the house before venturing outside, treats and praise make everything more enjoyable!

Taking the time to get this right will make for a happy puppy in a correct style of harness, properly fitted and comfortable.  Some dogs just love the feeling of a harness “hugging” them and they feel less anxious when out and about.  You may also find that some activities work best in a harness, and some in a flat collar.