Image via iStock.com/Mark Newton
By Linda Rodgers
“A dog that pulls constantly is frustrating for owners who just want to go for a nice, quiet walk,” says Mary Huntsberry, a certified animal behaviorist and owner of Helping Pets Behave in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
If you find yourself dragging on your daily walks, it may be time to consider your options when it comes to dog walking supplies. A dog harness made specifically to discourage pulling, for example, can help you gain more control when walking and improve your pup's leash skills. By using a no-pull dog harness, you can help make walks more enjoyable and prevent your dog from getting hurt.
Why pulling on the leash can be harmful
If your pup is only wearing a regular dog collar, it can put a lot of tension on his throat as he strains forward, especially if he grabs the leash or pulls it back. This type of pressure can damage your dog's neck regardless of his size, but especially if he is a smaller breed.
“Small dogs can cause a lot of damage to their sensitive throats and windpipes if they pull excessively,” says Mikkel Becker, certified dog trainer and resident trainer at FearFreeHappyHomes.com.
Pulling too much can also lead to unwanted behaviors. Let's say your dog pulls every time he sees another dog. If you hold him back, pull on the leash, or drag him, he begins to associate that unpleasant experience with other dogs.
“Dogs make associations with what's going on in their environment and whatever they're looking at, so from their perspective, seeing another dog predicts this unpleasant reaction from their owners,” explains Huntsberry. The result: every time your dog sees another dog, he gets restless and starts barking.
A no-pull dog harness helps put an end to the leash battle between you and your dog so you can have calmer walks.
How No-Pull Dog Harnesses Work
The best no-pull dog harnesses have straps that cross over your pup's shoulders and can be attached to the center of your dog's chest and behind his front legs, Becker says. The dog harness will also have a clip on the front for the leash.
Once you clip the leash to the front ring and start walking, your dog must stay at your side to continue moving forward. If you pull, the leash deflects to the side (not back), directing your dog toward you. That gives you a greater ability to control and guide your dog to your side with a little pressure, he adds.
Features to look for in a no-pull dog harness
Standard front clip. One dog harness option available is the PetSafe Easy Walk Dog Harness. Like other front-clip harnesses, it encourages you and your dog to perform what trainers call loose-leash walking—when your dog walks alongside you in a relaxed manner.
One front clip and one back ring.. Dog harnesses that have rings to attach a leash to the back and front, like the 2 Hounds Freedom No-Pull Dog Harness and Leash, can minimize pulling. Becker explains that having a front and rear ring means you can increase and decrease control as needed.
As your pup becomes more accustomed to walking on a loose leash, you can switch from using the front and back rings to just the front ring and then just the back ring. Another benefit, Becker says, is that “you can adjust the leash to suit whatever situation you and your dog find yourself in, for example, a crowded sidewalk versus an open green space.”
Wider straps. If the straps are thin and flimsy, the material is likely to rub against your dog's skin if he pulls towards something, Huntsberry says. “A thicker, wider leash will distribute pressure better” so it doesn't cut into your dog's skin.
Some dog harnesses even have cushioning, like the Frisco Padded Front Leash Dog Harness, which has wide straps and a front and back ring. The cushioning makes the harness even more comfortable for your dog, especially if you are a breed that does not have much hair.
How to get your pet used to a no-pull dog harness
Ideally, your dog sees the harness as a good thing. Make sure to adjust the straps. before put it on your dog, as you may accidentally pinch or make your pet uncomfortable if you adjust the harness while it's on, suggests Becker. You can also get your puppy used to any buckling or cutting sounds by introducing it to him before putting the harness on him.
Of course, when you put the harness on, you'll need to make a few more adjustments, so be sure to reward your pup with dog treats during the process.
Will a no-pull dog harness stop pulling forever?
Think of the no-pull harness as a training tool. Yes, it will deter pulling on its own. But ideally, you should also teach your pet that a loose leash is the only way to move forward and that a tight leash means he has to stop.
The key is to reward any positive behavior. “If your dog communicates with you by looking in his direction or walks with his shoulder aligned with your calf or thigh, reward these behaviors,” explains Becker. “The more they are rewarded, the more likely they are to occur.” Rewards can include treats, but also your attention and loosening the leash.
Provide physical and mental stimulation
It is important to ensure that your dog is not cooped up for most of the day with nothing to do. If that's the case, she'll probably pull more once she gets outside because she's so eager to explore and interact with her environment, Huntsberry notes.
You want to give your dog physical and mental stimulation at home, he explains. So play with your dog and give him appropriate things to chew. You can offer him bully sticks to chew on or provide him with an interactive dog toy to discover treats. That can help her expend energy so he feels less of a need to pull when he goes out.