My Dog Won’t Wear a Harness – What Can I Do?

Using a harness can make walking your dog so much easier. Many dog owners have experienced that walk when your dog almost chokes because they’re pulling on a leash, and only wearing a collar.

Dog Wont Wear a Harness

Especially with large breed dogs, harnesses can make it easier to handle your dog if you’re walking down a busy street or come across another dog that doesn’t seem so friendly . . . no matter what your reason is, your dog wearing a harness can help you out.

But what if your dog doesn’t want to wear a harness? What if they fight it every single time?

There are ways you can work with your dog to get them much more comfortable and stop fighting it. Here’s what you need to know.

First, why do some dogs hate wearing a harness so much?

Well, the answer is fairly simple but the reasoning may be something you’ll need to learn to work around. The reason some dogs don’t like wearing a harness is because they are sensitive to touch and don’t like the feeling of the harness around them.

Now, some dogs may be hesitant because they’ve just never had a harness on them, and that’s ok – you can work with them on that. Dogs that are don’t like being touched or petted, and therefore you can’t get a harness on them, will likely require much more patience than those that are just unfamiliar with it.

Getting your dog used to the harness

There are a number of steps in getting your dog used to wearing a harness, all of which you can do at home. These steps may require some patience and will have to be done multiple times over a number of days or weeks. Here is how you start.

Getting your dog used to being touched

It’s important to start this step slowly, and go at a pace that your dog is comfortable with. If your dog becomes uneasy at any time you will need to slow down and back up a little bit.

 

Gently pet and stroke your dog with your hands, having treats close by to reward your dog as you go. Doing this on a regular basis will get your dog used to being touched and will make them much more comfortable around you, increasing the bond you have with them.

If your dog backs away from you during this action, or if they start to growl and show teeth, then they are showing signs that they are really uncomfortable. You will need to back away and give your dog some space. You can attempt the session again with petting after some time and space has been given for your dog.

Introduce the harness to your dog

This step doesn’t necessarily mean that you will being putting the harness on your dog, yet. During this step it’s about your dog physically being around the harness without panicking. This may mean you will be bringing out the harness, placing it on the ground, or in areas that your dog will be in, so your dog can sniff it and explore it.

You can also hold the harness, without attempting to put it on, so your dog can explore it more than just on the ground. After your dog has gotten used to it, you can try to place a treat in the harness. Make sure it’s a high value treat for your dog, something they really enjoy, and they will sniff around the harness to eat the treat off of it. Doing this creates a positive association with the harness.

Show them the sounds

Some harnesses – depending on what your preference is – have buckles, clips and Velcro, and these can scare your dog when putting them on.

During this stage, it’s recommended that you clip and unclip the harness, do it up and take it apart. Get your dog used to the sounds the harness makes in a safe environment they trust so they can become much more comfortable with it.

During this step, you should always let your dogs see your hands and sniff the harness as you go, and as much as they want. You can also put a few treats in the harness as you did before to enhance your dog’s comfort level with it.

Let the harness touch them

This step may take a couple tries to get right, and you might even have to stop part way through before your dog is completely comfortable with wearing the harness.

Take this time to get your dog used to the feeling of the harness. You can do this by placing it on your dog, and perhaps not doing it up right away – just giving your dog the feeling of what it means to wear it. Make sure you put the harness in the spots that it will touch when your dog is wearing it on a walk.

During this step you will want to make sure you have plenty of treats on hand so that you can keep the positive association going you’ve already built up in the previous steps.

Really put the harness on

Once your dog is comfortable with the harness on them, even if it’s not secured around them, it’s time to try putting the harness on.

Do this by putting a treat in your hand and feeding that hand through that harness so that your dog has to come through the harness to get to the treat. As you do this, you can slide the harness over their head and put it on them.

Dog Wont Wear a Harness

After you do this, slide the harness on them without fighting or forcing it on them. As you’re doing this, you can reassure them with treats.

With the same calm, slow method remove the harness from your dog once you have put it on them. This step shows your dog it’s only temporary that they have to have the harness on, and it can be removed from them.

Once you have done this step a couple times and your dog is comfortable with it, it’s times for you to secure the harness on your dog. Again, slide the harness over your dog and then secure it by fastening the buckles or clips. While you’re doing this make sure to reward your dog with lots of treats and make sure they’re comfortable.

Before you walk your dog in the harness

You’ve put a lot of work into making sure that your dog is comfortable wearing a harness, and all of this work was done before you’ve left the house on your first walk.

Before you take your dog for a walk on a leash with the harness on, let them be outside in a safe space so they are then used to being outside with it in. This could include your fenced in backyard – just an outdoor space that your dog is comfortable being in.

This outside part might take a couple tries for your dog to be totally comfortable with – and that’s ok – so you might need to put the harness on your dog before they go out into the yard to do their business. This will help them get use to it in an environment they know, but is outside the control of your home.

Once your dog wears the harness without any resistance, especially going outside, you can try to go for your first walk. You may want to keep the first walk short and just go around the block in your neighbourhood – also somewhere your dog is familiar with – and work your way to longer walks.

The best harness for walking

Most dog owners will have their preference for which kind of harness is the best, and sometimes it really does come down to personal preference. There are, in general, a couple different kinds of harnesses for dogs.

Dog Wont Wear a Harness

Back Clip Harness

This one is pretty self explanatory as to how it hooks into the leas. These harnesses are usually the easiest for dogs to acclimate to for walking, so it could be a great starting point for you. The downside is that it doesn’t do anything to stop dogs from pulling, so it’s really recommended for dogs who are already trained to not pull on the leash.

Front Clip Harness

Like the back clip, the name of this is pretty easy to figure out how it works for your dog. This kind of harness, though, gives the owners control of which direction the dog is going to go and allows for easy redirection.

Unfortunately, if your dog is reactive on a leash then you might find you need another tool – like a Halti – to help on a walk. These harnesses – because they clip at the front – can easily get tangled under their legs while walking.

Many manufacturers will make their own variety of these kinds of harnesses, some with self-tightening features or additional clips to help with more control. You may have to go through a few different ones to find the right option for your dog.

Getting your dog to wear a harness can be a difficult task, especially if they’re really resistant to it or become aggressive when you try to put the harness on them.

With patience and work (and probably a lot of treats!) you can definitely get your dog comfortable with wearing a harness while going for walks. Trust your instincts, and make sure you read your dog’s cues about how comfortable they are – you’ll get this no problem!