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Types of Harnesses

Today I want to talk about harnesses! This is not a debate on choosing to use on tool over another but to give you the best information so that you can make a choice for what works for you and your dogs. This is a great case of continuing education in order to better the lives of my dogs for myself, because I actually used a harness on my 3 dogs that, as I learned more, have now completely stopped using and recommending to clients!

Harnesses come in many forms and I will say this, they are designed to help dogs pull. Some dogs do walk nicer and respond better to body control rather than controlling from the neck with a collar, so it's important to try different things until you find what works.

But, it's a bit more complicated than that.

Harnesses are GREAT in my opinion, they take pressure of your dog's soft neck and throat and can give you an extra handle to guide them with. For the average dog with decent walking skills, there are no problems using a standard harness. It's when we look to harnesses to stop or help pulling, that we get into issues.

Harnesses can really cause issues with their joints and make a big impact on natural movement and this was something I did not consider before I became certified in Canine Body Work. Dogs carry 60% of their weight on their front legs and a harness that is designed specifically as a "no pull" harness can actually be causing some long term damage for your dog, ESPECIALLY if they are a growing puppy. While not having them pull on a collar makes total sense because we see choking, we need to apply the same to how a harness is pulling on certain parts of their body.

The classic "No pull" Harness

I never really jumped on the band wagon when it came to these harnesses, which are incredibly popular but I didn't think enough when it came to my clients using them and why I should have recommended something else. But, when we actually really look into the harness, there are some concerns.

How it works

The leash is connected to the front of the dog, in the middle of the chest with a tightening synch. When the dog pulls, it tightens and causes the legs to move together and turn the dog toward the handler.

The Problem

These harnesses restrict proper shoulder movement, and by doing so limit the amount of pulling, but also negatively affect their normal gait patterns. These harnesses sit on top of some very important muscles, the biceps, brachiocephalicus and the supraspinatus, which help to extend the shoulder joint. This compression and lack of appropriate motion of the shoulder can lead to shoulder pain, arthritis later in life, inflammation and bursitis (Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a closed, fluid-filled sac that works as a cushion and gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body).

The Straight-Across Harness (this is what I had used in the past - not for non-pulling but because I found it easy to put on and was good for using it as a handle for Mayson)

How it works

This harness attaches from the back of the dog and works by distributing pressure across the chest

The Problem

Similar to the "no-pull" this harness puts strain on the shoulder joints and muscles and can prevent a dog from full extension of the front legs.

So what DO we want to use for our dogs?

If your dog is a puller, take some dedicated time to teaching loose leash manners which starts with engagement training at home. I do not recommend Head Halti's (I do not like putting pressure on a dogs face or nose which is their main sensory organ) but a properly fitted prong collar, which distributes even and light pressure across the neck is a much safer option and is much clearer form of communication and can be a great tool while learning. I always encourage clients that want to try a prong is that it is just a transitional tool while we work on better behaviours, and eventually phase it out for most dogs.

For those that want their dogs to be on a harness, you want a harness that fits on the chest and over the shoulders in a Y formation. These harnesses allow for the natural full range of motion in the shoulders and will not alter your dog's gait when fitted appropriately.

Even when your dog pulls, the pressure is center through the chest and hugs the shoulders, it does not tighten or restrict the limbs.

If you've been using a No Pull harness, that's okay! Let's not focus on what we could have been doing, give ourselves a break and try out a new harness style!

“There is no shame in lacking knowledge. Only in refusal to learn.”

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Very informative and great explanation!

Chayse Waddell
Chayse Waddell

Appreciate you always reading!

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