Desensitisation to the harness

My puppies wear harnesses when they’re out on walks. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, for safety. When I first had Shadow, he was startled by a passing lorry, slipped his collar and ran out into the road. I nearly lost him after only a few days. It terrified me; I went home and immediately bought harnesses online for both puppies. I couldn’t have done his collar up any tighter to prevent this happening without it being too tight.

The other reason is because puppies pull on the lead. Everything is so exciting, and they’ve not been taught to walk nicely yet. So, they will pull, towards other dogs, towards people, towards leaves blowing in the wind. With such delicate throats, I don’t want this pressure concentrated over such a small area. It’s not worth the damage they could do.

I know that harnesses can be somewhat controversial in gundog circles. I’ve heard time and again that harnesses cause dogs to pull (“just look at sled dogs”). It’s a pretty weak argument, in all honesty. Flat collars don’t stop dogs pulling – just look around your local dog walking areas to see this – and neither will a back-fastening harness. You still have to train your dog. Unless you use a corrective harness, which I don’t. I train. This doesn’t, however, mean that a harness makes the pulling any worse and why on earth would it make a dog pull? That’s madness. Those sled dogs are taught to put their weight into their harnesses. One of these days I’m going to try out CaniX with Shadow, which means he’ll have a special harness to pull me along. Do I think that this will make him pull when on his normal lead? Of course not. Anyone that has done any dog training will know how contextual dogs are – it’s one of the things we have to work hard with, making them generalise training to different situations.

So, anyway, with that rant over, I want to desensitise This Little Doggy to the harness. Some dogs (including the Two Bigger Doggies) can find them fairly unpleasant. Since I want to avoid aversives as much as possible, I want to make Luna’s associations with the harness as positive as possible from the get-go. Enter a van load of cheese and frankfurters…


I want to stop her biting the harness, but I don’t tell her off, because I don’t want any negativity transferring to the harness. So, I just wait and reward her when we’re done. I’m not using my clicker here because it can be a bit loud for sensitive ears up close, not to mention one more thing to juggle.

I’m luring her to put her head in the harness at first, but you see at the end of the first lesson, she offers to stick her head through the hole. What a little star!

Yes, the harness is too big at the moment! But it should be just about right by the time she’s old enough to be walked in public.

The harness I’m using is this one from Blueberry. I’ve historically used Puppia harnesses, which I do like, but I preferred the look of this one, with the lead attachment being a little farther back, which will hopefully make the pressure a bit more even when she does pull.

4 thoughts on “Desensitisation to the harness

  1. Hi Fiona
    I’m finding your blog really interesting and I’m learning so much. My 10 month old Lab hates his harness and I find he’s not the same dog with it on. I feel awful putting it on him, so this post was timely.
    I’ve ordered the same Blueberry harness you are using for Luna. Thanks so much for the suggestion! I’m hoping it will be much more comfortable for him.


    1. I hope you make some progress. My older dogs don’t like their harnesses, so I’m trying my best to get it right with Luna, giving her loads of treats while she has it on, and making it a bit of a game in itself. Good luck!


    1. Hi Katie, it’s the medium, 54-66cm. I think the different colours come in slightly different sizes. It was really a bit too large for her when we started wearing it “in real life” but it started fitting well about a week ago, I’d say, about 14.5weeks of age.


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