How do I get my Puppy to Stop Pulling?
(Myth of Harnesses)
Harnesses are highly misunderstood as the tool they are meant to be. If you have been using a harness for everyday activities for your dog, do not feel bad. 90% of the clients that walk into our doors for the first time, have a harness on their dog. There is a very big misconception about harnesses.
Let me start off with this, the only dogs that should be wearing a harness are those that a vet has stated for health reasons (trachea) or other health concerns, should wear one. If your vet has told you that your dog needs to wear a harness, continue with your vet’s instructions.
A harness is just another tool in our toolbox. It is a piece of equipment that serves a purpose. Harnesses are great for dog’s participating in dog sports or jobs where one is required. Weight pullling, sledding, tracking and foundation bitework are just a few examples of when a harness will benefit a dog. Service dogs use harnesses for the purpose of displaying their patches of “service dog” and “do not pet, etc.” The harness in the case of a service dog, can be thought of in the same way as a person wearing a uniform. It is the dog’s “universal uniform” so EMS and others can identify the dog as working. Service dog harnesses can also be used if the handler needs to steady themselves with a specially equipped harness used for mobility. Service dog harnesses should never be attached to the leash. The dog should still be wearing a collar and that collar is what the leash should be attached to.
The number one question on dog training that we receive is: “How do I get my dog to stop pulling.” Once we explain the intent of the harness and what it creates in the dog, it will be clear why they are detrimental to training.
The harness is a tool used to create drive. Drive can be simply defined as the dog’s desire/impulse to do that which causes it self satisfaction. For example imagine this. You have a 4 month old puppy that chases the cat, cat runs from him. He chases the cat up a tree. The cat is unattainable, yet he can still see the cat. He begins to whine and bark. His bark is more of a demanding bark, because he is in prey and wants to play. Now, imagine the same dog behind a fence. The cat is on the other side and walks to the fence slowly. The young dog becomes more and more upset. The cat then lays down three feet from the dog. The young dog gets worse and worse in his demanding high pitch bark. The cat is out of reach and the dog’s drive/desire for the cat is increasing more and more by not being able to have him.
Now, put a harness on the dog, as you pull the dog away from the cat, the harness helps the dog to dig into the harness with a forward motion towards the cat. As you pull back, the dog pulls more forward. This “tug of war” is building the dog’s drive and making him want the “cat” more and more. A harness encourages pulling. It feeds the dog’s desire even more and he is getting self rewarded/satisfaction for pulling.
When the dog wears a harness and learns to pull on walks, the young dog is learning early on he is in control of that walk. Controlling the walk, makes him look less and less to you for leadership and guidance in other areas as well. It builds off itself and your dog begins to lose respect for you. He starts to become the dominant in the social structure of your home.
The leash serves a critical part in training. It is a tool of communication. The dog can feel these subtle cues of communication through a collar, not a harness. A harness is not “sensitive” enough and he can easily blow it off. A leash he can feel through his collar tension on the line and when you have given slack. This in itself sends communication of your emotions, anxiety level and what you are asking down the leash. Take a personal protection dog. You are walking down a dark alley or someone is walking towards you and you feel uncomfortable. Without even realizing it, second nature you begin to choke up on the leash. The line becomes short and rigid. Your dog feels this and begins to become vigilant about what is going on in his environment.
Do not take for granted the level of communication you are giving to your dog. Your dog is always learning, whether it be negative or positive behavior. We want to set both of you up for success. The right tools, seem like a simple thing, yet have such a huge impact on the behavior your dog is learning to display.
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