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You Can Help Your Dog Enjoy Having Their Harness Put On!

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When you’re ready to unleash adventures with your inquisitive canine, think about starting with the right gear, especially a pet harness that is not only dog friendly but people friendly as well.

Ideally, your pet’s harness should be easy to put on and take off your dog and have easily adjustable straps. In addition to being simple to use for the human part of the canine-human team, select a harness that fastens around the neck, similar to a regular collar, rather than one that slips on or off over the head, which some dogs might be able to back out of and escape from. Clipping around the neck can also mean less worry for dogs who don’t like hands or items over their heads.

dog wearing harness sitting in chair

Once you have found a harness that is designed for comfort, is fully adjustable, and fastens easily and securely, it’s time to get your dog dressed! Many dogs will have no issue with this step and will happily accept a comfortable harness for what it is: the sign of fun to come. Other dogs are sensitive to certain kinds of body handling, or simply uncomfortable with an unfamiliar item, like a harness, being near them.

Wondering if your dog is nervous with the idea of wearing something novel? Look for signs of discomfort, such as acting startled when you bring the harness close to them, flinching away or pulling back, and/or licking their lips repeatedly. If your dog growls or snaps when you attempt to put on the harness, stop; give them the space they need in order to feel safe and then seek the assistance of a certified professional dog trainer or behavior consultant. If you do see signs of stress (as opposed to intense fear), you can help your pal out with a bit of patience and some knowledge of how to shape animal behavior.

The process of helping your dog enjoy having their harness put on might vary, depending on the individual dog. But the concept is the same. We suggest adjusting steps based on your own pet’s individual needs.

small dog walking on leash

In general, it will look a little like this:

  1. Supply yourself with a bunch of treats, or a portion of their meal if they’re enthusiastic eaters.
  2. Start with the harness out of your dog’s line of sight. Bring it out so the dog can see it and then feed them a bunch of treats/food in a row, all while the harness is visible. In other words, harness ‘appears,’ then treats start flowing.
  3. Place the harness out of your dog’s sight, then repeat, bringing the harness a bit closer to your inquisitive canine each time, until you can gently touch your dog with the harness, and there are no signs of distress. Ideally your dog is tail wagging and looking happily excited every time the harness comes into view, because they’ve come to associate it with getting delicious treats, which means “good times” for them.
  4. Take a break.
  5. Then, start again. This time your goal is to fasten the neck strap around your dog’s neck. Hold one clasp in each hand and move the harness toward your dog’s neck as though you are going to fasten it, like you would a collar. Bring it as close as you can without your dog showing any signs of stress, then give your dog a treat.
  6. Gradually work toward being able to fasten the neck clasp, giving treats each step of the way, until your dog shows no signs of discomfort at having the harness’s neck strap fastened.
  7. Now, you are ready to get your dog fully dressed in the rest of the harness! You can take the time to feed treats throughout this process, continuing to help your dog form positive associations, and not just tolerate -but enjoy- wearing a harness.
  8. Taking your dog on amazing adventures after their harness goes on can also help to create positive associations with ‘getting dressed.’
large dog wearing harness lying down in bushes

The Art of Shaping Behavior

Shaping is reinforcing and rewarding behavior in small increments, with the goal of approaching the desired behavior. So, if your inquisitive canine is showing signs of nervousness at any point in the above process, slow things down and offer them more control over the situation. Choice is a wonderful reinforcer!

Begin with the initial steps outlined above, but when you get to step three, allow your dog to approach the harness on their own, rather than bringing it closer to them. Allow your dog to set the pace and decide how quickly they want to get dressed.

Continue to treat your dog for being brave, whenever they get closer to the harness, or even show any interest. If they walk away, that’s fine. Give them a break and try again a little later. Once your dog is showing more interest and less nervousness, continue with the steps outlined above. You may have to repeat the initial steps until your pup develops a positive conditioned response – “YAY! it’s the harness!” – and continues to learn to trust the game, the harness itself, and you.

Then, all that’s left is to unleash adventures and harness fun with your inquisitive canine!

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