Why Dog Trainers Hate Harnesse

Dog trainers hate harnesses. 

It is true, we hate them.

We hate them because harnesses make it comfortable for a dog to pull

Think about that for a moment: Harnesses make it comfortable for a dog to pull. 

There are two implications in that statement: one applies to the dog, the second applies to the owner. 

  1. Since a harness makes it comfortable to pull, a dog continues to pull.
  2. When using a harness, an owner is no longer emotionally or physically distressed during walks.  As such, the owner does not attempt to gain control of their dog’s actions or behavior on a walk.

Let me explain:

As a species, dogs are strong pullers and most untrained dogs wearing a traditional collar will pull, creating tension on the leash. The tension creates pressure that is concentrated in a narrow band across the dog’s esophagus. The result is many dogs gag and cough during their daily walk. This causes emotional distress in the owner. 

Pulling is also physically draining. The daily walk of 30 – 45 minutes, which should bring relaxation and peace, now becomes a physically unpleasant experience

Truth be told, most dogs don’t care about the tightened leash and its consequences. If they did, they would loose- leash walk without formal training. To a rambunctious dog, tight leash be damned…there’s a squirrel!!!

Dog trainers and therapists know that a person (or dog) will continue to participate in a behavior until it is no longer rewarding. Typically, the behavior needs to meet a threshold of discomfort; emotional or physical. 

In the end it is the emotional discomfort (my dog is choking) or the physical discomfort (my arm is aching) that triggers the owner to seek a solution. That’s when they acquiesce to the path of least resistance (and work). The owner chooses a harness instead of choosing to train their dog.

Now our dog is walking on a harness. He is no longer gagging and the walk is less physically and emotionally challenging for the owner.  The problem, and it is a big one, is that the dog is still pulling and, more importantly, the owner has even less control over the dog. 

Yep, less control.

As with a horse, if you control the head, you control the body. Dog training is all about self-control. Not forced, coercive control but teaching a dog to control THEMSELVES when excited. 

On a harness we are restraining. With the use of a proper training collar and application of constructive training techniques we are training. 

Again, think of the implications:

Confusion vs education  

Frustration vs. Composure

Reactivity vs Focus

Restraint vs Freedom of Choice

From puppyhood to mature adulthood, high-quality dog trainers seek to develop and reinforce impulse control.  Learning to walk on leash and resisting temptation is all about self-control. Proper training results in a choice.

When trained properly, a well-behaved dog makes the CHOICE to heel by your side. 

When provided a choice, whether dog or human, an individual is more settled, focused, confident, composed, and emotionally stable.

Conversely, a harness provides restraint. A dog on a harness will still flail, jump, leap, and bark hysterically. Over time these behaviors can intensify and result in an unsafe situation.

The typical owner using a harness does not address these obnoxious behaviors as readily as an owner with a dog on a collar –  they simply restrain their dog and walk past the trigger.  An owner committed to a collar will seek to improve their dog’s behavior far sooner. 

How do I know?? 38 years of professional experience. Harnesses have been great for the dog training business but terrible for fostering well-behaved dogs. My days are filled with young adults to middle-aged dogs who pull and react on their harnesses. Their owners finally seek help when the reactivity has become untenable or embarrassing.  (Note: owner has come full circle back to owner-discomfort)

Owners who choose a collar for their dog rarely wait past a year of age to address the issue of poor leash manners. They quickly recognize the longer a dog is allowed to pull on leash the harder it is to teach polite leash walking. 

Or, perhaps they simply reach the threshold of owner-discomfort much sooner. 

So…. Now you know why dog  trainers hate harnesses.


To learn more about how to teach your dog to walk politely on leash, contact Augusta Dog Training.