Will harness turn your dog into a sled dog?
I'm obviously being sarcastic but sometimes I still hear an unreasonable fear like that from dog guardians and I think it's time for us to have a chat.
Gear we use on dogs is the topic I will never get tired of talking about. Not because I would get any monetary gain from it but because there are so many myths around this topic and it quite literally can affect your dog's quality of life or the quality of your training. Before I share my recommendations, let's talk about harness!
Will harness cause my dog to pull?
You know, for a long time I thought this myth exists because when people compare their dog on a flat collar and harness, it feels like the dog is pulling more when wearing a harness. It's not completely wrong, by the way. The pull DOES feel stronger as the pressure of the pull isn't concentrated on one sensitive area of the body (a.k.a. neck) but rather the whole back. The problem, however, stays the same - your dog doesn't have the loose lead walking skills (aka they're pulling on the lead), neither of these items are making your dog pull more. The only question is: does it feel morally okay to put your dog's trachea at risk just because we don't want to train them to walk nicely? For those who are working on loose lead manners - I always tell my clients that if your training is still in process and there is a possibility that your dog will try to pull or lunge towards something, it's way better that that impact goes through the back and not the neck.
I heard harnesses cause pulling because sled dogs wear them...
This argument (that I've heard from way too many "professionals" working with dogs, by the way) is as valid as saying that ASICS (that being running trainers) will encourage you to run marathons faster because professional runners wear them. What it can do is make it more comfortable to run, just like a harness can make it more comfortable to pull, but the main point remains the same - it's the question of having or lacking certain skills (i.e. walking nicely or running fast). To come back to sled dogs quickly - they are trained to pull sleds (again, they are trained for certain skills) and find motivation in doing so and as someone that did canicross (running with a dog) for a bit I can assure you they would pull on a collar too but health wise that would be as stupid as trying to run a marathon in flip flops.
How old should my dog be to start wearing a harness?
That's one of the weirder myths I've heard that a dog needs to be a certain age to wear a harness. When I asked what was the reasoning behind that, I haven't received a clear answer but my guess is that it was something to do with health considerations of a developing puppy if they pull or lunge and the impact goes onto their spine? Which sounds mildly funny if we then apply this to a collar that literally puts the whole pressure of a pull on a trachea. So, the short answer is: your puppy can (and probably should) wear a harness.
Should my dog never wear a collar?
I had to include this section as I don't want this article to make it sound like I'm against collars. Your dog should wear a collar with an ID tag as per the law and their safety but also, I see nothing wrong in flat collars when a dog is trained. What you should never do is attach the leash to your dog's collar if they pull (please, one more time, let's all think about your dog's trachea), if you are using a long line or, in my humble opinion, a flexi lead.
Does the harness type matter?
Yes and I know it can be extremely hard to pick ones with so many different types on offer. You should look for a Y-shaped harness (the straps go over the shoulders and join on their chest. If you look from the top, it forms an Y letter on the dog's back). These are the best to make sure your dog's movement isn't restricted.