Back Clip Harnesses: Just 'Cause You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Brachycephalic breeds can benefit from being walked on a back clip harness.

Brachycephalic breeds can benefit from being walked on a back clip harness.

One of the most misunderstood and misused training tools out there. Contrary to popular belief back clip harnesses can be a great training tool. They are comfortable for the dog and generally do not constrict or cause damage. Most varieties are either an "H" harness, a "figure 8" harness, and the wrap around harness with leg holes, but there are also others. The key point is that they have a ring on the back for the leash to clip on to. This is a wonderful option for any dog who slips collars or has a sensitive trachea. This is also a preference for brachycephalic breeds. However back clip harnesses are not for everyone or every dog.


One huge piece of misinformation about these harnesses is that it teaches or encourages a dog to pull. This is not true. It will not dissuade pulling, but only a dog who already pulls, and is allowed to continue, will pull in it. Nothing about it teaches pulling unless you want to teach them to pull. The reason for this misinformation is because it does not cause a dog to choke and many owners buy it for dogs who already pull and are choking and gagging on walks. Because it does not dissuade pulling, it looks to others as if it encourages or reinforces the behavior when in reality, letting the dog pull to where it wants to go, is what is reinforcing the pulling. It has nothing to do with the harness.

Harnesses actually designed for pulling.

Harnesses actually designed for pulling.

However there are "pull harnesses" used for carting, weight pulling, joring, and sledding. These harnesses are specifically designed to distribute the stress and weight of a load so that the dog can comfortably pull it. These are in no way designed for normal walking and should not be used as such. 

If they are best used on dogs who are already trained, why use them? Because they are WONDERFUL for doing behavior modification. Instead of attaching a leash to a collar, attaching the leash to a back clip harness allows the dog to feel more natural and at ease. They allows for a more natural and calm response around triggers and lets the dog think clearly instead of being choked on a collar. How much thinking can a dog do when air and blood circulation to the brain is being cut off. Harnesses like these can also prevent leash reactivity for the same reasons. If the dog is always pulled tight when a dog or person passes, the dog can develop an aversion. The harness allows for control in those situations without the aversion. 

Finally for dogs who lunge at prey this can be a god send to protect the dog's neck if he chooses to pounce. I also use these for training off leash work. Less pressure on the neck means more off leash experience.


Can of Worms

As mentioned before, the main problem with the back clip harness is that unless the dog has already been taught to walk on a loose leash, these harnesses will do you little help in teaching proper walking skills. Also some breeds who have not been properly taught to walk on a leash, can slither out of some designs. Using one for leash training is not prohibitive but if you don't know what you're doing, you might get frustrated.

When not properly loose leash walking trained, these harnesses can create significant strength and drag an owner if the dog is large or the owner is small. Also bad habits can arise from owners who allow pulling in these harnesses. The more you allow a dog to drag you, the more they will do it in the future.

Final Thoughts

Most dogs are best off wearing their leash on a harness if it means reduced reactivity and comfort. However they are not better off if an owner is just using one to prevent choking because their dog pulls like a freight train. Do the training, teach your dog. Then decide based on the optimum comfort for you and your dog.

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