No-Pull Harnesses: Just 'cause you can doesn't mean you should
Designed with one goal; to stop a dog from pulling. No-Pull Harnesses are considered by some to be the holy grail of dog training devices. Others look at some of the options available and see torture devices. Some are designed with better control for the owner. Others are designed to make pulling uncomfortable. Some offer a quick on and off versatility, while others are so complicated owners can't put them on their dog correctly. In this article I will examine a variety of options on the market and how they actually work.
How the harness is used can depend on the design and overall function. The major versions on the market right now are the Easy Walk Harness, Freedom Harness/Balance Harness, and Sensation Harness. A few others that I will be talking about include the Horgan Harness, the Pull Stop, and the Thunder Leash. I could list a dozen or more on here but this variety covers most of the design concepts.
The first group mentioned are harnesses designed to attach the leash to the front of the dog's chest to allow the owner more control when the dog is pulling. The theory is that if you can control the dog's forward motion, you can turn that motion around and eliminate the success of pulling.
The second group works slightly differently. The Horgan Harness retrains the dog's back legs when the leash is pulled. The Pull Stop restrains both the front and back legs to prevent pulling and jumping, and the Thunder Leash tightens around the dog's chest then the leash is pulled. I put these three in their own group because they each function to deter pulling by restricting movement by tightening. I will also add that the Freedom Harness and the Easy Walk harness both tighten slightly as well when the leash is pulled because of a martingale style loop at some the leash attachment points.
The first thing that should to be considered when choosing one of these tools is why it is needed. Each one has it's pros and cons and some of the cons very heavily out weigh the pros. For instance, if you're looking for a harness that is as aversive free is possible, then the only option really is the Balance Harness. This harness was developed to fit like the Freedom Harness but they removed the tightening at the leash attachment point on the back. If you're not concerned about any aversive reaction to the tightening of the harness, then the Freedom Harness or Thunder Leash might be a good option. The reason I do not mention the Easy Walk Harness as one of the better options is because of contention that the Easy Walk interferes with the dog's gait because of how low it rests on the dog's body. The Freedom/Balance Harness and most of the other options sit higher out of the way.
Another point of consideration is how complicated the harness is to put on. I see owners putting Easy Walk and Sensation Harnesses on wrong all the time. Partially because it is hard to distinguish the front, top and underneath. Speaking of underneath, the reason I don't recommend some of these harnesses, such as the Sensation Harness is due to how much rubbing occurs under the dogs legs. It is important that none of these harnesses is causing irritation when the dog moves.
The final consideration is whether the tool assists in training or is simply restraining the dog. Tools that do not allow the dog to walk on a leash naturally most of the time, will not learn to walk without the tool. I find this is the case of the Horgan Harness and the Pull Stop. Both are highly restrictive and I would only recommend if the owner had mobility difficulties, was at risk of falling, or the dog could not have anything restrictive on their chest.
While no-pull harnesses are a wonderful alternative to more traditional aversive training tools, they can still have an aversive effect on the dog. It is important to look at the training and determine if:
- The dog is no longer pulling because proper loose leash walking has been reinforced.
- The dog is no longer pulling only because they are being restrained.
- The dog is no longer pulling because the tool is creating an aversive experience.
Usually we can determine this by clipping the leash on a different part of the dog and observing what happens to their leash walking skills. If the dog returns to pulling then the tool is likely only doing #2 and/or #3 and the dog is not learning to walk on a loose leash. Remember that with any of these tools the goal should be teaching proper skills and assisting in giving a leg up in training, not hiding the problem.