Are you planning to start walking your puppy outside?
If so, they have to get used to some things first.
Like wearing a harness and walking on a lead.
So you may think,
“When’s the right time to do this?”
Read on to learn:
- At what age can a puppy wear a harness.
- Why it is a better option compared to a collar.
- How to put a harness on them for the first time.
- Things to keep in mind while choosing the right kind.
- 9 helpful tips on how you can make them get used to it.
- And many more…
Table of contents
From what age can a puppy wear a harness?
A puppy can wear a harness as early as 8 weeks old. This is usually the age when dogs are up for adoption. So if you have a new pup, you may start the training as soon as possible. But, give them time to adjust first. Gain their trust before putting a harness on them as it may be a scary experience.
Although puppies as young as 8 weeks can already wear a harness…
Vets might tell parents not to take their young dogs outdoors.
And wait until they’re fully vaccinated. Which is around 16 to 18 weeks old based on AKC.
This is because puppies might get diseases outside. And they don’t have enough protection yet.
Harness vs collar for puppy
A harness is often recommended by experts for small puppies and toy breeds. As well as flat-faced dogs. Because it gives better control and prevents injuries. Also, it supports a bigger area of their body. While not putting much pressure in one area when the leash is pulled, unlike a thin collar.
However, harnesses also have some disadvantages.
In most cases, it’s easier to attach a dog’s ID to a collar than to a harness. So some people who opt-in for a harness, also put a collar on their dogs while walking.
Also, it could take time before your pup feels comfy in it. But, the training will all be worth it in the end.
So in short, harnesses also have cons, but their pros still outweigh them.
And I’ll discuss each of them below.
9 benefits of using a harness
#1: It doesn’t put much stress on the neck
Dogs tend to pull their leash a lot during strolls.
And if the force they exert is too much and abrupt, it can strain their necks.
Or worsen existing injuries. Especially if the leash is only attached to a collar according to a study.
“Is this really possible?”
Another research claims the same thing.
It says that serious neck trauma is possible for dogs who pull and use narrow collars.
Because it was said that more than 0.04 oz (2 g) of weight can crush 50% of a dog’s nerve’s function.
And there are spinal nerves around a canine’s neck – where the collar is.
This makes a harness a better option for puppies. Because it distributes pressure over a larger area of a dog’s body.
Read next: Why does my dog cry during walks?
#2: It prevents ‘tracheal’ damage
Small and toy breeds are also prone to tracheal collapse.
“What is it?”
The trachea or windpipe links the throat to the lungs. And when the cartilage that protects it sags, it’ll make breathing difficult.
VCA Hospitals says that using a collar can make it worse. And its signs usually intensify at night and during hot weather.
This is why most vets recommend using a harness. Because it doesn’t put tension on their neck.
“What may have caused this?”
Based on PetMD, the reason is still unclear.
However, specialists observed that certain breeds are commonly affected by this. So genetics could be a factor.
And they’re mostly small dogs, like:
- Shih Tzus.
- Toy Poodles.
- Yorkshire Terriers.
Check out also: 9 Surprising Reasons Why Your Dog Doesn’t Bark + 7 Tips
#3: It can avoid ‘proptosis’
(Excuse me if you’re eating. Because this is quite graphic.)
Proptosis is a condition in dogs where their eyeballs bulge too much out of their sockets.
“What are its causes?”
According to vets, this can be due to so much pressure on their neck or eyelids. Which could be a result of pulling too hard with a collar.
This is common in brachycephalic dogs. Or ones with short heads. Say, Pugs, English Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers.
As they have large eye openings. But have shallow orbits or sockets in the skull that house their eyeballs.
So, if you have a puppy who’s prone to this, using a harness may help you avoid it. And it won’t also put stress on their airways.
#4: It provides better control
Controlling distracted pups is possible using a collar.
But, as I said earlier, it can have some consequences as well. Since the force will only localize on their neck.
Whereas a harness could make you tug your puppy safely. As it holds and redirects their whole body.
Giving you better control of them. Especially while walking in busy areas filled with other dogs and people.
#5: It prohibits entanglement with the leash
While walking, an aroused dog may love circling around their human.
Then the next thing that can happen is either…
The dog gets caught on their own leash. Or their human’s feet are entangled in it.
Which could result in unfortunate accidents. (Uh-oh!)
This is a likely scenario for untrained puppies on collars. But, wearing the right kind of harness might avoid this situation.
For example, a harness with a leash on the top of their back will unlikely cause entanglement. As dogs can’t reach it.
#6: It discourages pulling
Same with the tangled leash problem…
You can also reduce your dog’s pulling with the correct type of harness.
“What’s the kind that discourages them from tugging?”
Usually, ‘non-pull’ harnesses have their leash attachment on the front – below a dog’s chin.
Now, you might wonder, “How do they work?”
So what happens is, if a dog with a collar pulls their leash, they’re still able to move forward. Which causes them to tug even more.
But, when a dog with a front-clip harness pulls their lead…
They can’t forge ahead. As the harness redirects them immediately to their human’s direction.
#7: It’s an excellent training tool for puppies
Next, the reasons above also make harnesses a great tool for leash training.
These can make pups learn how to walk properly. Because even if they tend to tug, they’ll learn not to do it. As it doesn’t take them anywhere.
Plus, they may not get scared during their first walks.
Because the effects of their pulling aren’t as unpleasant. Compared to when they’re on a collar.
#8: It offers more security
It’s a real nightmare to see your pup escape while you’re walking.
Since collars can pose hazards to our furry friends’ necks, we can’t really tighten them much.
So some puppies are still able to slip out of them.
But, if a harness fits a dog correctly, they might not be capable of escaping. Because it holds most of their body.
“How can I ensure that the harness fits my puppy?”
First, measure around your dog’s rib cage. Or the thickest area of their chest. As well as their neck.
Since puppies grow fast, it’s best to choose the next larger size. So that it’ll not be too tight and cause discomfort.
Most harnesses are adjustable, so you can still adjust the fit.
How will you know if it’s not too tight or too loose on your pup?
While they have a harness on, put 2 of your fingers between the fabric and their skin. If it fits comfortably, it means it’s perfect.
Also, don’t forget to always check the fit. Especially if you have a large growing puppy.
This is to know if they need a bigger one or not.
#9: It can have a ‘calming effect’
You might have heard of anxiety jackets for dogs.
These are vests that you may wrap to highly anxious canines.
“Are they effective?”
One research found that anxiety vests can reduce stress behaviors in dogs. Such as yawning and licking their tongue.
And experts say that it’s due to the pressure it gives.
The jacket seems like it’s ‘hugging’ the dog. It wraps around their chest and back. Which gives them a sense of security.
And a vest harness has a similar design. So it might also help in calming down anxious puppies during walks.
Best puppy harness
There are many kinds of harnesses on the market.
So you might wonder…
“Which type of harness is best for my puppy?”
Let me give you some idea first about the different types:
- Back-clip: Leash attachment is on the top of a dog’s back.
- Front-clip: The leash is attached to the front to reduce pulling.
- Dual-clip: There are leash attachments both on the front and back.
- Head halter: It goes around their head and muzzle. This isn’t to prevent them from barking or biting. It’s only used for easy redirecting.
Not all harnesses are made for the same purpose.
And they also have some advantages and disadvantages. Which are as follows:
|Kind of harness||For dogs who are…||Pros||Cons|
– Small/toy breed.
– Have joint issues, spinal injury, or a collapsed trachea.
– Easy to wear.
– Less strain on the neck.
|– Has little control.|
|Front-clip||– Have leash issues – pulling, jumping.||– Lessens pulling|
– Gives more control.
|– Front limbs can get tangled with the leash.|
– May hinder shoulder movement.
|Dual-clip||– Have moderate to high tugging tendencies.||– Gives you 2 attachment options.||– Costly.|
|Head halter||– Big.|
– Prone to pulling.
|– Redirects their head. |
– Helps them to focus.
|– Can be uncomfortable.|
Things you should look for in a puppy harness
- Soft breathable padding: For your puppy’s comfort and skin.
- Adjustability: So your pup will still be able to fit in it as they grow bigger.
- Durable: Choose a non-chew material (e.g. canvas, rip-stop nylon). Which is safer and cost-efficient.
- Reflective stitching: For safety. So your pup will be easily seen during daytime and nighttime walks.
- Comfortability: Y-strapped harnesses keep the throat and neck free from pressure. Plus, the bands are also away from the armpit. Which prevents limited shoulder movement and chafing.
What are the best puppy harnesses you can buy?
Best rated puppy harness: Rabitgoo Dual-Clip No-Pull Soft Padded Reflective Vest
Best budget puppy harness: Voyager All Weather Mesh Padded Step-In Vest
Best puppy harness for small pups: EcoBark Soft Double Padded Breathable Vest
How to put a harness on a puppy
Now that you’ve bought one for your pooch…
The next challenge is making them wear it.
This can be difficult at first since your puppy will be wary of the harness. As it’s a novel object for them.
So, what do you need to do?
Step #1: Timing is important
Make sure that your puppy isn’t aroused when you first try it on them.
Pet them for a few minutes to calm them down. Or tire them out a bit by playing.
Step #2: Introduce the harness
Once your pup has settled down, start introducing the harness to them.
- Show it to them first.
- Put it on the ground.
- Let them smell it on their own.
- When they do, reward your pup with praises and treats.
- Remove the harness away before they bite it.
- Repeat this 5 or more times.
Step #3: Put it on
If your pup’s doing well, you can try wearing it on them.
This might be a hard task to do alone for the first time. So if possible, ask someone to help you.
And to give you an idea of how to wear the common types of harnesses, here are some key points:
- Place the harness on the floor. Like it’s making 2 triangular holes.
- Get your puppy in a standing position.
- Put each of their legs on the holes.
- Pull the straps over up to the top of their back.
- Fasten the clip.
- Adjust the bands to properly fit your puppy.
- Locate where the neck-chest piece is. Usually, this type of harness forms a ‘Y’ shape. And the top of the ‘Y’ will be this part.
- Next, put it through your pup’s head.
- Buckle if there’s any clip on it.
- Put their legs through the holes.
- Fasten the clip.
- Then adjust to fit.
Dual strap harness
- Look for the neck piece – the smaller hole.
- Slip it over your puppy’s head.
- Put their one leg through the corresponding hole.
- Make sure the other limb is also inside the other hole.
- Buckle the clip on top of their back.
- Adjust appropriately.
To know more, watch this video tutorial:
The puppy here is already conditioned to touch and harnesses. So if it’s your first time, your pooch will likely whine and chew on it.
For this, you need to:
- Wear gloves to protect your hands.
- Talk to your pup in a soft calm voice while putting it on.
- Put the harness on and remove it quickly. Then give them lots of treats.
- Ask someone to hold a treat over your pup’s head for distraction. Say, xylitol-free peanut butter in a spoon. Or a piece of steak or chicken.
Help! My puppy still hates the harness
If your pooch is still bothered by it for days, it might be too small or big. Or it’s not the right kind for their body.
You’ll spot a bad fit if:
- Your puppy can easily slip out of it.
- There’s chafing or hair loss in some areas.
- Their skin bulges out the bands around the shoulders or neck.
- They strongly refuse to walk with it. Or they’re always behind you when you take a stroll.
Note: Ensure that your pup is fully comfortable with the harness. Before you proceed with the leash training. As you don’t want them to associate it with negative experiences.
Because of this, you need to do some training first.
9 tips to harness train your pup
#1: Get them used to its presence
A harness is a new thing for puppies.
So to prevent them from developing a fear, familiarize them with its presence first.
- Let the harness lay on the floor. Or anywhere your pup could see it.
- If they go to or sniff it, offer them a small treat and say some praises.
- Put a small treat on the harness. Wait for your pup to eat it. Then praise.
Note: Leave the harness for a day or more. Do this until your puppy gets used to seeing it.
#2: Desensitize them to touch
A harness wraps around a dog’s body.
So, if your pup is also sensitive to touch, this can make things harder.
“What causes touch sensitivity?”
But, if you recently brought them home from a shop or shelter…
This might be due to a lack of socialization. Or a bad experience.
What to do?
Gently stroke your pup’s body. Especially in areas where the harness will be touching their skin.
But, start on ‘easy’ ones. Like the back of the neck, shoulders, or chest based on vets.
And avoid the top of their head, snout, and ears first. As most canines are uncomfortable with it. (This may vary per dog.)
- First, prepare some treats.
- Put your hand near the part.
- Watch your pup’s reaction.
- Once they flinch, remove your hand. If they don’t, praise and give them a treat.
- Repeat this reward process until your hand gets closer to them.
- If they’re okay with it, proceed to touch them lightly. Then reward.
Now, instead of your hand, do this with the harness.
- Grab the gear and softly touch their skin with it. Do this with the parts that the harness will cover.
- Quickly praise and give them a reward.
- Then remove the harness away.
As you progress, you can try slipping the neck piece over your pup’s head
Or if you have a step-in harness, put their legs through the holes without fastening it.
Repeat this for 5 minutes twice a day. Or thrice if you have more time.
Note: This will help new puppies to get used to handling too. Which is helpful during grooming, bathing, and going to the vet.
#3: Familiarize them with its sounds
The harness’ appearance isn’t the only thing that’s new to your puppy.
It also makes unfamiliar sounds. Same reason why most dogs are afraid of a vacuum cleaner.
As the strange noises may scare your pooch at first.
What to do?
- Slowly fasten and unclasp the harness. (Don’t put it on them yet).
- Just let them hear the clicking sounds it makes so they’ll get used to it.
- Then reward them with every ‘click.’
#4: Use positive reinforcement
Once your pup is fine with being touched. And they seem relaxed around a harness…
You can now try to put it on them.
If your pup wears it without complaining, quickly give them a treat. Then say some praises.
Also, while you’re putting the harness on, reward them every time they’re calm.
This is what positive reinforcement means.
It’s using a pleasant stimulus to encourage a dog’s desirable behavior. With either yummy snacks or phrases like “Yes!” and “Good job!”
And avoiding negative ones. Like scolding and punishments. As these will only cause more anxiety to canines.
Interesting fact: Do you wonder which dogs prefer more between treats and praises? Research found that it’s the latter. As 13 out of 15 dogs appeared to be more motivated with verbal rewards.
Hmm. Does your food-motivated pup seem to disagree with this? 🙂
#5: Teach them to behave with a harness on
Now that you can make your puppy wear their harness…
Start training them to be relaxed before and after putting one.
Does your pup know the basic command ”sit” and “stay”?
If not, teach them how to sit first.
- Show your puppy a treat.
- Stand in front of them.
- Say the cue word “sit.”
- Move your hand above their head.
- Hold it until they raise their snout. And their behind touches the ground – assuming the sitting position.
- Once they sit, reward them immediately.
- Repeat until they master it.
Afterward, train your pup how to stay.
- Make them sit first.
- Say the cue word “stay.”
- Do a ‘stop’ hand signal. Raise one hand with your palm facing your puppy.
- Quickly put your hand away. And reward them before they flinch or move.
- Repeat this at least 5 times.
As you go on, make your pup stay longer and longer. Then reward them if they obey you.
Once they’ve mastered both, you can start the training with the harness.
- Before putting it on, ask your puppy to sit and stay.
- If they obey, reward them.
- Then put the harness on your pup.
- Once it’s on, reward them again.
Note: Repeat this process for days. And slowly cut back the treats so your pup won’t be dependent on them. Until all they need are cue words and verbal praises.
#6: Don’t let them bite it
Puppies will tend to chew on the harness because it’s new. And they want to get out of it.
But after some days, the novelty usually wears off. Especially if paired with consistent harness training.
So for the meantime, you can try these things:
- Keep the harness out of their reach when it’s not in use.
- Use high-value treats or food they don’t usually get. Say, steak or chicken.
- Take the gear off your puppy before they even remember to chew it again.
- After you put the harness on them, quickly toss some treats on the floor. To distract them from chewing.
#7: Make them wear it for a few minutes a day
This is like a ‘dry rehearsal’ for your puppy before they start leash training.
What you’ll do is put them on a harness. And let it on them for at least 5 to 10 minutes per day.
It’ll make their body get used to its sensation.
As well as give you a chance to monitor them longer while they have a harness on. And see if they have some trouble with it.
Note: Don’t leave your pup unattended with a harness on. The straps in it can get caught somewhere which poses a choking hazard.
#8: Practice indoors
If your puppy seems okay with the things above, try attaching a leash to their harness.
Then practice having a walk inside your place.
But to get them moving and excited, what places in the house do they like most?
If it’s the bathroom or kitchen, go there first. So that they’ll be motivated to walk.
Do this for at least 5 to 10 minutes every day. And reward your pooch with a tasty snack and fresh water after.
#9: Don’t rush
Some puppies may get used to a harness after some days. While others might take weeks or even months.
So, have more patience and trust the process. As rushing them can only make things worse.
You got this! 🙂
People also ask:
Are harnesses bad for puppies?
Harnesses aren’t bad for puppies as long as they’re the right kind and fit. In fact, most vets recommend these for small puppies and toy breeds. As harnesses don’t put stress on their necks and they’re more secure.
However, if a harness is too tight or doesn’t suit their body, they can inhibit movements and cause chafing. And also, affect a puppy’s gait.
But, these are easy to avoid.
Ensure that you got the right fit using the pointers above.
And choose a harness without a strap across their shoulder. So that it won’t have a huge impact on your pup’s way of walking.
Then always take it off once they’re done using it.
Should puppies wear harnesses all the time?
Puppies shouldn’t wear harnesses all the time because they can cause physical discomfort. As well as skin irritation. So remove it immediately after walks and training sessions.
First of all, harnesses are hot and uncomfortable. So having wet gear that’s rubbing on their body all day might result in:
- Fur loss.
- Skin infections.
- Debris and dead cells build-up.
Also, the straps could restrict how they move. Which will affect their balance and gait in the long run. While the hardware can cause them pain.
Is it okay for a puppy to sleep with a harness on?
It isn’t okay for a puppy to sleep with a harness on because it’s uncomfortable. And it also poses a hazard – especially for a young dog.
For example, if they sleep in a crate, the strap can get caught in it. Which may result in choking or neck trauma.