When I first started working in shelters as an adoption counselor, long before I was teaching, our standard advice was that small dogs should be walked on harnesses to protect them from trachea damage, and that large energetic dogs should be walked on “no-pull” harnesses to help their owners manage pulling.
I carried that advice with me when I started training, but over time, I have gradually expanded my recommendations in favor of harnesses. I now recommend them for nearly all dogs, but especially energetic dogs, reactive dogs, and dogs that are strong enough to pull the people that walk them in directions those people don’t want to go.
I mentioned above that “no-pull” harnesses manage pulling, and I think it is important to emphasize the difference between stopping and managing a behavior. Managing a behavior is like putting the trash into a cabinet: the dog can’t reach the trash, but he doesn’t learn anything about not going through trash that’s available.
“No pull” harnesses are the same; they will discourage pulling, and generally reduce the strength of the pulling, but they won’t teach the dog not to pull, making the “no pull” designation a bit misleading. Additional loose leash walking training is highly recommended.
These harnesses work by reducing the strength the dog can put behind pulling. Where traditional harnesses allow the dog to put the full power of her shoulders into pulling, like a sleddog, no pull harnesses don’t. In contrast to most traditional harnesses, many “no-pull” harnesses buckle in the front, which means that, in addition to reducing the strength with which the dog pulls, they also turn the dog back towards the person, for a little added extra help.
There are several brands of these harnesses available, of which the most readily available at this time are the Sensation, Easy Walk by Gentle Leader, and the Freedom. The Freedom Harness has both a front and back buckle, of which the front provides more management assistance, although they can be used together with a double-ended leash, for extra assistance in tight spaces.
The best harness for your dog will depend on his build. Since most are front buckling, I often recommend buckling the leash to both the harness and collar, assuming this will not be too tight. This often works best with a martingale collar. The double buckle technique prevents the chest strap of the harness from slipping down and hitting the dog’s legs, or even slipping off some dogs with narrow chests or lanky builds.
Have a nice walk!