Updated November 28, 2020
I see every day how hard it is to find the right way to stop dogs pulling on the leash. There are too many traps and too little good advice.
For these dogs, an appropriate restraint needs to be more than just comfortable and secure; it has to also be effective. So I put the question out to a select group of professional dog trainers.
Not just any group though: you can read about the difference between a good dog trainer and a not-so-good one here.
There’s a list of recommended harnesses below, but that alone isn’t good enough. You’ve got to know how to use them!
Getting That Harness To Work
- The right harness may help on its own, but it will work much better if you start it at the same time as good dog training. That way, your dog is less likely to continue bad habits. Always think of the device as a training aid towards the goal of loose leash walking.
- Let’s not forget that many trainers continue to successfully teach loose leash walking using only collars and leads.
- Front attach harnesses can be difficult to fit well and can cause abrasions especially under the armpits. Follow the fitting instructions with great care but also check the skin regularly.
- It can be better to get your instructor to sell and fit their preferred method – as long as it’s one of the ones listed below!
- Don’t forget that your vet knows a lot more than they are letting on too. Sometimes there’s so much to talk about that it won’t come up unless you ask.
- DO NOT use these products to tether your dog, as a car restraint, or on a long leash. DO buy a short connector to attach them to the collar in case they get slipped.
The Top Restraints To Reduce Pulling
Here’s a list of products used by good dog trainers with their comments:
- SENSE-ible & SENSE-ation Harness: this was the clear favourite among the classic T-shaped front attach harnesses (an example of the style is pictured above). Several trainers stressed that the harness must be fitted properly AND the owner must be trained in how to use it. Of the two, the SENSE-ation has softer straps.
- Black Dog Balance Harness: similar to the SENSE-ation and made using a very soft webbing. From a highly regarded Australian company.
- Freedom No-Pull Harness: this one is different in having a tightening loop over the back as the primary attachment point. The front attachment is used for initial training. It also has a strap that runs between the legs, which allows the side straps to go above the shoulders. Favoured especially for large dogs when regular harnesses aren’t working.
- Blue 9 Balance Harness: has a more conventional 2-loop harness design meaning it doesn’t have to cross the shoulder. This will reduce joint restriction but possibly at the expense of creating neck pressure if poorly fitted (see the picture of correct placement). Comes in an optional buckle neck design useful for dogs anxious about things put over their head, adjustable in 4 places.
- Puppingtons Barney Harness: from a South Australian company popular with several classes for their non-aversive dog training tools.
- Perfect Fit Harness: a three-piece system that is the most popular but also the hardest to buy due to the complex fitting requirements. It’s quite expensive but considered the best fit by those who use it.
UPDATE. Based on the popularity of Perfect Fit harnesses, we now stock and fit them for Adelaide dogs. Click the link to learn more.
All but the first harness have two attachment points back and front for use with a double-ended lead. However, having tried this, I wouldn’t be doing it without expert guidance.
Other ‘No Pull’ Harnesses
There seems to be an endless variety of front attach harnesses. Here are some other products available:
- Gentle Leader Easywalk Harness: I have used one of these successfully on my dog Loki but I know that many trainers don’t like the tightening loop on the front. My only complaint is the way the buckles tend to slip. The video shows how I put it on as a ‘step in’.
- Comfort Stability Training Harness: I have not seen or used it, but it’s sold by the RSPCA.
- Halti Harness: I have tried one of these but found it slipped sideways and gave up.
- Kumalong Front Clip Harness: just another brand in the pet stores.
Products Not Recommended
Some trainers specifically mentioned avoiding the following restraints:
- Conventional Harnesses (the ones that attach on the back): these are fine for car restraint and loose leash walkers but dogs will pull very hard if they want to.
- Any neck restraint (collars, chains etc): again, only good for loose leash walkers but there are also issues with neck damage and increased aggression.
- Sporn Halter That Stops Pulling: this has straps that tighten when the dog pulls- very old-fashioned.
- Head Halters: these are those head-mounted straps that look a bit like muzzles. Hang on- didn’t vets recommend these??
Why Not Head Halters?
In the past, the number one recommendation for a pulling dog was a head collar. You can still buy them from many good companies, including:
- Gentle Leader
- Black Dog Wear
- etc etc
With the appearance of front-attach harnesses, head halters are now much less used. Why?
- Dogs often resist them being put on and rub at them
- They’re easier to slip or pull off
- They only fit long-nosed dogs properly
- They inhibit normal dog behaviour
- They give owners too much control over the head, and the temptation to pull too hard
But there is still a place for head halters. They’re handy for reactive dogs and often require less strength to use. This is especially helpful for big dogs, walking with prams, and elderly or disabled owners.
If control is inadequate despite a harness being used correctly, some trainers will go back to them. I successfully used the original Gentle Leader in a huge and reactive rescue case and would do it again.
Thanks for reading! I’ve put everything I can here. However, if you have been recommended another product, feel free to ask about it in the comments below!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!