top of page

Harnesses and Pulling

If I had a dollar for every time someone came to me telling their dog pulls and they have a harness on the dog....

Yes. Your dog is going to pull with a harness. Mind BLOWN!

Harnesses are designed for pulling. Dogs have what we call an "opposition reflex" which means, you put pressure on their chest, their instinct is to push against it. So yes. If you have a harness your dog is going to pull. There are very rare cases where the dog doesn't like the feel of the harness and won't pull, but those are rare and far between.

Harnesses are recommend for sledding, skijoring, tracking, and protection work because you WANT your dog to drive away from you and be engaged in the environment. I do not recommend them for the average every day dog owner for so many reasons.

Harnesses give you absolutely no control. If you have a large, strong dog, you will fail every time on a harness. You are putting your "training tool" on the strongest part of a dog's body and essentially telling the dog to pull away from you. Pair that with a retractable leash (Another story for another day why I don't recommend those,) and you will fail every time.

If your dog has any sort of reactivity or aggression, it will absolutely make it worse. A dog feels safe knowing that it's human is advocating for it. When you force your dog to be out front of you while walking, you are forcing them to make decisions for your pack and they feel like they need to be the protector. They feel FORCED to make decisions. The force free community is going to love that I used that word.

I started out as a "Force Free/Pure Positive" Trainer. It's an absolute lie to make people feel better. When your training ideology starts interfering with the safety of humans, it's time to start re-evaluating whether it's the right plan of action.

My whole view on this changed when the trainer I was working with at a major pet retailer was working with a 150 lb Saint Bernard whose owner was probably 90 lbs. The dog had an Easy Walk Harness (A popular front attaching "no pull" harness) on. The owner had a leash slung across her body. The dog was trying to bolt out the door to go back to his car. The trainer was telling the owner to "Throw your weight against your dog." What weight???? She had NOTHING on this dog! This person ended up having to rehome her dog because she couldn't control it and he drug her to the ground many times. She rehomed her dog because this major pet retail store FAILED their client. There are other options out there. I would argue they are more humane because it enables a small person to safely control their giant breed dog. If your dog has EVER drug you to the ground with a harness on, it's time to re evaluate your training style.

I watched this major pet retail trainer recommend back attaching harnesses for puppies, then when the puppy learned to pull so hard they couldn't be controlled, they would recommend the Easy Walk Harness. Then the puppy would still pull. They thus created the need for the trainer and people would keep spending money with them. Teach your puppy not to pull. It's that simple.

No pull harnesses are a joke. Not only do dogs still pull, but they still give you no control. My thing is that I've owned dogs in the past that were snappy with other dogs. If I have my dog on a harness, I have no control of their face. If they go to lunge and snap at another dog or a human, you have absolutely no control. I've had people come to me for consultations with their dog on a harness, their dog goes to lunge at me to bite me, and they almost get pulled over. They get offended when I tell them to switch up their training tools.

***(Notice the difference in the bone development structure of these two Dalmatians. Just another reason not to use the front clip harnesses.)***

I can teach a dog to walk nicely on a leash in a matter of minutes using a slip collar or a prong collar. I am not opposed to harnesses once your dog is trained. I would argue that the prong collar or slip collar is more gentle than the harness - when you teach the dog how to respond to the pressure and release.

See the leash should not be forcing your dog to stay attached to you (Another reason why "Force Free" is a lie), it is a communication tool. Similar to riding a horse. Horses are trained with pressure and release of pressure. Dogs can be too. The give and release of pressure is SO important. I'll give an example.

I worked with a rescue back in Nebraska. They had a little female Pit Bull that was supposedly so dog aggressive that they were about ready to euthanize her. The board wanted me to come and evaluate her. I took her out in the yard and had a volunteer take another dog into the adjoining yard with a calmer old dog from the shelter.

She was like a little firecracker fence fighting with all the dogs on the way out of the shelter. The volunteer had the leash wrapped around her hand and held as tight as could be because she was afraid of this dog and how she would be. I took the leash out in the yard. When the dog pulled away from me, I brought her back into my space and relaxed the leash. I did this about 10 times. This was her gut reaction and instinct (remember opposition reflex?). The second she realized she could relax, she sat at my feet and started curiously sniffing the air at this other dog. She wasn't aggressive. Between mixed signals on the leash (tension on the leash = tension in the dog) and the toxic shelter environment, she was labeled as an aggressive dog. I would have loved to foster this little lady. She was so sweet to people. Once she relaxed, I rubbed her chest and she just melted. A truly aggressive dog would have kept trying to go after the other dog and not been able to get out of the "Red Zone." This was a learned behavior - most likely from using a harness and allowing her to rush into dogs spaces and "greet them." This beautiful little lady was failed by the pure positive community. It really breaks my heart. So many good dogs are euthanized because people refuse to think outside of their tiny box and learn other tools to help dogs live their best lives.

I believe in treating dogs with kindness and respect. I believe in helping owners and their dogs live their best lives. Dogs don't lie. I post videos of dogs wearing prong collars and e-collars and slip collars all the time on Facebook. They always look happy and engaged - which is how these tools can help! Don't be afraid to try something that may help your dog live their best life. If you can't walk your dog because they are too strong, there is help out there. If you can't walk your dog because you are scared of their reaction, there is help out there!

We are at a tipping point in our society. So many dogs are failed by this pure positive community. Don't get me wrong, it has value, and a lot of what I teach is positive reinforcement. BUT dogs tell each other "No" all the time. My cat tells my dogs No. They get it. They respect her! Without "No" you have a dog that has no respect. You have a dog that will keep jumping on you, that will keep lunging at other dogs, that will keep dragging you down the street. The loving and kind thing is to tell your dogs no - in a way that is respectful and meaningful to the dog. They learn more quickly and you won't be struggling for months and years to control your dog.

I found my way by having an open mind. I was open to learning. I knew that something was missing from the pure positive realm. I knew that dogs needed more than yes and ignoring bad behavior. I'm so glad that I landed where I am. It has been a journey getting here. If you have questions, ask. I'm always happy to help.

I offer free consultation sessions at my home and free video chat consultations.

Johanna Kumm

Follow Me K9 Training

1,265 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page