Get Your Dog Into A Front-Clip Harness (The Easy Way)

This week we are excited to be participating in Harness The Love, The Academy For Dog Trainers’ educational campaign promoting the use of front-clip style harnesses. Front-clip harnesses are a super easy and effective way to eliminate or reduce pulling when you’re out walking, running or hiking with your dog. The growing trend toward using front-clip harnesses has been a total game changer for both families and shelter volunteers who walk dogs. Our own clients see a huge improvement in their dog's leash manners, allowing folks to enjoy spending time with their pups while out walking. Furthermore, the dogs benefit through increased opportunities for daily exercise and mental stimulation, e.g. sniff time and socializing. All in all, front-clip harnesses are proven to be a safe, easy and effective way to reduce pulling and ensure that both dogs and humans enjoy walking together. 

There are multiple brands and styles of front-clip harnesses on the market nowadays, each with slightly different fits and features. I recommend trying out a few brands before making a final decision. Two harnesses that seem to be the most popular among professional dog trainers are the Sense-ation Harness and the Freedom No-Pull Harness. Both of these are high quality options and I like them because the companies are dedicated to manufacturing pain-free training products. The Freedom Harness can be found on Amazon, and the Sense-ation Harness can be purchased online or locally through Tails In The Valley Dog Training.

Hazel is looking beautiful in her Freedom No-Pull Harness!

Hazel is looking beautiful in her Freedom No-Pull Harness!

I started using the Sense-ation Harness back around 2009 with my own dogs and then later while working with shelter dogs at the Humane Society. Part of my job was to fit newly adoptable dogs with a front-clip harness. This was typically done inside the dog’s kennel which could be quite a challenge depending on the dog’s size, level of pent up energy or fearfulness. Needless to say, I got really good (really fast) at fitting harnesses on 70+lb dogs who were quite literally bouncing off the walls. Other dogs were shy, fearful and ducked away from hands reaching over their heads. In either case, it would have been a personal safety risk and quite stressful for the dog if we were to just grab them, throw the thing over their head and basically bear-hug them to get it clipped while they struggled to get away. The goal was to be able to hold the harness open, have the dog eagerly move forward into it and stand still while it was being clipped on.

I picked up some fantastic tips on how to get dogs of any size or energy level into their harnesses with efficiency and ease. Below you will find my favorite techniques for getting your pup into their front-clip harness whether they are bouncy, shy or somewhere in between! Enjoy! #harnessthelove

Why Struggle?

Use These Easy Steps To Get Your Dog Into Their Harness!

In a quiet place, preferably indoors, show your dog their new harness and let them check it out. You can either hold the harness out like I’m doing in the photo, or just set it on the floor in front of them. After a couple seconds begin a steady flow of treats (5-6 pieces) one after the other. Just before you feed the last treat, put the harness away and out of sight. Do this a few times throughout the day for a couple of days before attempting to put the harness on.

Trainer's Tip: The goal here is to make really good things happen every time your dog sees their harness. We want our dogs to LOVE their harnesses, and this is a simple way to build up a nice positive association. 

Next, with a few treats in one hand and the harness in the other, hold the harness open wide and stick your ‘treat’ hand through to feed. At this point your dog doesn't have to put their head through in order to get the treats, this is just setting them up for the next steps. 

Tip: The leash ring will sit on your dog’s chest and the straps will face them ready to go under their armpits. 

Now get a few more treats and move your ‘treat’ hand a little further back, so that your pup has to move their head further into the harness. Repeat this until your pup’s head is all the way through and the harness is completely over their head.

Tip: Keep the hand that is holding the harness completely still...resist the urge to move the harness over the dog's head as they move toward you. 

Shy Dog Tip: Allow your dog to move their head out of the harness at any point if they want to. Be patient, go slow and make sure you’re using high value treats e.g. chicken breast or roast beef.

Now gently drop the harness on your dog’s back as you continue to feed with your ‘treat’ hand. While your pup is busy snacking, grab another handful of treats - a whole handful this time - and get ready to spill them on the floor in front of your pup.

The goal for this step is to quickly clip the harness while your dog’s head is down collecting the spilled treats. We’re using the spilled treats as an easy way to keep your dog standing still while you reach around and clip the harness. 

Bouncy Dog Tip: Have a spoonful of peanut butter (or wet food) ready and smear the food on the floor. This will keep your wiggly pup busy longer and give you time to clip the harness. 

Almost done! When clipping the harness, be sure to lift the clip away so that your fingers are between the clip and your dog's coat. Pinched skin or a longer coat getting caught is never fun! 

One final thought...

Essentially, we’re teaching dogs to be happy and focused participants in the pre-walk ‘getting ready’ routine. The goal is to be able to hold the harness out and have your dog walk into it and stand still while you clip it. They will figure out pretty quickly that getting into their harness = walkies. You won't have to lure them into it with treats forever, just until they get the routine down. The idea here is that the walk itself becomes the reward for standing still while you put their harness on. 

Training Tip: For family dogs, the harness routine can be a great opportunity to practice good manners around the door. Once your dog’s harness and leash are on, why not ask for a ‘sit’ and ‘wait’ at the door before going out? Most dogs get super excited when it’s time for walkies and this is an easy little training exercise to help them focus on you and set the tone for your walk.


Tips For Fitting Your Front Clip Harness

Fitting your dog's harness for the first time might take a while, and most dogs will get antsy with all the fussing around, so feel free to make the adjustments in stages. I usually eyeball the dog and estimate the harness size before I put it on, then take it off again to make the adjustments. Your Sense-ation harness will also come with a instruction booklet with pictures!

  1. Start by fully loosening the strap that goes under your dog’s ribs. 
  2. Loosen the rest of the straps roughly halfway. This should give you a good starting point. Another option is to start by fully loosening all the straps…your choice!
  3. Put the harness on using the technique described above. Adjust the back strap until the harness is snug around the body and the side rings are positioned on the middle-back of your dog’s shoulders. Tighten or loosen the back strap to raise or lower the side rings.
  4. With your pup in a sitting position take a look at the chest straps. The leash ring should be centered. Carefully adjust both sides evenly until the leash ring is sitting over the center of the breastbone.
  5. Step back and look at your dog from the side while they’re in a standing position. Is the leash ring slightly lower than the side rings? If so, you’ve got a good fit! If not, readjust!