How To Get Your Dog To Love Their New Harness:
One Paw At A Time.
You’ve just purchased a new step-in harness for your dog. You did the research, clicked the item, paid, and waited for the harness to arrive. The Harness is here! You unwrap the harness and pull it out, ready for your first walk with your pup in their new gear. When the harness comes out, your dog does something unexpected: He literally runs and hides from the harness. Now what?
What Can You Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Like His Harness?
The first time I whipped out Alatar’s new harness, the pup literally ran up onto the bed and hid behind the pillows. Some pups are just a tough sell. Bulldog strong. Headstrong (insert eye roll mixed with a winced smile of patient understanding).
These days I've learned a simple process to not only get my Frenchie loving his harnesses - but to help your dog, too.
Step 1 - Introduce Your Dog To Their NEW Step-In Harness.
Begin by taking the harness down from its hook or place of storage. Place it flat on the ground, face down as if you were going to have your pup step into it. Sit on the floor in front of the harness. When your pup comes over willingly, praise your dog extensively for any interest he shows in the harness. Make happy noises and praises of encouragement to positively reinforce that the harness is “our friend”. Observe your dog's response. After a few minutes, put the harness away. Let your dog rest for 20 minutes or so.
Step 2 - Bring The Harness Back Down and Encourage Your Dog to Investigate.
If your dog seemed fine with the harness on the floor the first time, you can touch the harness a bit this round and pick it up slightly. We want to gradually show them that the harness is, again, “our friend” and that it is the key to outside freedom + outings.
(Besides you just shelled out good money for this new stylish harness and they ARE GOING TO WEAR IT one way or the other.)
If your pup continues to show curiosity and interest in this new contraption, that’s great! Praise your pup for any interest in the harness. After about 20 minutes with the harness down, put the harness away again and let your dog rest for another 20 minutes. Don’t make eye contact during this time.
Allure is the element of surprise.
Step 3 - Show Your Dog The Harness Is Our Friend.
If your pup is uninterested or frightened by the harness, be careful not to shove the harness directly towards your dog, as this can be seen as threatening. Try to awaken your dog's predatory instincts by sitting down on the floor and dragging the harness across the floor away from your dog in a playful manner. Continue for a few minutes, then take a break. Repeat. If this game is successful and your dog becomes comfortable around the harness, continue to the next step. Observe your dog's reaction at every step — any sign of fear and you should back up a step. Try incorporating “baby-talk” to the process as encouragement.
"Research shows that dogs respond best to high-pitched sounds, baby-talk, and squeals of positive emotions. Use those squeals as reinforcement. Don't feel silly--nobody’s filming!"
(A 2018 study was conducted at the University of York via https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43315466)
Step 4 – Progress: Rewarding Your Pup.
Nothing creates positive results like a tasty treat for a job well done. You will want to reinforce any interest that your dog shows towards the new harness with a treat. Remember that the treat is used to reinforce any curiosity an apprehensive pup shows towards the new harness. If your dog does not show any resistance to his new, stylish harness, a treat may not be needed. Focus on rewarding your pup only when they come close and sit or sniff at the harness. And we don’t want to over-treat…just reward them enough to keep them interested.
- If your dog begins to get so frustrated that he whines, barks or stops trying, put the harness away and try again later and/or back up a step.
- Do not reward them with a treat if this behavior occurs as it reinforces negative responses to the harness.
Step 5 - Stepping Into The Harness.
At this step in the process, your pup should be familiar enough with the harness that he isn’t alarmed by it anymore. Hopefully he will have become curious about what this strange new thing is that you keep pulling down and putting away...even if they are observing from afar, underneath the protective layer of bed pillows, like my Frenchie, Alatar.
With the harness flat on the floor, positioned so your pup can step into it, use gentle commands like, “Give Me One Paw”, while gently lifting the backside of one of their front paws off the floor and sliding the opening of the harness onto that leg. Repeat on the other side saying, “And Now the Other Paw” until both legs are in the harness. If all goes smoothly, you can latch the closure, attach the leash, and head out for your walk.
- If your dog successfully steps into the harness at any point of this process, be sure to give it LOTSof praise and/or TREATS. Don’t forget to toss in a High Paw! Crushed it.
- If your dog does not successfully step into the harness, simply back up to Step 3 and try again with a different type of treat. Try using a SUPER-SPECIAL kind of treat. My Frenchies, Magnus + Alatar, LOVE raw broccoli and blueberries so I use these as special rewards for good behaviors.
- If you successfully get your dog into the harness and he is alarmed by wearing it or just seems uncomfortable, then try this: Once your dog is in the harness, let him wear it for 5-10 minutes, go about your normal activities, take it off for another 5-10 minutes, and put it back on again starting from Step 3.
Step 6 – Practice + Repeat.
Keep up this practice until your dog comes over to his harness without the need of a reward other than praise. I suggest creating or adopting GENTLE + PRAISING commands like “Give Me One Paw” and “And Now the Other Paw” when getting him in his harness, followed by praises like “GOOD BOY! / GIRL!” or “YAY! You Did It!” each time your pup rocks this routine. Positive reinforcement pays off.
Repeat These Steps As Needed. And remember, this is a process with many pups.
Getting your dog accustomed to putting on his harness can take a little time. If your pup still hesitates or runs when you bring out the harness, repeat this process until your dog becomes a PRO.
(Steps 3 to 6).
If it is still taking more than a few tries to get your dog comfortable with the process, that’s ok too. Remember, that with practice, he will get better at it. You may also want to leave your dog in his harness when you get back home after your walks. This will help him become more accustomed to wearing the harness for longer periods of time.
Once inside your home, simply remove the leash - so you don’t trip over it by accident! - and go about your regular activities. Try leaving your dog in his harness for up to 30 minutes after the walk to start. You can increase the time as you choose. If your dog curls up and falls asleep while in the harness, then your dog will be a Harness-Wearing-Pup-PRO in no time at all.
Alatar still likes to hide from his harness but he is more and more willing to “allow” me to put it on him these days. He hasn’t quite graduated to bouncing over to his harness and sticking a paw up immediately like Magnus does, but he’ll get there.
Sharing is Caring!
Do you have any funny scenarios of how your dog hides from his harness and/or leash? We’d love to hear! OR BETTER! See PHOTOS! Share them with us by posting them on our FB Page: www.facebook.com/magnuscanisco.
And if you are looking for a New, Stylish Step-In Harness for your dog, then you can check out our latest collection of harnesses and other dog goodies at www.magnuscanisco.com or find us on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/magnuscanisco.