Front-Clip Harnesses

There are many training tools that help people get better control with their pulling dogs. One that we have recommended to hundreds of our clients is the front-clip harness. Their feedback has predominantly been good.

We find that these harnesses are minimally aversive (i.e. unpleasant) for most dogs. While they don’t provide as much control (turning power) as a head halter, most dogs are able to get used to them much faster than head halters, which makes them a great training tool.

How they work
The purpose of a front clip harness is to provide you with extra control over your dog by making turning their body away from something easier to do. When your dog pulls towards something, the front leash attachment point causes them to pivot around their chest toward you.

Different Styles
There are a number of different styles of front-clip harnesses available now. We prefer to purchase these from our local pet stores, but many of the “Big Chain” stores carry them as well. Here are a few of the available styles and some of their characteristics:

Freedom harness being modeled on a boxer

Freedom Harness

Freedom Harness

  • The Freedom Harness features a back and front attachment point (some believe that this helps to better control the dog)
  • One of our favorite features is the felt-covered strap material around the armpits that protects your dog’s skin
  • Back attachment is a “martingale” style (limited-slip) point
  • Some models include a double-ended leash to attach to the top and front, though these may need to be purchased seperately
  • Fit on these may be a little looser during non-pulling times, increasing comfort, and snugger during pulling to help turning
  • Comes in a HUGE variety of colors
  • Includes a special “chewing warranty” against damage (you pay only shipping)
Sensible harness on a beagle

Sensible Harness

Sensible Harness

  • The original front-clip style harness by Soft Touch Concepts
  • Features a single attachment point in the front with a vertical (flat to the chest) O-ring style attachment point
  • Colors are limited (black, blue, red)

 

 

 

Wonder Walker harness

Wonder Walker

Wonder Walker

  • The Wonder Walker is produced in Seattle, Washington (we like local-ish products) and are available at a number of smaller pet boutiques here in Portland
  • These come in a wide variety of colors
  • While these are similar in most respects to the Sensible harness, the side attachments for the straps are shaped as a triangle. This may have been done to help minimize the chest strap downward slipping that sometimes takes place.

Expensive Chew Toy
Don’t leave your dog alone an unsupervised with the harness on! We have gotten reports from a number of our clients (and have witnessed a few incidents) where a dog will work their mouth into a position where they can chew at the chest strap. This can destroy the harness and  make for an expensive chew toy. If you think this might be likely, consider purchasing the Freedom harness which features the “chewing warranty” for a small replacement cost.

Fitting Tips and Helpful Alterations
For some dogs, particularly the short-armpit-to-elbow-length dogs, fitting to prevent slipping out of the harness can sometimes be challenging. Fitting the harness so that the chest strap sits higher on the chest usually makes the fit better. It may also reduce the likelihood of slipping out of the harness for these types of dogs.

In some cases finding this better fit can be achieved (due to differences in the length of the top and bottom straps in some models) by flipping the harness upside down, and placing the belly strap on the top instead of the bottom, contrary to the harness instructions.

Some thin-skinned, short-furred, or sensitive dogs can benefit by retrofitting polar-fleece coverings on the straps to prevent chafing from taking place. This irritation can occur particularly in the armpit areas. You can alternately use the Freedom Harness with its built-in felt coverings on the straps.

If you are afraid that your dog might back out of the harness and escape, attach the leash clip to both the chest loop and your dog’s regular collar. This makes it harder for your dog to pull a Houdini but may decrease the amount of control that the harness gives you.

Tips to Introduce the Harness
When you start using the harness to walk your dog, they may need a little time to adjust to the new leash attachment point and to how it re-directs their motion. Take your time in guiding your dog to gently turn towards you and get rewarded for doing so.

Try to not rely on the harness to turn your dog, instead see if you can use your voice (and treats if necessary) to guide their motion. Take a class to learn how to teach your dog leash-walking skills so that the harness is only there as an “emergency back-up plan” rather than the primary means of stopping pulling.

Get out there and enjoy your dog!  :-)

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About Scott Raymond, MS, CPDT-KA

Scott has been helping dogs and their families with training classes and private consults since 2000. He is the co-founder and senior trainer of Synergy Behavior Solutions. Scott has attended numerous seminars and conferences on dog behavior and training issues and achieved the status of Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) in 2004. He has titled dogs in tracking and competition obedience and is a Canine Good Citizen evaluator. Scott and his dog Sita participated in the Dove Lewis (now Delta Society) Read to the Dogs program for over two years, helping children become more confident readers. Together with his three fur-kids (Roo, Misha and Jazz) Scott helps people find solutions to dog training challenges.
This entry was posted in Blog Article, Tools of the Trade and tagged front-clip harnesses, training equipment, walk-nice equipment. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Front-Clip Harnesses

  1. Hi Scott,
    I just read your article about dog harnesses, and since it was written last August, I wanted to know if you’ve come across any other harnesses that you might like before I make my decision on what to get for a very large, 1 year old Golden Retriever that is amazingly strong. Granted, he hasn’t had any obedience training. He’s my grandaughter’s dog and her parents both work. They said they wanted to take him to Petsmart for some dog training classes, which would be a good idea, but it hasn’t happened yet. My husband and I watch the dog a lot and we enjoy him so much, but he does need some training. I can almost not control him when we are walking. I have always had dogs and I still have 3. I just don’t have the time to work with one more animal! I have a horse for my grandaughter that needs my attention now, along with chickens too. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done. I’m sure we all feel that way! Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Scott Raymond, MS, CPDT-KA says:

      Hi Linda – Thanks for writing

      My personal opinion is that all of the front-clip harnesses will provide more control and safety than using a flat (buckle) collar. My personal preference (of the harnesses) is the Freedom style harness. I find that the Freedom harness tends to stay better centered on the chest and requires less periodic readjustment to keep it working properly for maintaining control over your dog.

      Another option that I often recommend to our clients with larger (or more powerful) dogs is the head-halter. With gradual and positive introduction, this walking tool provides even greater safety and turning control over your dog on walks. My aim is always to teach the dog to put their head-halter on themselves and avoid making it into a negative experience.

      Hope this helps! :-)

  2. Claire says:

    Hi,

    You mentioned having seen dogs who have gotten their mouths onto the chest strap when left alone with their harness. Our dog (7 1/2 month old boxer cross) does this while out on the walk, and continually does it. We try distracting her with food, correcting her with commands etc, but nothing seems to work. We have been using the harness with her for a few months now, and she still hasn’t gotten used to it!
    Do you have any tips for stopping this behaviour? We are considering getting a water pistol to give her a quick squirt when she does it….?

    Looking forward to hearing your opinion and any suggestions!

    Thanks,
    Claire

    • Scott Raymond, MS, CPDT-KA says:

      Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the questions. It is hard to say absolutely why dogs chew on the harness straps, but here are a few ideas and possible solutions…

      One reason could be that due to fit, the harness is too loose and easily accessible to their mouth. Fitting the harness to fit more snugly, and ideally higher up on the chest (above the “chest bump and slightly below the neck) can help to position it where it is less tempting.

      Another reason could be that the harness has been introduced too quickly and/or with too little positive feedback. Introducing it gradually, with rewards happening while putting it on and while taking it off, and also while walking (when they aren’t fussing) will help to guide behavior in the right direction.

      Some harnesses may sit in a position that causes some discomfort, particularly for dogs with short or nonexistent hair in the arm pits. The Freedom harness, with its velvet strap or adding a covering (like polar fleece) around the strap may help make it more wearable for the dog.

      On another subject, I would recommend against the use of the squirt bottle. There are many possible undesirable side-effects that can result from the use of aversives like that, including developing fears and reactivity as a few examples. It is always preferable to find ways to reward the appropriate behaviors, rather than punishing the inappropriate ones. :-)

      Hope these ideas help!

  3. Hi,

    I like the information on the Freedom Harness…a couple of things though..I have chronic pain…I have 2 dogs…A Shih Tzu and a Maltipom mix…one is 14 lbs and the other is 20lbs.. I have did 2 training courses…but they were older dogs when I did them….they were …Shih Tzu..Between 1 and 2 1/2 years…Maltipom…between 5 and 6 years…just kept putting it of….disgusted with myself for not doing it when they were a few months old…my questioning how do I manage to walk 2 dogs with the Freedom Harness. I fund it hard now sometimes just putting their leash on. Is there another type harness that I could put 2 of them in, or would this be harder on me because of my medical condition. I look forward to your help.

    Thanks You,
    Anne Marie Kavanagh.

    • Scott Raymond, MS, CPDT-KA says:

      Hi Anne,

      If I understand your questions correctly, you’d like to know what I would recommend for two smaller dogs (14 lbs and 20 lbs) who are pulling on leash. Since their combined pulling weight is around 34 lbs. Under normal circumstances this might not be excessive, but since you are experiencing chronic pain it might be advisable to have at least your larger dog in a head-halter to give you better control. Bear in mind that introducing a head-halter can take more time to introduce gradually (since they often aren’t as readily tolerated as front-clip harnesses) but the time is time well spent.

      If the pain is in your hands, using a waist leash might also be an option (for a smaller dog…or dogs) as the pressure will be taken out of your hands and you will have the weight advantage, applied straight downwards through your feet. It is good to experiment with the waist option inside the house (and with caution) to see how well you keep your balance while walking around with the dogs. I have found waist leashes to be very effective for myself with dogs up to 50 lbs, but results will vary.

      There are a few other things that you mentioned that bring up other questions. If your dog isn’t tolerating having a leash attached, by all means train them (using treats) to learn to stay still while their walking equipment is being attached. The same applies to any harnesses or head-halters that you may use. It doesn’t have to be a struggle and a good rewards-based trainer should be able to help you. I also wanted to mention that I like to think of the harness or head-halter as a means to give you extra control, but it should not be a substitute for learning how to train your dog about the benefits (rewards) of staying close to you. :-)

      Hope this helps!

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