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Why does my dog run from their harness?

It’s that time of day again where you walk the dog. You’re looking forward to a peaceful stroll with your pooch while listening to your favourite podcast. Your dog is excited too as it’s their favourite time of day. However when you pick up their harness they run away! You manage to coax your dog towards you and wrestle to get their legs into the harness, maybe they roll on their back to make it even more difficult. But when you finally get it on and head out for the walk they’re absolutely fine.

I see a lot of dogs who exhibit this behaviour and it often baffles owners. How can they be so worried by a harness but fine once they’re out? Why would they not run towards their harness, the signal for Walkies? Why do they make it so difficult?

There can be many reasons dogs run away from their harness and the first thing we need to consider is could they be in some sort of pain or discomfort when the harness goes on. Ear infections are common in many breeds and the feel of a harness dragging over sore and infected ears could certainly put a dog off going near one. Dogs suffering from hip or elbow displasia or arthritis could find it uncomfortable lifting their legs in and out of a harness or having their limbs wrestled into the leg holes. A skin condition hidden beneath their fur could result in pain when the harness rubs against or over it. Even infected or rotten teeth could have an impact on a dogs tolerance to having a harness go over their face. All of these must be considered before we attempt any sort of training with a dogs avoiding their harness. You can’t out train pain so the first point of call should be to assess your dog and chat to your vet to consider if there are any health concerns paying a part in your dogs behaviour towards their harness.

Next we need to look at some other reasons your dog may not like their harness. If you have a harness that requires the dogs legs to go into holes which then clips around their back I’d be willing to bet you either pick your dog up to put them in it or hold them on the floor and wrestle their legs into it. This could be a fairly unpleasant experience for many dogs but particularly dogs who don’t really enjoy being handled. Consider swapping to a harness that goes over the head or even better a harness that has multiple clips!

The next consideration we need to have with harnesses is the sound of the clips doing up. To us this is a mediocre noise, nothing too dramatic. But to a dog this sound is a lot louder and is usually right by their ears. If your dog can be sound sensitive (again pain should be considered if this is the case) or just generally a little anxious by loud noises this could be really worrying to them. Although we can’t control the sound of the clips doing up we can help our dogs by desensitising them to this noise over time by pairing it with something nice!

But the dogs fine once they have it on? Yes that may well be the case and that’s because it’s often not the harness they dislike it’s the process of having it put on. There is so much training we can do to help dogs accept and even enjoy having their harness put on put it takes time and patience and and a willingness to take that extra bit of time to give their dog some agency with their own body to decide to have something put on them.

If you’re reading this and it sounds like your dog I would implore you to take a step back, look at what might be concerning your dog when it comes to their harness and try and find ways to make it a better experience. I’ve seen dogs run and hide under tables at the sight of their harness, I’ve seen them visibly shake and cower, and I’ve seen them urinate where they stand. A dog should come running towards you when you pick up their walking gear and should willingly volunteer to have it put on. If that’s not the case then there’s a lot you can do change it up.

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