Ever increasing numbers of dog owners stick their dogs into harnesses/no-pull harnesses, mostly in an attempt to stop them pulling on their leash while out walking. This is not a good idea – and sticking a dog that has not been properly trained into one is even worse. Here is why we live by the motto: “Harness, the worst thing we can put on our dogs!”
Why Dogs Pull
Practically every dog, regardless of breed or size, must be trained not to pull on leash, because dogs inherently find pulling an incredibly rewarding activity – and the more they pull, the more they want to do it. The reason dogs find pulling something awesome to do is based in their natural drive.
What is Drive?
There is a good chance that as a dog owner, you will have heard people talking about food drive, toy drive and prey drive. There is also a good chance that on such occasions, you have wondered just what exactly drive is. Basically, drive is an instinctive, internal motivation that serves to fulfil a dog’s hard-wired needs. All dogs have these drives, although amounts can differ between individuals.
There is a great deal of discussion about varying internal motivations that can be labelled as drives, including, for example, the play or pack play drive. The two main drives we mostly talk about (and which have a huge effect in terms of putting harnesses on dogs), however, are the:
- Prey drive, which is what compels dogs to chase & kill their food, and the
- Defensive drive, which is what motivates dogs to protect themselves and how they do this. Essentially, defensive drives can be broken down into two separate categories, namely fight and flight.
Drives are, as contradictory as this may sound, both more complex and simpler than is generally discussed with in pet training circles.
They are simpler in that when we talk about things like toy drive or ball drive, we are basically talking about prey drive, which encompasses all the behaviours associated with a dog killing prey – including the hunt, chase and the actual killing.
Drives are also more complex by far than we usually consider, because they do not come in individual, neatly wrapped packages but interact with one another. Dogs can switch back-and-forth between their prey drive and their defensive drive (which is useful when training dogs for protection work). What’s more, dogs have individual drives at different levels – with different thresholds (the point at which a drive will override everything else) for each. Put together, this means every dog is a very different individual.
While experienced dog trainers can disagree on some finer points, we ultimately all know how to use and work with drives. We all know how to turn them on and off again and how to best work with them to produce the desired results. We also know that restraining a dog is among the best ways to effectively BUILD drive. The more a dog is restrained, the more his drive builds.
Harness, the Worst Thing We Can Put on Our Dogs!
This effect of restrain building drive is basically why putting a dog into a harness to stop him pulling can and will not work – because the restraining effect of these things will only make them pull harder. Giving pulling dogs more power, harnesses can, in fact cause more problems than they solve. Allow me to explain…
Harnesses do have their place and can be very useful at higher training levels and in situations where building drive is a desired effect. If, however, the drive that is building has nowhere to go, problems can ensue. The drive pulling dogs continually build must go somewhere and if no appropriate outlet is available, it eventually gets twisted and starts leaking out in all kinds of unwanted ways.
To explain this, we must remember how dogs think – namely by association. Bowl means eat, leash means walk, ball means playing fetch and running, etc. So what associations do dogs make when they are pulling & building drive?
The scenario goes something like this: you have a dog that pulls. While he’s looking around, he’s building up his drive to pressure cooker proportions, but he has no way of releasing his drive’s ‘pressure’. He cannot run it out, he cannot chase a stick or even furiously dig holes (all of which are, by the way, among the many things dogs – who are naturally good at “transmuting” their energy – do to use up excess energy).
So, what happens? Your dog starts associating different things with how he feels. We don’t know what these associations will be and much of this depends on each individual dog. Your dog could be all hyped up and then get startled by a wheelie bin. Bang, you have an association. He may associate bikes or buses with frustration or start making such associations with people or (and this is very common) other dogs.
Once your dog has made these associations, you will see a variety of reactions – depending on your dog and his drive levels and thresholds – whenever he sees whatever his associated trigger is. These reactions can include anything from barking or lunging to snapping, or biting—and because finally getting that much-needed release feels so wonderful, this behaviour then becomes its very own conditioned loop. Before you know it, you are dealing with behaviour problems.
This phenomenon has become a very common, serious issue – a fact that is made clear by the sheer numbers of different labels assigned to it: leash aggression, leash frustration, leash reactivity, frustrated greeters, and so on. Whatever you choose to call it, it is a problem that will only get worse unless the situation is taken under control – and the best way to take the situation under control is to take the dog out of the harness, put him on a leash and use basic obedience training in combination with gentle correction via leash pressure (which is something that cannot be done with a harness) to modify his behaviour.
Expert Help & Advice
Has your dog been pulling for years? Has putting him into a harness made him leash reactive? Contact me online or call me on 07776761289 today to get more detailed information, professional advice and assistance in modifying your dog’s behaviour.