Conventionally, dogs wear collars. Why does your Labrador puppy need any other equipment? In this article we are going to look at why your Labrador puppy needs a harness. And how this piece of equipment differs in it’s use.
A dog’s neck is different, right?
When I first got a dog, I assumed that dog necks must be different to human necks. I figured that must be why dogs could wear collars, but the idea of having something around my own throat sounded so unbearable.
In fact, dogs and humans have very similar anatomy in their necks. They have thyroid glands, lymph nodes, the trachea, the oesophagus and of course, the spinal cord – along with a host of other veins and arteries. A collar around your Labrador’s neck, compresses all of that. Just the same as it would, for a human. And there’s no reason to believe it causes your Labrador any less discomfort, than it would cause a human.
There is some research which suggests that eye-pressure increases in dogs wearing collars, when they pull. Eye pressure does not increase in dogs wearing harnesses. And clearly a harness means that no pressure is put on your dog’s neck and no anatomy is compressed.
Harnesses allow your puppy easier breathing
One thing you’ve probably noticed, is that your Labrador puppy struggles to breathe with something tight, around her neck. You might have noticed the collar almost cutting into her throat, as she pulls into it. Dogs’ throats can even look bisected, sometimes! Perhaps your Labrador puppy stands up on her back legs, when she wants to greet another puppy – bearing her full weight on her throat. She might cough afterwards.
When puppies used to wear collars to my training classes, I would often see them waiting for class, rearing on their back legs to reach other puppies. You want your Labrador puppy to calm down, perhaps to sit and greet a person, or at least stop pulling. Doing all of that, involves thought, for a dog. And a dog can’t think properly if they are gasping for air. Their brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. (If you’d like to try an experiment: Tell a well-trusted family member to choke you whilst asking you basic arithmetic…!)
So, we need to put your Labrador puppy into a frame of mind where they are able to think about how to earn your rewards. A harness means that your Labrador puppy is restrained, but also able to concentrate and problem-solve.
Isn’t loose-lead walking all about training?
Yes and no. The permanent and most effective solution to pulling on the lead, is training – regardless of whatever device or piece of equipment you use. But your Labrador puppy isn’t going to be trained to walk on a loose-lead overnight. Loose-lead training can be an ongoing process. Some Labradors have higher energy levels than others, and these might be especially challenging (and rewarding!) to train.
You should not feel like a failure or give up, if you are finding it difficult. Instead, get in touch with a force-free trainer who will be able to help you. During the time you are training your Labrador puppy to walk beside you, and even once you have trained your Labrador to walk on a loose-lead most of the time, sometimes you are going to come across things which interest her. It could be some food which someone has dropped in the street. Or another dog she wants to greet. Or a cat which runs out in front of you.
It is almost impossible to imagine a Labrador – even a well-trained and responsive Labrador – which is healthy and which never attempts to reach something, when on the lead! And at those times, the leash is going to go tight. And all these points, will come into play.
So: Yes, the solution is training. But: Even excellent training doesn’t mean the lead will never go tight. So we need to choose a piece of equipment which is the most humane and which can help our training, under those circumstances.
Problems caused by a Labrador’s strength and power
Many Labradors are large, powerful and strong dogs. When pulling towards something on a collar, they can easily tow you a few steps behind them. There are safety issues, here, as they could tow you into a road. But also the few steps they managed to pull you, will reward the pulling a good deal. They got closer to what they wanted, by pulling. Pulling worked. And so they will continue trying to pull, next time they see something they want.
So, we need to reduce their power so we can stop even a large, strong dog, immediately. Does a harness reduce their power in this way? Not all harnesses…
Many years ago, I first tried a harness on one of my dogs. Like all harnesses around at that time, that harness attached on my dog’s spine or back only.
I found that this harness gave her much more power. If she suddenly lunged, she could tow me more with a harness than she could with a collar! With the back-attaching harness, when the lead was tight (because there was something in front of her which she found interesting), her face and neck was orientated away from me and was at a distance from me.
I found it difficult to get her attention, using treats or my voice, because that front part of her body was so far away and I was behind her. I couldn’t reach her, especially when something especially captivating was in front of us.
The back-attaching harnesses I saw others using also gave them no control over that front part of the dog’s body. I saw dogs jumping up on their back legs and flailing their front legs around.
So, the back-attaching harness solved all of the physical health concerns which collars had held, for me. My dog was no longer choking herself on the odd occasion she wanted to reach something. For the owners of small or toy breeds, the back-attaching harness seemed perfect. But it was not viable for me, because of the decreased control I had over large and strong dogs and the difficulties in training which this caused. I was very sad about this, because I disliked the idea of putting something around my dog’s neck. But at the time there was nothing else available, so I reluctantly returned to a flat collar.
Fast-forward many years, and I began to hear about a different sort of harness available in the US. This harness only had a connection point on the front, on the dog’s chest – under the chin. At the time, there were only two brands of front-attaching harness available. Now there are many different brands, and I hope to review them for you in another article.
The front-attaching harness solved all the control and feeling-in-connection problems experienced with the back-attaching harnesses. I began to recommend these harnesses to clients attending my training classes. I stopped seeing dogs choking themselves, and my clients had much more control than with a collar. (And when I say they had ‘much more control’ – I mean that most large and strong dogs couldn’t tow their owners even a step or two!)
Front and Back Attaching Harness
There are now some great harnesses available with attachments at both the front and back. You can take a look at our favourites in this article.
Your Puppy Needs A Harness
I hope this article has explained why it would be a good idea to consider a harness for your labrador puppy, and specifically a front-attaching harness. A harness is the most humane option, for your dog. And a front-attaching harness will give you even more control than a collar. Fortunately there are now many different brands on the market.
Check out our extensive harness reviews in this article.
More information on puppies
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My puppy 9 wk old what age should I use a harness from
the article and comments all very interesting. We started to use the harness front coupling and ‘OscarWilde’ is making good progress (5 months old and 22kg) we live in Sweden and recently met a breeder who stated she wouldn’t let her pups go to a home if she knew they would use a harness as she feels they restrict the weight distribution and can effect joint development and she says she “just trains the dog not to pull” ! I have seen some (one) supporting research document suggesting unbalanced weight and potential joint issues with harnesses but perhaps this would refer to constant use. We like the result with the harness just don’t want to cause additional problems….any thoughts or updates here?
>we live in Sweden and recently met a breeder who stated she wouldn’t let her pups go to a home if she knew they would use a harness as she feels they restrict the weight distribution and can effect joint development
Well for one, that’s completely absurd. And for two, she “feels” that they restrict weight distribution and effect joint development?
It’s just crazy, a harness is so obviously better than a collar in pretty much every way, and still there’s someone out there who will claim that it’s somehow bad. Why would a harness be bad on joints? It makes no sense…
The first thing I bought Luna was a harness and what the guy in the store referred to as a “Police lead”. Best purchase ever. However, I was using it wrong.
I attached it at the back and she pulled so I got a slip lead but she pulled even more and it was clearly uncomfortable.
I switched back to the harness and notices that there was an additional D ring on the chest and also at the front of the harness on top.
I attached one end of the lead to the chest ring and the other to the back D ring on top and hey presto.
Now don’t misunderstand me, she still pulls and even at 10 months old I have my work cut out when she absolutely must catch that cat or chase that dog but with that lead attached at the front I get an immediate jerk on the lead that I can react to and with the other end attached to the back of the harness I get additional control and she responds.
most times now i use the two top D rings and she’s quite good but I’ll be spending some time on long lead training with her over the coming weeks to help her focus.
Also, the harness had one unexpected bonus. She fell off a wall the other day, a high one, and I managed to get a finger or two on the harnesss. Not enough to hold her but enough to correct her position for the fall and although she was quite visibly shaken the vet confirmed no breaks and I’m happy to report she’s in great spirits.
If she’d have had the slip lead on she’d probably be dead or at best have ended up with a pair of broken hind legs or a bad spinal injury, simple.
What brand do you use? I am in the US and have a 6 month old male yellow lab. He’s very “active” and I am willing to try a harness as his nylon “choke” collar doesn’t stop him from pulling me down the road! Where does the leash attach to the harness. Not clear from the photo at the beginning of this article.
The leash attaches to a D ring on the chest Sandy. There is a review of the top three harnesses here – https://www.thelabradorsite.com/top-three-harnesses-for-labrador-retrievers/
I’ve been using a front-attaching harness for two years now. I wish I’d known about them from the beginning. Our Lab is now 3.5 years old and, as a puppy, he had so much power that he could — as you say — tow me along. I had absolutely no control with a collar. The dog school insisted on a head harness, which he hated and which caused him great anxiety — with the result we didn’t really progress at dog school because he focussed solely on rubbing his face on the ground or between my legs to get the harness off his face. The next class insisted he wear a choke collar. I am so upset I followed their advice, but I was a novice dog handler. Thankfully we found a force-free school that insisted on the front-attaching harness, and we never looked back! It became a joy to walk him on a lead, and over time he has learned to walk on a loose lead.
I am so glad to learn of this type of harness. I bought one for my 8 month old lab and the pulling has all but stopped with no struggle for either of us! Now our walks every day are something we both truly enjoy and not a frustrating experience! Thank you so much!!!
I had problem of our 14 month lab pulling me all over the park when he sees another dog. I tried the head harness which certainly works but he repeatedly will lie on the ground remove the band over his snout.
I’ve used a front harness on my chocolate lab since he was about 5 months old. It was a slow progress getting him to accept it but now he has and our walks are so enjoyable as I feel I am in control and no fear of being pulled off my feet. He’s now 14 months old and walks great with a loose lead. Thank you for writing the article it was very informative,I’m glad I persisted now knowing I made the right choice.
Glad you found it helpful Connie
Thank you. At last someone on this site who sees the benefits of front attaching harnesses rather than back attaching harnesses and collars – of the buckle type too!
It’s great to read your article on the many different collars, leads and harnesses that you have tried along the way. For me it has been a similar journey and with all the advice out there, there has been no substitute for the hard graft of persistence in training. As yet I (the dog) haven’t arrived at the consistent ‘heel’ when walking but it’s developing nicely and I’m going to keep working at it.
What was so helpful about your article was your openness to trying out different methods which did or did not work and your encouragement to keep on trying new ways and, to think about how the methods affected the dog and the relationship between you and the dog. It fascinates me how much my dog teaches me in the process of training. I thoroughly enjoy the work we do together. PS. my dog is a labrador/schnauzer crossbreed; a beauty in every way!