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.
More information on puppies
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.
Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy. It will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialization and early obedience. You can buy The Happy Puppy Handbook from Amazon by following this link. If you do, The Labrador Site will receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated and won’t affect the cost to you!
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website