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I wasn't prepared for becoming a pet parent in the social media era. Something as innocuous as choosing a harness can stir up so much drama and confusion that you'd think we were talking religion or politics. So color me surprised when I shared that I preferred harnesses and several people warned me about the risks.
Why I Prefer Harnesses to Collars
Collars can cause permanent damage to tracheas, they can cause whiplash, injury to muscles, cartilage, discs, bones and create chronic neck pain and problems. Dogs can have disc problems in their necks just like humans. Having a collar repeatedly pulling on their necks can eventually create severe disc issues.~ Betsy Blair-Finn, Doctor of Chiropractic, certified Animal Chiropractor, instructor at Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic
When Rodrigo and Sydney were young, they were pullers and would drag me on walks. Someone recommended a harness for our dogs and it made a huge difference for Sydney, but not for Rodrigo. He needed a front “no pull” harness to curb his pulling and it worked. That was when I learned that harnesses are dangerous because they will force a dog's body to shift out of alignment and harnesses encourage pulling.
Training to walk well is always a good thing and hopefully the goal, but until you get there if you have a strong puller, I like a front hook harness. Yes, if they are always pulling to one side and really straining, that can throw off alignment. Hopefully, with a front hook harness it should easily keep them from pulling and by moving the front end of their body in such a way that alignment should be okay. However, you can always switch sides to keep it balanced while you work on better leash manners. I don’t think the dog’s alignment is going to be thrown off easily or severely unless there are other factors involved.~ Betsy Blair-Finn, Doctor of Chiropractic, certified Animal Chiropractor, instructor at Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic
Because I'm usually walking two or more dogs, I prefer that they walk ahead of me instead of by my side. This way we're not taking up the entire walkway and blocking cyclists, joggers, and other walkers. Walking this way also allows the dogs to sniff without slowing our walk down too much.
Choosing the Right Harness for Dogs
Ideally, I'd love to find one harness that fits all of my dogs. It makes shopping a lot easier. However, this isn't always the case when you have multiple dogs of different shapes and sizes. We have five dogs that weigh between 55 and 73 pounds and I've been searching for the ideal harness for years. Since my dogs are close to the same size and shape, plus they're similar breed mixes, I thought I would be able to find the perfect brand – and I did.
Any time you get a harness watch for things like choking or movement restriction while you are walking your dog as well as the strain on you.~ Betsy Blair-Finn, Doctor of Chiropractic, certified Animal Chiropractor, instructor at Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic
When looking for harnesses, I'm looking for…
- a comfortable fit for my dogs,
- ease in adjusting to each dog
- and fast put on/take off.
Little did I know that finding the harness that met all my standards wouldn't be easy. I'm not being that picky, jeez.
EzyDog and Mighty Paw Harnesses
When Scout and Zoey were puppies, EzyDog sent us four harnesses to try. Two EzyDog Chest Plate harnesses for Rodrigo and Sydney and two EzyDog Quick Fit harnesses for the puppies. I loved them all, but the Chest Plate harnesses were special, so when the puppies grew up, I purchased two more and the dogs have been sharing them for years. They're great quality, they still look new six years later, and they meet all of my standards.
And then Apollo joined our family. EzyDog doesn't have a front “no pull” harness. They do have Crosscheck harness that helps reduce the need to pull, but after speaking with Betsy Blair-Finn, I decided to look for a “no pull” harness and found one on Chewy.com made by Mighty Paw. I purchased an extra-large for Apollo and it fit perfectly, no adjustment needed. It's comfortable for him and became a game-changer on our walks.
The Mighty Paw no-pull harness hooks in the front and on the back, so I can alternate, switching to the back hook when Apollo learns how to walk with me instead of dragging me down the trail. The back hook will also be great for when we go running, something Apollo loves – ugggg – but I'm going to try to get into running.
Training Myself to Walk with Dogs
I'm sure that there are steps to take to train our dogs how to walk politely and peacefully. I didn't take that training and I don't remember what I learned in puppy class. I've been walking dogs for so long that it never occurred to me to brush up on a few training tips to help improve my walks with Apollo. I figured that we'd find our stride eventually.
Right now, I'm practicing patience, consistency, and communication with my dogs.
- Patience because this is their walk too and I don't want to rush them down the trail just to get the walk out of the way. I won't allow them to linger on a scent for 5 minutes, but I will allow them time to sniff while keeping a good pace on our walks. The point is to exercise both their bodies and their minds (the sniffing).
- Consistency because when a month or two goes by between walks, we're back to square one with the dogs going in all different directions like fish on a lure. It takes a quarter-mile for them to remember how to walk with me and it's frustrating for all of us. So walking my dogs at least three days a week is important. I've also hired a dog walker for Apollo to help with the extra energy and training.
- Communication because every walk is a training session. I communicate both with my voice and with the lead. A slight tug (not jerk or yank) of the lead can let a dog know that it's time to move on, which side I need him or her to walk on, and maneuver them away from stepping on or into something. It's cool that a calm “okay, let's go” communicates that I'm ready to move on from whatever they're sniffing. Or a slight pull let's two of the dogs know that we're stopping while another does their business.
We're a well-oiled machine when we can pull it all together.
Tools I Use When Walking My Dogs
My dogs are very food motivated so when I'm walking several dogs, it's just me, the dogs, leashes, and harnesses. If I'm walking Apollo or Rodrigo (my “problem” dogs), then I also bring high valued treats. The following is a list of what's working with me and my dogs:
- EzyDog Chest Plate Harnesses
- Mighty Paw “No Pull” Harness
- 6′ Leashes – I prefer leather leashes because they don't burn as they run through my hand if I lose my grip.
- Crossbody Purse – to carry keys, wallet, phone, poop bags, treats, etc.
- High-Value treats – freeze-dried organs (liver, hearts), chicken, beef, turkey, and green tripe – by Vital Essentials.
We live on five acres and it's tempting to believe that I can walk around the yard, tossing balls and Puller Rings for my dogs and that's enough exercise. On some days, it is, but a long walk is so much better for me and the dogs. One mile, five miles – just depends on how much time we have. As long as we have everything we need, we're golden!
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- Finding the Right Harness for My Dogs
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