The No Pull Harness Debate by Kristin K. Wolter

Posted by Maureen Lake at

I think this is great information to know that I just had to share. Information is powerful. My dog trainer recommended this type of harness for our puppy, now I am having second thoughts. What do you think about this harness? Have you used one? Please leave a comment below. Thank you!

The No Pull Harness debate:

Harnesses like the one in this image are designed to help prevent your dog from pulling on the leash during a walk. Usually it is touted as a humane option because of obvious reasons such as the lack of possibility to damage the trachea, lack of sharp pointy things and lack of batteries. But there are still downfalls to using this style of no-pull harness.

First and foremost these harnesses work by very effectively restricing movement of the front limbs. To demonstrate what this might be like imgine putting yourself in your dog’s paws for just a moment. Imagine trying to walk with a moderately loose belt around your legs, just above your knee caps. It allows just enough movement of your upper leg to take a shortened step but full use of your lower leg. Imagine how this might impact your stride, your posture and your balance.

As one leg steps forward the belt applies pressure just above the knee cap. Back and forth, step by step, the belt rubs and pushes into the front your legs. Add to that someone controlling your direction with a leash attached right in the middle of the belt between your knees. Now go for a run. Play some frisbee. Hike for 6 miles. Sound enjoyable?

In the case of the dog, the harness is not at the knee but at the point of the shoulder, usually right over the the supraspinatus and biceps tendons. As the dog steps the harness applies direct – and likely uncomfortable – pressure over over these tendons, inhibiting range of motion. Because the shoulder is not extending as it should, the biceps muscle then probably picks up the slack by increasing flexion of the elbow. (In order to gain a bit of stride length.) Further down the leg, in keeping with rules of compensation, the foot then begins to develop a “flipping” action, overusing the extensors of the carpus. While these are the main compensatory actions, I assure you compensation does not stop there. But, for now, I will.

As you can see, these harnesses should perhaps not be so simply labeled as “humane.” They apply pressure to the shoulder regardless of the dog’s pulling posture. In other words, even if your dog isn’t actively pulling, the harness will still restrict movement and cause compensation.

I won’t say I’ve never recommended a no-pull harness. There are instances when I think they are applicable.

  • Dogs recovering from rear limb injuries who need to be controlled during their physical rehabilitation period definitely benefit
  • Elderly people with unruly dogs can more effectively enjoy their dogs
  • Early training to teach adult dogs proper position for loose lead walking (as long as it is weaned out of the picture)
  • Dogs with severe behavioral problems (which probably need a good trainer anyhow)
  • Neck injury
And here are some instances when (and how) I would NEVER recommend using a product like this

  • Daily walks that are longer than 15 minutes
  • Running partner
  • Forelimb injury recovery period
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Any sporting dog should NEVER wear a harness of this style
  • Puppies younger than 15 months should NEVER wear a harness like this
  • During any play – tennis balls, frisbees, other dogs…
There are many products out there claiming to be the best, most humane product, but sadly, most all of them act in some sort of painful or restrictive fashion and I have yet to see one that beats a clicker, some treats and some time.

This is not a black/white topic. There are many gray zones and I am not here to preach or be judgemental. I just hope if you use a harness like this, or are thinking of using a harness like this, that you can make an educated decision that will benefit both you and your dog!

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