Ask Dr. Wan: Help for Harness-Hating Dogs

A certified applied animal behaviorist answers a reader's question about a dog who reacts negatively to her walking harness.

I have a nine-year-old female Jack Russell Terrier. She is a great, loving, and friendly dog most of the time. One problem: She hates her walking harness. She does not mind putting it on and is always excited about going for a walk. But when I attempt to remove the harness, she becomes very aggressive and actually attacks it. What is going on here? - Glenn P.

This is a very interesting question.  Without seeing the behavior or getting additional details, it’s hard for me to say what is driving your dog’s behavior.  It is possible that your dog may be afraid of the harness and uncomfortable with the handling that is involved in putting the harness on and off.  For example, removing the harness might involve lifting your dog’s paws, reaching over her head or under her belly, and moving the harness over her head, all of which are disliked by some dogs.  The excitement of going for a walk may override her fear or discomfort when you are putting the harness on, so that is why you might not get a negative reaction then.   

I’m not sure what type of harness you are using right now, but you might want to switch to a different type of harness that is easier to take off.  The Easy Walk Harness, for example, can easily be removed by undoing one buckle that rests on the dog’s back, thus minimizing the handling involved in harness removal.  There may be other harnesses, as well, with this feature. 

Changing the harness might take care of this issue for you, but if the behavior continues, you can also try feeding your dog some very tasty treats as you remove the harness.  If your dog continues to attack the harness despite the treats, it means that you will need to take things more slowly; you will need to gradually desensitize your dog to the harness and to each step of the harness removal.  A dog behavior professional can help with this process.  It might also be a good idea to get a veterinary checkup to rule out any physical issues that might be causing your dog to be sensitive to handling in certain spots.  

Have a dog training or behavior question?  Post your questions to Dr. Wan below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com.  Please read the guidelines before submitting your question.   

Dr. Michele Wan, a certified applied animal behaviorist, provides dog behavior consultations and classes to Fairfield County dog owners and phone consultations to dog owners nationwide.  She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Nicholas Clarke January 14, 2013 at 08:29 PM
my dog , a two and a half year old golden doodle, a warm and friendly animal. However, sometimes, when running around the local park or at the beach, something another dog says to him will result in very aggressive , biting dog, to that animal. Should I get a zapping type collar?
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB January 17, 2013 at 06:39 PM
I will try to answer your question in a future blog post. My opinion is that you should not use that type of collar. See this statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior about the use of punishment in dog training: http://bit.ly/TxePaX. It sounds like you will need to work with a dog behavior professional to modify your dog's behavior before he can safely interact with other dogs.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »