[Updated November 15, 2017]
Recently, WDJ received a letter from Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, DACVP, DACVSMR, who was concerned about the photo in WDJ (on the cover, no less!) of a jogger whose dog, running alongside, was wearing a front-clip-type harness. A sports medicine guru and canine athlete enthusiast, Dr. Zink (and others) posit that no-pull harnesses are detrimental to a dog’s structure and gait – and are especially inappropriate for canine athletes.
In a limited gait analysis study, Dr. Zink observed that dogs wearing no-pull, front clip harnesses bore less weight on their front legs than they normally would – even when the harness wasn’t attached to a leash! In addition, the dogs bore less weight on the leg that was on the far side of where the person walked, even when there was no leash attached; when the dog had a leash attached, it was more significant. This suggests to her that the dog was reacting to the presence of the harness against the leg by pushing harder against it. In all cases, the gait of the front limbs was altered whenever the harness was on.
Dr. Zink explains that these harnesses sit on top of the biceps and supraspinatus tendons, two of the most commonly injured structures in dogs’ forelimbs, particularly in canine athletes. She asserts that, just by logic, one has to assume that the pressure this kind of harness exerts on the dog’s forelimbs in an activity where the dog is supposed to be extending her forelimbs (i.e., running, walking), is not a good idea.
“I do not believe that there is a harness on the market that is nonrestrictive and that also helps the dog not to pull,” says Dr. Zink.” There are however some very nice, well constructed, nonrestrictive harnesses on the market. However, those should not be considered as a method to teach a dog not to pull. In my opinion the real way to get a dog to stop pulling is to train it.”
Taking another position altogether are the thousands of dog trainers and behaviorists who contend that no-pull harnesses save lives, because by giving handlers a mechanical advantage over the dog, they help people who have been unable to train their dogs (for whatever reasons) to walk politely, to walk their dogs anyway.
Whole Dog Journal Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, comments, “I am a dog trainer/behavior professional with a very specialized concern about helping dogs be well-mannered companions to their humans. I agree that the way to get a dog to stop pulling is to train it. No-pull harnesses provide, in my experience, the least harmful way to give many owners the window of opportunity to reinforce -and thereby train – polite leash walking. An owner can’t train a dog to walk on leash if she is getting dragged off her feet. I will continue to use front-clip harnesses and recommend them to clients, at least until someone comes up with an even safer non-aversive alternative.”
Like so many of our equipment choices, there are cases for and against using a front-clip or other no-pull harness. Each of us must consider the benefits and risks, and make an educated decision based on what is best for us and our own dogs.