Putting on a Harness (Jacket, Thundershirt, etc.)

How to condition your dog to accept wearing a jacket or harness around his body.

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Some behaviors don’t lend themselves well to a total choice approach, but you may be able to use a Choice/Conditioning-hybrid procedure, still giving your dog some sense of control over his own world. Here’s one such procedure:

Classical Conditioning Approach

1. Hold up the harness in front of your dog with one hand; feed him a treat.

2. Let your dog sniff or nose-touch the harness; treat.

3. Let your dog sniff the harness and feed him treats through the opening that will go over his head.

4. Let him sniff the harness, and hold treats farther away so he has reach farther into the harness to eat them.

5. With his head through the harness, allow the harness to rest on his neck; treat.

6. Touch the straps that buckle; treat.

7. Move the straps that buckle; treat.

8. Touch the two sides of the buckle together; treat.

10. Snap the buckle closed; treat. (If your dog is sensitive to sounds, you might choose to counter-condition the sound of the buckle snapping closed first (or the Velcro sound of a Thundershirt), prior to and separate from the procedure of putting the harness or shirt on the dog).

Choice and Classical Conditioning

1. Shape your dog to walk into the harness suspended to give him access. (Click and treat as he offers to move incrementally farther into the suspended harness.)

2. When he is voluntarily moving into the harness, use classical conditioning Steps 6 through 10 above to complete the process.

Learn more about how to train your dog to accept being touched for basic husbandry chores.

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.