Fear of harness is overshadowing his otherwise perfect life.
Little Reggie is a delightful, friendly little Border Terrier, ten months of age.
He has a lovely life in every way bar one. In order to go out for walks he has to have his harness and lead put on.
As soon as they are brought out he runs away.
They then go and pick him up to put the harness on and he shakes.
He was scared of his lead from the very start as a little puppy. They have tried various harnesses but it makes no difference.
Once on, his fear of harness is such that he tries to escape from it. With lead attached he leans sideways.
Out on the road he may pull. This could well be eagerness to get to the nearby park or field where, off lead, he is rid of the restriction.
A strange thing is that, if not pulling, he is constantly marking. I wonder whether this is some sort of displacement behavour to take his mind off his fear of harness and lead.
They try to keep him walking. I say, let him sniff and mark as much as he needs.
Reggie loves his food.
We can use this to our advantage. I carry with me Ziwipeak which most dogs adore. It’s dry and it’s smelly! Reggie certainly loved it.
For now they will reserve Ziwipeak for when the harness and lead are brought out.
Reggie has a Perfect Fit harness and for now they will attach the lead to the front only – it has a D-ring on the chest as well as the back. He should feel less restricted that way.
I thought I would demonstrate how well a dog walks on a loose lead if it hangs loosely from the chest by clipping it to his collar with the ring under Reggie’s chin.
I was expecting some sort of reaction. I called him to me and gave him Ziwipeak.
I let him sniff the lead. Ziwipeak. No reaction.
I took his collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.
I hooked the lead to the collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.
Soon I was walking around the room with the little dog on a loose lead, regularly putting bits of food on the floor beside my foot. Then the lady took over.
They couldn’t believe it.
Such is the power of food to reduce fear.
If the dog refuses to eat, then his fear is too great and they need to start things at a level or distance where the dog can cope.
Reggie was coping!
They will change their routine now and put the harness on in a different room. They will use the same technique as I used with the lead, feeding with every movement or click of fastenings.
I suggest they leave his harness on all day for now. They may remove it and put it on again several times during the day – plenty of practice using food. The only time she gets Ziwipeak will be in association with harness and lead.
The next step is to attach the lead and walk around the house and garden. Then in and out of the gate and finally down the road.
If he wants to mark and they make no progress, they should just let him do so. Assuming that he’s scared by the feeling of restriction, choice is important.
They can pop him in the car for a few days for his off-lead walks.
I am sure by associating the harness with food and disconnecting it from the walking routine, his fear of harness and lead will disappear. They can put it on earlier and they will only do so while Reggie is willing and happy about it.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)