Who’s the leader of the pack? Oftentimes, when a large dog is on a leash, it appears that he is — walking his human.
Thanks to the newest harnesses, pet owners can be sure their dogs (and cats!) keep pace without hurting their necks.
Humane Indiana shelter director Jessica Petalas said it recommends only Freedom No Pull leashes and harnesses and sells them in the shelter store. She added that they work for all dogs, small to large.
“These are the best available and help those dogs that don’t have the best manners, so they don’t pull,” she noted. “They’re designed to cause the dog to turn when they pull. Other leashes and harnesses can cause discomfort, and Freedom doesn’t pull at the neck or whip their head back.”
Shannon Vandiver, of Ted’s Pet & Feed in Schererville, said the more popular harnesses are made of softer, durable and padded material with better fit, support and comfort.
“Most of all, they’re easier on the dog, as they don’t dig into the arms or stomach,” she said.
Vandiver noted that, with a harness, any pulling would be on the shoulder blades, rather than the neck, and that companies are adding a soft-padded handle to pull the dog up.
“The ones with the handle are not just for small dogs; they’re available for all sizes,” she noted.
Alsip Home & Nursery in St. John sells a lot of step-in harnesses for dogs, including those made by Coastal Pet Products, said Sandy Richwalski, manager of the pet department.
“These are easy for the consumer, and it’s hard for dogs to get out of them,” she said. “Nothing pulls across the throat — only across the shoulders and hips — so it doesn’t harm the dog.”
The Coastal harness will adjust around the neck but needs to fit snugly around the shoulders and the neck, so the dog doesn’t slip out of it.
“These have a handle, which allows a seat belt to loop through, so you can lock the dog in,” explained Richwalski. “Until Indiana gets smart and passes a law that dogs have to be buckled in or placed in a booster seat, I like how this harness is made.”
Richwalski recommends bringing the dog to the pet store to be fit for a harness, which Alsip Home & Nursery does at no charge.
“The key is a correct fit,” she said. “If a harness doesn’t fit right, then you lose control of the dog.”
Elad Bachar, master trainer at Paw Palace in Lynwood, is not a big fan of harnesses. He feels they motivate the dog to pull even harder.
“I’d rather train the dog not to pull and to walk in the right position, depending on the breed, age and size of the dog, using a combination of positive and negative reinforcement,” he noted. “The best way is to start with a puppy. A rescue can be trained, but it takes longer because they have already established habits.”
Charlene Vitale, a pet portrait artist in Munster, uses the Puppia harness on her dog, Olive, a 12½-year-old French bulldog/Boston terrier mix.
She said the harness has held up for many years and probably thousands of walks, yet it looks brand new because it can be machine-washed.
“Olive is a very sprightly dog, so she needs the harness when we walk,” Vitale said. “People know her — she’s the mayor of Meadow Lane.”
Harnesses are not only for dogs. These days, some of those of the feline persuasion are enjoying walks with their humans.
Petalas said each cat is different: Some like to stay indoors, and others prefer to be outside. The outdoors provide a lot of enrichment for the cat, but when outside a cat should wear a harness and a leash.
For cats, Alsip Home & Nursery sells mesh harnesses that are almost like a shirt with a handle, said Richwalski. Step-in harnesses don’t work as well for cats' petite frames, she added, as they can easily get out of them.
“Cats get spooked more when they’re walking, so a cat harness has to fit really well to be effective,” Richwalski said.
According to petmd.com, a good-quality harness designed for cats typically features an adjustable neck collar attached to an adjustable body wrap, and the leash should attach at the body strap or between the shoulders. The harness should fit snugly without constricting air flow, allowing two fingers to fit under the harness at the neck and under the chest. The clips holding the harness should snap securely and should not be the breakaway type common in cat collars.
Lisa Jones, of Munster, has two cats with opposite dispositions. The 10-year-old long hair named Mau enjoys the elements and the 2-year-old short hair named Sweeney prefers the indoors.
“Mau loves going outside and would bring me his leash and harness daily if I didn’t hide it. He doesn’t like walking much but enjoys sitting on the porch or in the swing,” said Jones. “Sweeney doesn’t even like having his collar on, so he fights a harness and seems very skittish outside.”