Dear Mary Puppins: My Dog is Fearful of her Harness


Hannah Richter (aka Mary Puppins) is a certified dog trainer and current instructor at Andrea Arden Dog Training in NYC. If you have something you want to ask Mary Puppins be sure to email us at [email protected]!

Dear Mary Puppins,

Ellie is our 5 pound 4-month mini dachshund. She knows how to sit and that’s about it. She is very loving and loves people a lot. She is a little afraid of other dogs (even tiny ones). She is totally perfect when the harness is on her, she walks normally, even sometimes keeps it on for a nap. That leads me to believe she doesn’t actually mind the harness, but, every time I bring it out to put it on her, she runs away from me and hides under the table. I have left it on the floor for her to sniff and even provided her treats once I put it on to let her know it is a good thing, but she still runs away from it. How do I help her understand that harness is a good thing?


Dear Harness Hugging Momma, 

I am the biggest Dachshund fan! I think that Ellie needs consistent practice with handling work. Especially with our smaller dogs, it is important to make sure that they really love being touched and handled. Often younger puppies will tolerate a lot of touching and handling, but as they get older they start to speak up about their feelings. By pairing the harness with rewards for Ellie, she will learn to love when she gets the harness put on. If Ellie has a harness that she puts her legs into, it may be worth trying a harness that goes over her head and under her belly. Regardless of which harness you use, practice the following exercises to help Ellie really learn to look forward to when her harness comes out:

  1. Practice “pick ups” at least 5 times a day. A pick-up means that you are giving a treat to your dog as you pick them up and then set them back down. Say the word “gotchya” as you pick up Ellie to help alert her that she will be picked up. This will start to teach Ellie that she won’t always be caught when something is wrong. Instead she learns that most of the time she is picked up and receives a yummy treat. 
  2. I would also recommend practicing Ellie’s recall skills and pairing it with being caught. To do so, call her to you (using a hand target), cue her to sit and then say“gotchya” and pick her up. Practice several times each day. 
  3. Find a treat you can give to Ellie while you dress her (these are some of my favorites). Give her a couple of treats as you put the harness on for at least two weeks. After the two weeks, try putting the harness on and then giving the treat. Eventually, you can use the treat more randomly. 
  4. Practice putting the harness on with the treat and then immediately take it back off. Repeat. 
  5. Some dogs learn to play a chase game when the harness comes out. If you think Ellie may be playing a game with you try to ignore her and go about your own business. You could even try walking out the front door and then coming back in. 

If she behaves well in the harness you’ve already got the tough part down, you just need a little more patience to get her into the harness smoothly. 

Best Wishes,

Mary Puppins

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Some dogs learn to play a chase game when the harness comes out. If you think Ellie may be playing a game with you try to ignore her and go about your own business.

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