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We have a small dog, a Chihuahua cross, about a year old. As long as it's not raining, she enjoys her daily walk around the block. She'd prefer it warm and dry but a bit of cold and damp only seems to be a mild impediment.

What we can't work out is that despite this, she seems genuinely terrified of getting ready for her walk. First, she has to put a harness on and this is the worst part. As soon as she sees the harness she will run and hide under the furniture. Sometimes its a bit of an ordeal to extract her. Once out, she'll actively try to avoid putting the harness on, lying rigid on the floor then waving her paws around so they won't go through the holes.

On cold or wet days she also has a coat which goes on over her head. She doesn't seem to mind this quite as much but she'll still make a break for cover if allowed to do so.

Once she's dressed, though, she'll shake down and then run to wait by the front door, full of excitement for her walk. We just can't work out what the issue is.

We've tried various different harnesses and got the same behaviour with all of them. We've also tried offering treats as an inducement to put the harness on. When that didn't work we just gave her the treats anyway in the hope she'd associate the harness with the pleasure of the treat instead of whatever it is that's bothering her.

Is there anything else we can try to find out what the problem is, and get her to have a more positive behaviour toward getting ready?

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    Have you tried a collar instead of a harness? – Stephie Jan 7 at 12:16
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    There are different opinions on whether a harness or collar is “better” and I am not a vet. What I have learned however, is that a “one fits all” solution doesn’t exist and that each individual, may it be canine, feline or even human, has his or her individual quirks, likes and dislikes. So perhaps the question is whether thinking about alternatives could be an option. Especially as you seem to be doing the positive association / treat thing pretty much by the book. – Stephie Jan 7 at 12:48
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    "UK Statutory Instruments, The Control of Dogs Order 1992 Article 2 : 2.—(1) Subject to paragraph (2) below, every dog while in a highway or in a place of public resort shall wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on the collar or on a plate or badge attached to it." – legislation.gov.uk – Mazura Jan 8 at 0:20
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    "All cats and dogs need to wear collars with ID tags, rabies vaccination tags and city or county licenses (where applicable). The ID tag should include the owner’s name, address, telephone numbers (day and evening) and the pet’s name." – americanhumane.org – Mazura Jan 8 at 0:20
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    I had a Finnish Lapponian Dog that behaved exactly like that, and they are robust dogs, both physically and mentally, and he enjoyed going out, independent of the weather. At the end, I put on the harness in the morning and let it remain on all day and removed it in the evening. He didn't care about having it on so why bother taking it off if he didn't like the process of putting it on again? And harness was necessary, he had learned how to "back out"/winkle himself out of a collar. – d-b Jan 8 at 2:11
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Please consider that the problem might not be the harness itself, but how you act with the harness.

Chihuahuas are small dogs and can be slinky when they want to avoid something. If you grab her, lift her up and somehow force her into the harness, that process is very uncomfortable. Even if you don't cause her any pain, it's still uncomfortable from a psychological point of view to be robbed of your ability to escape.

The way I often see people put a harness on their dog is: standing with their legs fully stretched, bending at the waist to reach for the dog and grabbing or pulling the dog if it doesn't stand still and in some cases even trapping the dog between their legs.

In short: people are towering over their dogs, which is a very aggressive pose in dog's body language. And since many dogs want to avoid this aggressive situation, people become even more aggressive or physically rough to just get the darn harness on.

A much better pose is to kneel or sit down and offer the harness to the dog with outstretched hands. If the harness (or coat) needs to go over the head, you should hold it in a way that the dog can simply walk into it. To train this behavior, hold a treat behind the hole to lure the dog into the harness voluntarily.

If kneeling down isn't an option for you, you could have the dog jump on your lap to avoid the towering pose.

If the legs need to go into holes, the process is a little more complicated, but still works best without applying any force. Having their feet lifted from the ground can be disorienting for dogs. So it's better to stroke the fur from shoulder to the foot to give the dog time to either lift the foot themselves or to mentally prepare for having the foot lifted.

Maintaining a calm chat of encouragements and praises also helps convey the message that this isn't an aggressive situation. If your dog is very nervous or too hyped up, you should speak with an extremely low and calm voice to calm your dog.


In your specific situation you could start a harness desensitization training. Right now your dog connects the harness with negative memories, so she hates the sight of it. By connecting the harness with positive experiences, you can change her mind.

If you already have different harnesses, I highly recommend doing the training with a different harness than you use for walking.

Get the harness out several times a day (without actually going on a walk) and offer a treat in the close proximity of it. Your dog should simply come to you and eat the treat. After that you simply put the harness away again. It may take a few tries at first before she even takes the treat, but eventually she will trust that she can eat it without having to put the harness on.

Once she reliably takes the treat, you can adapt the training to make her put her head through the harness in order to take the treat. A few days after she started doing that reliably, you can start putting her legs through the holes and rewarding her with a second treat, but still without closing the clasps and going out.

Only when she voluntarily puts her head into the harness and you can calmly put her legs through the holes should you switch to using the training harness for your actual walks.

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    Did the dog get to acclimatize to the harness? Like, you brought it home, he sniffed it a bit, got used to it being "there" for a day or two, then one day, while playing with him, you tried to put it on? Try one leg, first, then maybe another leg later, then maybe after couple half-attempts, then finally clipped it on? Or you brought it home, picked up the poor guy, and strapped him in within a span of minutes? He probably associates the harness with forcefully having a straight jacket put on. – Nelson Jan 8 at 1:36
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    Kneeling/sitting is the single most important recommendation I make to anyone about almost anything to do with interacting with their small pets. It's mind-boggling the number of people I've seen struggle to get any friendly reaction from a new kitten, simultaneously complaining about it while also standing tall chasing the poor little thing directly across the room. Must be terrifying! Lower yourself, approach at a tangent, slowly, and say nice things. Make friends, generate trust. Easy. – Asteroids With Wings Jan 10 at 14:41
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The Harness May Be Uncomfortable

I have a Golden Retriever and, like most Goldens, she LOVES going out and about. But she was showing similar signs (not wanting to come over and put the harness on, moving her head to make it harder to do, etc.) as your Chihuahua about 2 weeks after we got her a new harness. Once you got it on her, though, she was her normal cheerful ready-to-go self. She'd outgrown her other harness and the new one was a lovely leather harness with metal buckles.

We couldn't figure it out since she'd willingly put on the harness the first few times. But after a while (and some testing with another harness) we decided she just didn't like the leather harness. There were no signs of rubbing or anything, but the thing is quite a bit heavier than her old one and she's a princess! When we switched to a lighter harness, she was back to being eager and excited to put on the harness and go outside.

So you might want to get another style of harness altogether or possibly another size and see if she likes it better!

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Our terrier is similarly unhappy with the process of putting her harness on. She doesn't actively resist when you've got her, but she does try to hide under the bed or table. We've tried various options, but none worked.

Sometimes trying to psychoanalyse a dog is a losing game though. It may be that you just have to face that she doesn't like it, and you have to do it anyway.

In spite of that, there may still be a couple of things that'd help.

Getting a dog used to raising individual paws is a good thing, not just for getting a harness on but also for cleaning paws and grooming. Saying "paw" as you take their paw and give them a chance to lift it themselves, means you aren't surprising the dog and they can work with you.

And dogs are generally a bit wobbly on three legs too, so it very much helps if you hold their raised leg steady when they're on three legs. Then they aren't feeling insecure about falling over, plus you've got control of the paw for getting the harness on more easily.

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This is very common. It's a very rare dog that makes any connection between what's happening outside and the need for a coat or harness.

As far as they are concerned you are subjecting them to a straitjacket for no reason. We can't explain to dogs so we have to train them. This has already been mentioned in an excellent answer by @Elmy.

From personal experience I know that it's possible to train a dog to approach a collar, coat or harness and put their head through it. This is all done with treats. An extreme example is the dogs that have been trained to place themselves and lie quietly for a brain scan in an MRI machine without being restrained in any way.

Training is a skill that needs understanding and patience on the part of the trainer but the rewards are enormous, (1) you are happier (2) the dog is happier (3) you get compliments from everyone about how clever and well-behaved your dog is.


As soon as she sees the harness she will run and hide under the furniture. Sometimes its a bit of an ordeal to extract her.

This is the biggest part of the problem. The whole procedure has turned this from being mildly uncomfortable into a prolonged and unpleasant experience. Instead of the harness being a signal that you are about to go out, it is now a signal for being chased and wrestled into submission.

Trying to find a hidey-hole and then being pulled out of it is scary for any animal. They like to believe there is somewhere that they can get away from any risks or danger. I never try to force a dog to come out of its kennel/bed/crate against its will.

The answer for that is to allow them a safe place that really is safe - maybe a particular spot under the furniture or behind the settee and keep that sacrosanct, only cleaning or tidying there when they are elsewhere.

My new small dog has recently taken a dislike to her coat - The Velcro got caught in her fur once, it must have been uncomfortable to walk and I only discovered the problem when it was time to take it off. It only takes once experience like this for them to remember and get worried.

I haven't got round to training her to approach the coat yet (this is a timely reminder!) and so for now I just put her on the lead as for any walk and then pick up the coat afterwards and slip it over her head by passing it along the lead. This way she has no opportunity to run and hide and so we avoid any drama. In fact she's quite happy for me to do this now.

A collar and lead to hold them still until they are trained allows you to bypass all the drama as well as the gymnastics and wrestling that go along with it.


Note

Creating extra drama and stress is a source of many problems - particularly giving medicines. But that's for a different thread.

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Someone may already have said this, but try harness training your dog. Harness training may be easy for some and hard for others. I do not at all recommend forcing the dog in the harness or collar that the dog is scared of. First, you should start to build trust with the dog and the harness. You said that she will run away when she sees it near her. The first step with building trust with the harness is to have the harness in her eyesight without her running away. Have the harness with you and act normal around her. Offer her a treat if she does come near you with the harness. She will eventually over time know that comping close to the harness is okay. If the treats don’t work, have the harness hanging around her kennel or dog bed. Again, she will learn that the harness is nothing harmful. Once she is not afraid of seeing it, try gently laying the harness on her or around her. When you do that and she is calm, give her a treat as a reward of her bravery. Start slowly putting the head loop of the harness on her. If she does freak out, stop trying to put it on her and teach her again that it does not mean any harm. Offer her a treat every time she is brave around the harness. Sorry if this does not help. I’ve never had a dog be afraid of a harness.

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Bringing treats on her walk and giving her favourite treats every time she puts on her harness and coat is a way to make her feel fine to do it. It may make her feel better to do it with the proposal of treats. Treats in general motivate most pets, from budgies to cats.

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Putting a harness on a large dog will take a while. Dogs typically don't like harnesses; they prefer a regular collar. Not to mention that the dog will hate putting actual clothes. If the dog seems happy and ready to go out after putting all that on, then maybe you should try just using a regular collar instead of a harness, and no more clothes. Also try asking the dog if they need to go out. Sometimes dogs don't need to go out at the same time everyday. If they're potty-trained they can tell you when they need to go out. Then it's just a matter of you getting up and letting them out.

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    Welcome to Pets! 1. A chihuahua is not a large dog 2. I agree about collars being better but the dog has to be trained not to pull otherwise it can hurt its neck 3. A coat is necessary for a small short-haired dog in wintry conditions. They can lose heat very fast and you'll see them shivering. Maybe argue against breeding such a dog (!) but once they exist they need weather protection 4. Not everyone, especially with a small dog, has a safe outdoor space. They may need to be taken out. Just my opinion. Enjoy Stack Exchange! – chasly - supports Monica Jan 8 at 14:18
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    Using collars is a risk-factor for collapsed trachea: vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tracheal-collapse-in-dogs. Harnesses reduce this risk and are recommended over collars. – bob Jan 8 at 15:24
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    Welcome to Pets, this answer reads more like a rant aimed at the question's author rather than an actual answer, could you please improve it, thanks. – lila Jan 8 at 16:12
  • @chasly-supportsMonica can you imagine what a Chihuahua the size of an Alsatian or Lab would be like ? – Criggie Jan 8 at 23:19
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    +1. This is exactly what I said in between the lines of my comments on the question: that it's required by law; in which I wrote nothing because I know it's not worth the time to play devil's advocate on a site that only panders to its own audience. - If the OP wants to know what the issue is they should try putting on a straight jacket and a silly hat every time they need to go to the bathroom. - The collar isn't for them or their dog, it's for me when they're not there and it is. – Mazura Jan 9 at 18:47

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