My Puppy Runs Away When I Try to Put on His Harness

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to take Niffler to puppy kindergarten. He was excited, spinning and wagging his tail. But when I reached for his harness, he pinned his ears and ran under the desk.

Uh-oh. My little 14-week-old puppy didn’t want me to put on his harness!

I was using a Ruffwear Front Range harness, which pulls over his head and then buckles behind his armpits. I’m sure that putting a harness over your head takes some getting used to – but I also noticed that Niffler avoided me when I tried to put on his collar.

So what do you do if your puppy runs away when you try to put on his harness or collar?

  1. Don’t chase. One of the worst things you can do if your puppy runs away when you try to put the harness on is to chase him and force him to put it on. Just don’t! This teaches your puppy that you – and his harness – are even more dangerous and less trustworthy than he thought. If you did this in the past, that’s ok. Just stop now.
  2. Find an alternative. Sometimes you do just have to get your puppy out of the house. In many cases, that means your puppy has to be on leash. If your puppy habitually ducks or hides from his collar or harness, just leave his collar on at all times. That gives you a backup! But if he’s “naked” right now, you can make a simple slip lead from a normal leash and then gently loop this over his head – see the video below for an example. While this may be a bit scary, it’s not a long-term solution and I’d rather teach my puppy not to like slip-leads than to distrust his harness.
  3. Ensure your harness is setting you up for success. If your chosen harness is a tight fit over your puppy’s head, you may be swimming upstream! Consider switching to a step-through harness that doesn’t require such a tight squeeze.
  4. Play the “poke this” game. Put your harness or collar on your lap and reward your puppy for approaching you. Don’t pick up the harness yet if your puppy is nervous! Then hold out a random object – a shoe, a dog toy, a leash, a coffee mug – and reward your puppy for sniffing it. Click and treat (if you’re using a clicker) for interaction. This teaches your puppy the rules of the game without introducing the difficulty of the harness yet!
  5. Play the “poke this” game with the harness or collar. Now introduce the harness. You’ll se an example of this in the video below. You can start with the harness or collar on the ground and simply place food in the head loop. After a few sessions of this, start to hold the harness up so that your puppy is poking his head through the harness more. Then start rewarding your puppy for the “poke this” game with the harness. Gradually move your treat delivery to entice your puppy to poke his head through the harness – but don’t rush this! Keep the treat delivery liberal.
  6. Make sure harnesses predict GREAT things. Aside from treats, make sure that putting on the harness predicts great adventures and other things your puppy loves! Don’t put your puppy’s harness on for the first time before going to the vet or leaving your puppy at a new boarding kennel.

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