I’m going to jump right in and make some waves today.
I don’t like front clip harnesses.
To backpedal, slightly, I’ll say that I think they’re much better than any other mechanical means of teaching good leash behavior. Even if you’re a fan of prong or slip collars (which I am not) you have to admit that almost everyone who uses one is using it wrong. I mean, I saw a dog on a prong collar and a flexi-lead last weekend. Huh?
My problems are three-fold. First, I think they’re naturally a bad harness design. We’ve had two models, and on both of them you have to be ridiculously attentive to keep the leash out from under the dog’s legs. Maybe with taller dogs that’s less true. Second, on every one I’ve seen (and trust me, I’ve looked at a lot of them) the belly strap sits right behind the dog’s front legs. If you have a short-haired dog, your dog is going to experience a lot of friction on the tender skin under his front legs. And, while we’re at it, that harness construction is very easy for a dog to back out of, especially if the leash is clipped to the front. If you have your dog in a front-clip harness because he tends to panic, you’d better be using a backup connector of some kind.
I also don’t think they work all that much better at teaching good leash behavior than any other method. We used one with Silas when he was a puppy, and it taught him to walk exactly at the end of his leash. This put us in a bad training situation. He technically wasn’t pulling, but he was obviously not doing what we really wanted, either. Obeying the letter of the law, if you will. To get right down to it, no training aid is a substitute for actual training. Loose leash walking is a sign of a human and a dog who are on the same page, and you can’t fake it. If that’s what you want, you’re going to have to work for it.
Now, to really scandalize all of the positive-only trainers out there who promote front clip harnesses. I think front clip harnesses are more aversive than people realize. They’re no prong collar, and they’re better than letting a dog choke and gag pulling against a collar. Still, they aren’t comfortable. They chafe your dog’s underarms. Some models buckle very low in the front, which can inhibit your dog’s natural gait. And, what was really the last straw for me the last time I used ours, the heavy leash clip slaps against your dog’s chest every time he takes a step. Unless he’s pulling the leash tight, that is, which is a conflicting training message if I’ve ever seen one. Not to over-anthropomorphize, but how crazy would that make you? Have you ever backpacked with a poorly-fitted pack, or hiked in pants that rubbed? Did you have a good time?
I’m not saying that they’re wrong for every dog in every case. Some of the problems Silas has with his harness wouldn’t even be noticed by a dog with thicker hair, which is almost every dog. Small women who walk large or strong dogs may really need the extra leverage you get with a front-clip. It takes monumental patience to teach a dog wearing a back-clip harness not to pull. I know. I did it, and I had many an internal temper-tantrum doing it. There are many poorly designed back-clip harnesses out there, too. I’m really uncomfortable with front-clips becoming the “no brainer” default recommendation, though.