Using Front Clip Harnesses & Double-Ended Leads Correctly
Front Clip Harnesses & Double-Ended Leads
HOW TO USE THEM CORRECTLY
We’re often asked if front clips are okay for gaining more control of a dog during their walks if they are lead pullers or reactive. For anyone going out to get a ‘quick fix’ for their dog’s lead-pulling behaviour, that would be a strong ‘no’ from us. Under specific conditions however, we do feel that they can be useful.
Let’s get one thing straight – clipping a lead to the front of your dog’s harness does not magically teach them loose-lead manners. If it appears to immediately resolve pulling, that’s because it is now uncomfortable for the dog to pull; it’s punishing for the dog to pull because it causes discomfort which is not an ethical solution, but also over time the dog can get used to the sensation and the pulling just returns. There is also an added risk for dogs who pull or who become excitable or reactive: if the dog lunges, they are at risk of injury as their bodies inevitably twist back around when they reach the end of their lead. Oftentimes, the dog is still pulling quite hard, but the guardians need to use less strength to hold the lead - this should not be the sole goal, as that one-sided pulling will be very unhealthy for the dog’s physical alignment. As you would know by now, we do not support a punitive approach to training for good reasons. We will have better results by teaching and rewarding our dogs for what it is we do want, without requiring their discomfort. While equipment can be a helper, it is our job to train our dogs and teach them the life skills they need to live up to our expectations and goals for them: A dog that has learnt loose lead skills is much more relaxed and happy on walks and you will be too! :)
Front clips can be helpful when used safely, with compassion and in combination with a back clip on a well-fitted harness. To do this, you would need a double-ended lead, which is a lead with a clip at either end. One clip can be attached to the back of the harness, and the other on the front. By holding the lead at the point where the back-clip reaches tension before the front-clip, you can avoid injury and prevent your dog from practicing pulling from the front-clip point.
If your dog isn’t getting tension on the front-clip when they pull, what’s the point? Even though we always aim to set our dogs up for success and keep them under threshold, there are times where life doesn’t go to plan. Being able to gently roll your fingers along the lead in a way that barely engages the front clip while you ask your dog to do a U-turn to avoid a situation ripe for reactivity is a good example of this setup being used appropriately. It’s best to positively condition any pressure on the front clip to become the cue for the dog to slow down and curve back towards you, like doing figure 8's in your backyard and rewarding the dog for turning back.
The double clip setup can also provide an extra point of attachment in situations where you need to quickly stop your dog from spinning or lunging towards a trigger while minimising risk. For people who are at risk of falls or injury, this setup can provide extra stability and reassurance to ensure the safety of both themselves and their dogs should a difficult situation arise.
Under the right circumstances, and applied in the right way, the double-ended lead attached to the front & back clips can be more than appropriate, and it can also act as a gentle reminder for a dog that is trained to walk on a loose lead when they are getting just a tad too far ahead.
A dog that's used to pulling on a lead will not stop when they hit the end of the lead, oftentimes the opposite is the case. A dog that is trained to walk on a loose lead will feel the lead tighten slightly on their back clip and slow down because they notice they're getting too far away. We don't want the front clip lead pressure to be uncomfortable for the dog, but rather function as that gentle reminder in a freshly trained spot where they haven't got the opposition reflex (“I feel pressure, I pull harder”) yet. If the lead is always the same length they get pretty used to where they need to be and will hit the end of the lead less and less. Continue to reward your dog for doing what you expect (walking on a loose lead) and note that having a slightly longer lead can make the world of a difference, see leash length article.
In all cases, the back-clip must be considered the default attachment point when walking. Not only is it better for your dog’s physical and mental health (which is our priority), it also prevents your dog from getting accustomed to ignoring any pressure on the front clip. If you have already been using the front clip for the sole purpose of “fixing” pulling on the lead, you’ve probably noticed that eventually the effect wears off. To prevent this from happening with a new harness, you want to consider the front-clip attachment as an additional measure that’s used very occasionally if the situation immediately requires it and never for longer than a second. So, if your dog has just spotted a cat for example and really wants to pull towards it, hold them with the pressure on the back clip rather than spoiling your front clip effects.
If you are unsure, play it safe and stick with a back-clip harness. Even safe equipment can be harmful if used incorrectly – like yanking on a lead – and it is far better to be safe than to risk damage to your dog. Putting the time into their training and seeking assistance as needed will do far more good for you and your dog than relying on any equipment to resolve their pulling.
As always, happy training!