You’ve seen them, the dogs walking down the street with an Easy Walk harness hanging down over their shoulders. For me, there’s nothing that induces a facial tic quite like it. It’s not so much that it makes me want to adjust my bra strap, but that all it requires is a simple adjustment (or, really, a different harness, altogether!). I know a trainer who used to own a shop where Easy Walks were sold (before better products were developed), but all sales came with a lesson on proper fitting, and she demonstrated by adjusting it on the dog before the customer left the store. Unfortunately, it seems everyone just buys them at PETCO or orders them from amazon, neither of which have any interest — nor knowledge — in advising you of the proper use of any of its products (yet another reason to support your local businesses!).
Allowing the front strap and D-ring to fall over the shoulders of the dog restricts its movement, even if not consciously or noticeably. When the musculature of the dog’s front-end assembly is constantly forced to adjust itself, what effects would that have on the structural integrity of the dog? Years ago, I was gaiting my dog outside at a show for a couple of breeders, and one asked if I had used an Easy Walk. Surprised, I said yes, and asked how she would know that. She replied that his gait was off; that his front end lacked reach, as a normal dog’s should – which is often seen in dogs wearing Easy Walks. The effects of this are not merely an elitist dog show particular, but speak to the function that a dog should be able to perform in his or her daily life. Chasing squirrels in the yard? Running gleefully to catch a ball? Jumping off rocks on the trails? Turning sharp corners faster than you can say ‘tendon injury’? How are those tendons and ligaments going to fare if they’re compromised? Dr. Chris Zink gained notoriety for speaking out on the effects of early spay/neuter on growth plates and musculoskeletal development of the legs. It’s no surprise, then, with a specialty in canine sports medicine, that she would also raise concern with the use of front-clip harnesses. I was thrilled to open an issue of Whole Dog Journal and see that she had written a letter to them in response to a cover photo showing a dog in a front-clip harness. In an editorial, WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller wrote “Dr. Zink explains that these harnesses sit on top of the biceps and supraspinatus tendons, two of the most commonly injured structures in dogs’ forelimbs, particularly in canine athletes. She asserts that, just by logic, one has to assume that the pressure this kind of harness exerts on the dog’s forelimbs in an activity where the dog is supposed to be extending her forelimbs (i.e., running, walking), is not a good idea.” I have a big dog bred for drafting work – the dog is hard wired to pull. Having had one that suffered rear weakness due to a collapsed cervical disk, I no longer use neck collars. Harnesses are far safer on spinal integrity, but does it need to cost muscular integrity? No. Look for a harness that doesn’t include a cross-chest strap. One no-pull design that I like is the Freedom Harness, which includes D-rings on both the front and back (between the shoulder blades). I have found that even clipping the leash to just the back clip is effective in reducing pulling. Another design that I use is the Holt (pictured, right) — which is marketed as a no-pull, but it’s really not. As an alternative to a collar, I just like its lightweight, rolled design as a seemingly more comfortable option for everyday use. If your dog pulls, though, no harness is going to train him not to. It may prevent him or her from pulling while it’s on, but only you can train your dog not to pull.