Barnum, Harnessed!

The Gotcha Day Festivities carry over from Sunday.

We did a decent amount of training today, including . . . Barnum’s first time wearing his working harness!

He has worn a variety of gear before, and his reaction to all of it has been: “Yuck! Don’t put that on me! Get that offa me! Eek!”

I tried shaping, luring, successive approximation, classical conditioning (when the walking harness and orange vest go on, it means fun and recreation!), but nothing was 100 percent successful before. That’s not entirely true. In the interests of full disclosure: he did get used to his collar, eventually, but since that’s been a 24/7 situation since he was tiny, he didn’t have much choice.

With everything else, once he has it on, he usually seems comfortable, but he really did not want to put stuff on.

Fortunately, I practiced with gear I didn’t expect him to use when truly working.

His main working gear will be a black webbing harness,which is worn as the base for a blue saddle-bag type pack that goes on top. It’s made by RuffWear. We have an older version of the Palisades Pack.

The nice part about this gear is that you can have the harness on, by itself, and have the dog be off-duty. Neither the dog nor I have to worry about extra weight or space, etc. Or,  you can attach a handle for manual wheelchair pulling (a job Gadget only did once a year or less, on average, but when I needed that help, it was really invaluable) or other brief, minimal pulling or stabilizing work.

Then, when I need the packs on for my SD to carry stuff, which is my main gear need, it’s a simple matter of attaching the saddlebags to the harness with Velcro and a snap or two.

I had been a bit concerned about the design of the harness, because the dog has to put its head through the neck hole, and then the front strap requires the dog to put its paw through that, as well. So, it’s not as easy to gear up as your typical pack.

I started a few weeks ago, just dropping treats on the harness. Then, letting some of the treats fall under it so he Barnum to snorffle around and put his nose inside the various holes.

Over time, I started holding the harness up in front of him and feeding Barnum the treats with my hand through the neck hole. When he was very comfortable with that, and seemed eager and not at all apprehensive when he saw me pick up the pack, I did some sessions where I held treats in front of the collar, and Barnum had to poke his nose through, then his muzzle, then his eyes, etc., until it was all the way on his neck.

I always had him back out of the harness on cue, long before I saw any signs of distress. So far, I’ve managed to keep it an entirely positive, relaxed experience for both of us.

In the last two days, I’ve also worked on having him sit after the harness is over his neck, so that I can then ask for the right paw to put through the front strap. That has been going well, also, except that he usually wants to give me his left paw, first. But, I’m sure he’ll figure out eventually that I always want the right paw for this particular “trick.”

Tonight, Barnum was wearing it and seemed completely comfortable. He’d had no problems putting his head in and his right leg through the strap, so I decided to try putting it on completely, which meant buckling the chest and waist straps.

I’d opened and shut the buckles in front of  him before, treating and praising lavishly every time I did, but I’d never buckled it on him before. I was prepared, if he showed the tiniest bit of discomfort, to immediately stop what I was doing, and calmly, happily remove the harness.

I buckled the two straps, praising and feeding him.

Then, there he was, wearing his harness. And his body language said, “Are you going to feed me dinner now?”

I gave him a nice boneless chicken thigh to work on in his crate. He dined while wearing his working-dog harness. Yay!

Then we practiced doing “working dog walk,” around the house, with me focusing on a high rate of reinforcement, especially for eye contact, position, and just generally trying to click everything clickable to make the experience of wearing the harness as rewarding as possible.

Then, for the coup de grace, I set up his muffin-tin game, which he played with much gusto. Then we had a bit of a love-in to celebrate.

I took off his harness and released him and made myself boring. Inside, of course, I am thrilled.

I considered taking a picture for this post, but here’s the thing: He’s a black, very fluffy dog. The harness is black webbing. I decided that if I took a picture, it would basically look like how Barnum looks anyway, except that he’d have a few tufts poking out where the fur is not tamped down by the harness.

Some day, I will introduce the pack, too — after he’s totally comfortable and happy putting on and wearing the harness — and then I can take a picture that will look like something. The pack is royal blue. Barnum is not. That should show up better.

But, a thousand words is worth a picture, and a least two of these thousand words are “Yee-Haw!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (that harness was the only gear I didn’t like getting into), and Barnum, well-dressed SDiT

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6 Responses to “Barnum, Harnessed!”


  1. 1 Doris Wachsler March 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

    You are an absolutely fantastic trainer!

    Belatedly, a very happy Gotcha Day to all!

    I’m looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

  2. 2 Laura March 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    A belated happy gotcha day to Barnum! In relation to wearing gear I have to add our story. My SD had never shown any concerns over wearing anything. She’s a natural for a costume contest. Dresses up & walks in parades without a qualm. My then SDiT, now my dog sport buddy & at home SD, was fine with most things but sometimes needed a brief adjustment period, like minutes or 2-3 tries but nothing long. She is just more sensitive. When choosing packs I wanted something as small & light as possible that would fit my needs. The Ruff Wear Approach pack came the closest.

    When it arrived I did a test fitting on my SD first. She was her usual accepting self as I put it on & adjusted the various straps. “So what do you think, kid?” She started to move & then froze. Suddenly I had a statue instead of an SD. What the heck? At my request she took a step or to but froze again. I checked straps, adjusted a couple & tried again. She was better but stiff moving. I unclipped the back strap & suddenly she was herself again. So I reclipped it but made it loose. All was then right with her world. Still, I found it strange considering that much of her clothing (she’s a cold natured, thin-coated Greyhound) belly straps

    Then it was on to the SDiT. She was used to wearing a harness but rarely wore a coat except in heavy rain. I loosened all the straps again, put the pack on her & began adjusting the straps to fit her. I wasn’t finished before she started to lean sideways. Huh? I stopped & she stood there frozen. What’s with this pack? I loosened some straps so the pack was loose but would not slide or flop around. I did leave the back strapped clipped though. I asked the SDiT to walk. She almost fell over sideways. I asked again & she walked a few steps with her body curved in a C-shape before falling sideways, coming to rest leaning against a chair. She stood there, all C-shaped, using the chair for support of her now refrozen body. Sigh. I unclipped the back strap, which was already so loose as to be useless. She walked a bit, didn’t fall sideways but still moved in a small circle to match the new C-curve of her body. I dramatically loosened the girth strap. She moved much better.

    Later took both dogs to REI to try on various packs. SD was fine with all of them. SDiT was tentative about ones that were larger but walked straight & seemed to adjust reasonably well. All that is except the Ruff Wear packs. So what do they have against Ruff Wear?

    It seems my dogs both were thrown off by the elastic of the girth & bell straps on the Ruff Wear packs. The curve of my SDiT was such that it relieved some of the pressure from the straps. With a few trials my SD was soon fine. The SDiT took much longer. It’s strange but I guess I had simply never exposed them to anything that felt like this.

    The packs are great though & quite useful on long outings. Hope Mr. Barnum comes to love his pack.

  3. 3 Susie Collins March 6, 2011 at 1:50 am

    The naughty boys who can’t be harnessed are always the most interesting.

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler March 6, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    Thanks, Mom! I think you might be a teensy bit biased, however. 😉

  5. 5 Sharon Wachsler March 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you!
    And thank you for sharing your story.
    It’s funny because the harness that Barnum seems totally fine with (the one I wrote about in this post), is from RuffWear, but all the gear he has hated in the past (walking harnesses of various types, a different practice pack, etc), was by other companies. I don’t think it’s anything specific about any of the gear, though. I think it’s just that he is more used to gear now, and also that I know him better now and what makes him comfortable, and was able to introduce it in a way that he’s happy with.
    Hopefully I will continue to succeed in making the harness and pack a happy thing.

  6. 6 Sharon Wachsler March 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Ha ha ha. Susie, somehow I think you’re not limiting your comment to dogs. wink.


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