The harness grip in dogs: emergency signal in case of undesirable behavior

The harness grip is a useful tool in dog training when a dog becomes unresponsive in exciting situations and restraining the dog becomes necessary. In addition, it may be necessary to hold the dog before he can go forward – for example, when bicyclists, joggers, cars or other dogs cross the path. In order for this emergency signal not to be unpleasant for the dog or to bring additional stress into the situation, a good training structure is necessary.

What is the harness grip in the dog?

The harness grip in dogs: emergency signal in case of undesirable behavior

In the case of the harness grip, the human grips the dog after appropriate announcement ("Stop")!", "Harness!") into the harness of the dog and then asks for an alternative behavior. For example, if the dog jumps into the leash with other dogs, the harness grip can be used to stop him and train an alternative behavior such as turning away from the other dog, a hand touch or a sit.

The harness grip is a useful emergency signal for situations in which a dog is (still) overwhelmed and cannot (yet) show safe alternative behavior. This is often the case when a situation is very exciting for the dog.

When to use the harness grip?

The harness grip on the dog is intended to interrupt or prevent undesirable behavior. In the following situations, the harness grip can be helpful:

  • The dog jumps at people and is not yet so far in the training that it can master also suddenly appearing people or other single situations.
  • The dog reacts aversively or very excited to other dogs and cannot remain calm when the distance is exceeded and jumps into the leash.
  • The dog digs excessively.
  • The dog is unable to get out of a particular situation.
  • The dog is no longer responsive and can no longer perceive signals.
  • The dog should be prevented from showing undesirable behavior (chasing joggers, chasing cars, etc).

Why do you have to train the harness grip beforehand??

Very simple: If you grab the dog without warning at the harness and pull it, it can lead to unpleasant scenes depending on the dog and the situation. If a dog is already stressed or very excited, a sudden touch on the body can lead to backward defensive behavior. In other words, the dog may snap at your hand.

Even if he does not react with defensive behavior, the dog may become frightened. This is how additional stress is created. In addition, the dog may negatively associate the unpleasant stimulus with the owner.

Since we need the harness grip mainly in situations where the dog is very agitated or unresponsive due to the increased stress level, it should never be used without first training it positively.

Training structure: How to train the harness grip?

Choose word signal

In the first step one considers a word signal, which announces the harness grasp beforehand. Choose a word that you don’t normally use and that comes quickly to your lips even in stressful situations. Examples: Stop, hey, harness, watch out, etc.

First training step: practice fast approach of the hand

Especially for sensitive dogs or dogs from the animal protection, the fast approach of the hand to the back must be practiced first. Since you are outside or only at the edge of the field of vision of the dog, this is really important so that the dog is not frightened and knows what happens after the announcement.

  • Stand sideways next to your dog.
  • Give your harness grip signal, for example "Hey!!"
  • Approach your dog’s shoulder with your hand, but do not put your hand into the harness yet.
  • Reward him with a good treat.
  • Take the hand away only after he has eaten the treat.

Repeat this step and bring your hand closer and closer to the harness until you can reach into the harness without the dog showing any signs of resistance or stress.

Attention: If the dog evades, shows stress or jumping behavior, you have to train in smaller steps. That means: again more distance to the dog, hand not approaching so fast, improve reward.

Training step 1: Fast approach of the hand to the dog up to the touch

Second training step: Build up the grip into the harness

If the first training step works well, you can go one step further. Now you take hold of the harness and pull a little on it. The dog is no longer rewarded for the grip, but for the yielding of the weight.

  • Give a signal (for example "Hey!")
  • Reach into the harness
  • pull lightly on the harness
  • Reward the dog for giving way
  • Let go of the harness only after the dog has finished eating.

Training step 2: Reach into the harness and reward

Third training step: ask for alternative behavior

Since the harness grip is only an emergency signal when the dog can no longer think clearly, it is important to ask for an alternative behavior. This behavior depends on the situation we are training at the moment. An alternative behavior can be for example

  • Go behind me
  • Hand touch: nudge my hand (see photo)
  • Sit down
  • Lay down
  • Look at me

It is important that the alternative behavior is first built up in non-stressful situations at home and generalized in different places. Only if a dog can reliably recall an alternative behavior in everyday life, can we train it in stressful situations.

Fourth training step: Generalize

When you can reach into the harness without any problems and your dog can show the alternative behavior in different situations, you start with the generalization. This means that you practice with your dog what you have learned in many different places, at different times of the day and under different conditions. Only then you can be sure that later on it really works everywhere.

  • Vary times of day and days of the week
  • Vary the pull on the harness
  • Vary body positions
  • Vary training locations
  • Vary mood and pitch


The harness grip should be used as little as possible. The actual goal is that you don’t need to secure the dog anymore, but he can show the alternative behavior on his own and without any additional intervention from your side.

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