They’re not used to having hands near their face.
Imagine a person coming up to you and fluttering their hands around your face. They’re not being aggressive, but it’s enough to freak you out. Your dog could be experiencing a similar feeling whenever your hands get near her face. The air directly around her head is her personal space, and she doesn’t appreciate those boundaries being breached—even if it’s by her favorite person.
Being comfortable with human hands around their head is something dogs need to be taught. It’s an unavoidable part of their lives. They need their ears cleaned and their teeth brushed, and all that involves tolerating hands near their face. And don’t forget, putting a collar or harness on is a lot harder when your dog is doing everything they can to keep away from you.
Finding a harness that avoids the head area as much as possible is a short-term solution, but it won’t help your pup overcome their real problem. Starting puppies early by calmly touching their ears and lips is an important part of puppy socialization. But if your adult dog is already past that point, you can use desensitization conditioning to make them feel more comfortable. Find the line between where your dog is comfortable and where they’re not and slowly start getting closer. You can put peanut butter on your fingers for encouragement, but don’t move too quickly. The key is to take it in steps, and never move closer until your dog is completely comfortable with your current distance.
Why Are Fearful Dogs Afraid of Touch?
Fearful dogs can be a black box that we don’t always fully understand.
Some dogs who are afraid of touch have been physically abused, reprimanded or subjected to possible physical injury or pain. Others just didn’t receive adequate puppy handling and socialization during their critical socialization period.
I would highly recommend a head-to-tail physical with your dog’s veterinarian to ensure he does not have any underlying injuries. Even if your dog had a veterinarian exam in the past, it’s always a good idea to inform your vet that your dog has issues with touch and letting you put on his harness.
Be aware that an examination can be extremely distressing for a fearful dog, so discuss how best to approach it with your vet.
For Dogs Not Liking the Restricted Feel
Nowadays, there are models of harnesses that are less restrictive. The non-restrictive harness models typically have a Y-shaped configuration seen when viewed facing the front of the dog’s body.
These harnesses are designed to allow as much natural movement as possible without interfering much with front leg extension. Indeed, with your dog wearing this type of harness, you should be able to extend your dog’s leg gently all the way forward and all the way back with nothing interfering with or blocking movement.
Examples of non-restrictive harnesses include Ruffwears Front Range Harness, Balance Harness, Perfect Fit harness and the Truelove Harness.
How to Teach Your Puppy Not to Run Away from His Harness
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to take Niffler to puppy kindergarten. He was excited, spinning and wagging his tail. But when I reached for his harness, he pinned his ears and ran under the desk.
I was using a Ruffwear Front Range harness, which pulls over his head and then buckles behind his armpits. I’m sure that putting a harness over your head takes some getting used to – but I also noticed that Niffler avoided me when I tried to put on his collar.
So what do you do if your puppy runs away when you try to put on his harness or collar?