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MLA Full: "Harness Training and Leash Etiquette." YouTube, uploaded by Animal Wonders Montana, 5 August 2016,
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Harness training an animal can be a great way to enrich their lives! Jessi shares how to teach an animal how to accept a harness and respectfully walk on a leash. Featuring Cheddar the guinea pig and quite a few familiar faces.

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Hi guys.  We're back at Animal Wonders, the place that makes me the most happy of any other place on Earth.


I've had a few people ask me lately about how I get the animals to be comfortable and enjoy walking with a harness and leash.  Most of our animals that like to come out for walks have been taught to accept the harness through desensitization training, which is exactly what you do when you put a collar or harness on a puppy and they just kinda have to get used to it.  At first, they might be distracted by it and try and rub or scratch it off, but after a bit, they usually just ignore it because they get used to it, or desensitized to it.  

For example, Chili Pepper, our Patagonian cavy, he came to us when he was just four days old, so we fit him with a tiny harness while he was still getting the hang of walking.  At five years old, he now loves wearing his harness to go on walks through the forest and long runs down the dirt road.

Seraphine and Cas the foxes also learned how to wear a harness like most puppies when they were just a few months old.  Some of the animals learned to wear the harness when they were older, like Pearl the Columbina tegu and Pickles the guinea pig.  Pearl began wearing a harness when she was about four to five years old, and she was not a fan in the beginning, but after a few times of wearing it, she got used to the feel and discovered that she could indeed still move her arms.  Now that she's been wearing the harness for a few years, she mostly just ignores it and focuses on all the cool things around her.

Pickles started wearing his harness when he was about a year old.  He's two years old now so he's getting pretty comfortable with it.  Recently, he's gotten so comfortable that he enjoys walking around on the floor during our public presentations.  I really like being able to put an animal down and show them moving around naturally.  I think it's much easier to get to know them as an individual when they move around freely, which is why I love harness training our animals.

If you have a young animal at home, I suggest getting them used to it early on.  It's so much easier getting them used to the concept at a young age.  If you have an older animal, that's alright.  You can still do it.  It just might take a little longer.  If you haven't seen our videos on training yet, I highly recommend watching them before training an animal to walk on a harness and leash.  I recommend using positive reinforcement training whenever possible to help them associate the harness with good feelings.  

Positive reinforcement means that you're giving the animal something good, so they feel good.  This will make the animal more likely to want to engage in the process again in the future.  This is Cheddar.  She's never had a harness on before but I'm going to try and attempt it for the first time using this comfort harness.  I'm going to use the comfort harness instead of a nylon harness because it is more comfortable and I'm going to offer her treats so she enjoys this process and wants to participate again in the future.  I'm not gonna buckle it right now, I'm just gonna use the Velcro because this is her very first time.  I don't want to push my luck.  I'm continuing to touch and hold her so she's not completely moving around freely with just the harness on.  She might try and run out of it if I do that.  There you go.  There you go.  See how she tried to back out of it, move out of it?  That is a very good first attempt.  Good job.  Look, it's on there.  Nice job, Cheddar.  Alright, now I'm going to remove it and we're all good.  Nice work.

Since that was Cheddar's very first time with a harness, I don't want to put it on her a second time right away, so I'm actually going to let her go on back.  The next time you put the harness on, repeat the treats and the massage, but allow them to move around a little more.  For the first few times you have the harness on, don't attach the leash.  You can introduce it after a few sessions by just laying it on the floor next to them.  Once the harness has become old news, you can go ahead and attach the leash, but don't pull on it right away.  You want them just to get used to the weight and feel of the leash being on.  Sometimes the clip can add weight to one side or make a new noise with the harness ring, so just let them get used to it all.

When they're no longer concerned about the leash being part of the whole process, go ahead and purchase a clicker and you can begin your leash training.  Training requires very clear communication.  The leash and the clicker are tools to help you communicate.  When you want an animal to stop moving in a certain direction, you should allow the leash to become taut, causing pressure on the harness.  You don't have to use the whole length of the leash.  I like to hold it a little closer so the animal is within arms reach so I can easily give them their reward.  Once they feel the pressure from the taut leash and stop moving in that direction, you need to immediately click your clicker and give them their treat.

Go ahead and reach all the way around and put the treat in front of them so they don't even have to turn around to get it.  The next time they reach the end of the leash, click and reward.   Do this many times with a shortened leash.  You'll soon see them start to react to the pressure of the leash without hearing the clicker.  What it looks like this: when they hit the end of the leash, they'll automatically turn around, expecting a treat.  

Go ahead and give them their reward.  That was perfect.  You can also then ask them to do other things, like come towards you or move in another direction and you can give them much more freedom.  I like to call this leash etiquette because you're teaching them how to act respectfully towards the leash and its pressure.  You can now use the harness and leash as a tool for communication instead of just something to restrain them from running off after a squirrel, or in Cheddar's case, a pile of hay.  

I hope that you guys enjoyed this episode today.  Happy harnessing, everyone, and if you'd like to go on an adventure with us every week, subscribe to our YouTube channel AnimalWondersMontana and we'll see you next week.


I often wonder where Slick came from.  It's pretty rare to find a captive bred tiger salamander so he was most likely captured from the wild.  These guys are very attached to the area that they were born in.