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Can Front Clip Harnesses Be Used Ethically?

A question that I keep seeing is the front clip harness lead combination and whether it's aversive.

The answer is yes, no and it depends.

So, today we are going to look at the use of a front clip harness use through the lens of TTouch leadwork. The TTouch method, with its unique two-point contact lead approach, has emerged as a frontrunner in promoting canine relaxation and steadiness. Front clip no pull harnesses, not so much. Read on to learn more.

The TTouch two-point contact lead is an advanced tool designed to facilitate a balanced connection between the human and the dog. This system interacts with the dog at two specific points, offering a more structured and harmonised linkage. Unlike traditional harnesses that might exert unilateral pressure, this mechanism ensures even distribution, fostering better proprioceptive feedback for the dog.

The Nervous System Link

Every living being, from humans to our dogs, operates under the influence of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), a key component of which includes the Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic (PNS) Nervous Systems. These two systems act in tandem but serve distinct physiological and behavioural purposes.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

Often dubbed the 'fight or flight' system, the SNS springs into action during perceived threats or challenges. It facilitates a series of physiological changes such as:

  • Acceleration of the heart rate and increased blood pressure.

  • Expansion of the lung's air passages for increased oxygen supply.

  • Release of energy reserves to prepare the body for immediate action.

  • Heightening of sensory awareness.

For dogs, stimuli like loud noises, unfamiliar environments, or even certain visual cues can trigger the SNS. When a dog lunges, barks aggressively, or displays signs of over-excitement, it's an outward manifestation of the SNS at work.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

Serving as a counterbalance to the SNS, the PNS is all about 'rest and digest'. It oversees:

  • Reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.

  • Stimulation of digestion by increasing intestinal activity.

  • Conservation of energy through relaxation and recovery mechanisms.

  • Promoting growth, energy storage, and other restorative processes.

In simpler terms, when your dog is lounging contentedly after a meal or is in a state of serene alertness, the PNS is predominantly at play.

The two-point contact lead used carefully and correctly, is designed to prevent excessive SNS activation which can create in a feedback loop of reactivity. By promoting a balanced gait and coupling this with positive reinforcements (like treats), dogs can shift from a reactive to a responsive state, more aligned with PNS activation.

The Power of Proprioceptive Feedback

Proprioception, in essence, is the body's sense of its own position in space. When dogs move, they constantly receive feedback from their muscles, tendons, and joints. This feedback is integral for coordinated movement, but it also plays a pivotal role in influencing the nervous system.

The two-point contact system, by providing gentle tactile stimuli at two strategic points, amplifies this proprioceptive feedback. As the dog moves, these points of contact create subtle shifts in the dog's posture and balance, fostering enhanced body awareness.

Parasympathetic Body Movements: The Gentle Shift

Certain movements and postures inherently stimulate the PNS. These are often characterised by:

  • Relaxed muscles.

  • Even and coordinated strides.

  • A balanced and aligned posture.

By using the two-point contact system, we can gently guide worried dogs into these parasympathetic-promoting movements. The light, distributed contact between the two encourages dogs to move in a more balanced and aligned manner. Over time, as the dog consistently adopts these movements, there's a gradual shift from SNS-driven behaviours to a PNS-dominant state.

Steadying Internal Responses: The Cascade Effect

When the dog's movement becomes steadier and more aligned, a cascade of internal responses follows:

  1. Reduced Stress Hormones: As the dog moves in a relaxed manner, the production of stress hormones like cortisol diminishes.

  2. Enhanced Digestion: PNS-dominant movements support digestive processes, allowing for better nutrient absorption and overall health.

  3. Relaxed Respiratory Rates: Breathing becomes more rhythmic and relaxed, promoting oxygenation and reducing anxiety.

  4. Emotional Equilibrium: A calmer physiological state often translates into a more balanced emotional state, reducing reactive behaviours.

The two-point contact system, while seemingly a simple tool, is profoundly impactful. By facilitating gentle shifts into parasympathetic body movements, it offers a non-intrusive method to harmonise a dog's internal responses. This approach underscores the principle that sometimes, the path to internal well-being is paved by external guidance.

NOT No-Pull

It's important distinguish the TTouch two-point contact lead from conventional no-pull harnesses. This isn't a mechanism purely to deter unwanted behaviour. Rather, it’s a scientific tool aimed at enhancing canine proprioception, fostering better neuromuscular coordination, and promoting overall body awareness.

As guardians and professionals, recognising this distinction is vital. We're not merely curbing a symptom (like pulling); we're addressing the root cause, enabling dogs to process stimuli more effectively and achieve a natural state of equilibrium during walks.

Dog Harness Type and Use

Front-clip harnesses have gained significant popularity in recent times. Their design largely focuses on counteracting the pulling action of a dog. If a dog attempts to pull, the front-clip design redirects them, consequently hindering their forward momentum. Though effective in reducing pulling to some extent, this method doesn't necessarily target the underlying reasons or the dog's welfare and emotional state goes largely unrecognised. It's a method that seeks to rectify the symptom rather than the cause, lacking the holistic touch, it's not in line with NICE guidance.

Two Points and The Y Shaped Harness

The Y-shaped harness speaks the language of anatomy. Crafted keeping a dog's natural structure in mind, this harness ensures unrestricted shoulder movement, pivotal for a healthy and natural gait. Besides promoting better movement, its design is considerate of the trachea, eliminating chances of undue pressure. This harness type, when comfortable and fitted properly can be used with the aforementioned two point of contact approach.

The TTouch two-point contact lead stands as a testament to how understanding canine physiology and psychology can lead to more effective and compassionate training methods. It goes beyond mere control and introduces a paradigm where the dog's health, comfort, and mental well-being are at the forefront.

For guardians and professionals, it's an invitation to shift perspectives, to move from correction to connection, and to embrace methods that resonate with a dog's intrinsic nature.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Sarah Fisher ACE at Tilley Farm, Alex Wilson for explaining its application at the Xtra Dog Training TTouch workshop, and Dr. Janet Finlay from Heart Dog with Michelle Dart for showcasing its use in the accompanying video, where you can learn more about the gentle and kind methods of TTouch lead work.

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Wendy Harmening
Wendy Harmening
Aug 30, 2023

Please reconsider using the word "tribe"! Insensitive and inappropriate use of the term...

Aug 31, 2023
Replying to

Oh Wendy - How sad that you went straight for the one thing you didn't like. Tribe isn't an insensitive term unless you consider one culture be lesser or more important than another. A tribe can be defined purely by social ties. The use is neither insensitive nor inappropriate when you realise and embrace how connected we all are.

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