Last Valentine’s Day, we brought home a puppy. Not just any puppy – a black lab puppy. It should be illegal to have so much cuteness running around one property. We had the last pick of the litter, which meant I couldn’t get too attached to the pictures I was receiving of all the puppies, nor could I anticipate his size in advance. I didn’t know who ours would be, and I didn’t care because either way, I was getting a walking buddy. What I did notenvision was finding out on pickup day that we would be taking home the biggest pup. His dad was ninety-five pounds, and his mom was seventy-five so somewhere in my brain I envisioned he’d be in the middle. I was not at all using any Mendelian genetics in this assessment, and Onyx grew fast. He was seventeen pounds the day we brought him home and by August, he’d ballooned into a beefy and wily ninety-pound brat. He had an affinity for chasing and lunging at cars and squirrels, and he was and is a strong puller. In the year since we brought him home, we spent over a thousand dollars on private training and at least five hundred on different types of harness configurations to curb the pulling. Of the four or five harnesses we tried, only two were specifically designed as “anti-pull” harnesses. Ultimately, we ended up using multiple products to solve our pulling problem, but we did (mostly) solve it.
ATLAS PET COMPANY LIFETIME HARNESS
The first harness I purchased in the anti-pull range was the Atlas Pet Company Lifetime Harness. If you inferred by “first” that this harness didn’t live up to our expectations, you’d be right. I was initially drawn to their lifetime warranty, because puppies chew, and we were still dealing with a puppy, even if he was massive. I was also impressed that they made their products with real all-terrain adventures in mind. Even if my plan was to walk on country roads or well-maintained trails, I needed something strong, and a company that specializes in leashes made with the same material as climbing rope seemed like a good fit. The Atlas website states “every detail has been considered, from using Gore® Tenara thread for longevity to outward-facing seams for comfort. Combined with chest, back and belly adjustments, you’re able to create the perfect fit to prevent chafing and slippage other harnesses are known for.” 1 If, like me, you had no idea what Gore® Tenara thread was, it’s essentially a high-quality thread used for outdoor applications (think UV-resistant outdoor pillows)2. No pain? No chafing? Durable? Sold.
The shipping from Colorado was glacially slow, but the packaging itself was impressive. I’ve received some harnesses that were haphazardly thrown into the shipping bag, but this had its own packaging which was thoughtfully designed. Immediately upon opening, I was impressed by the side clip and the durability of the harness itself. It felt rugged; like we could walk a million miles and it would come to wear like my favorite Ergo or a well-worn leather leash. The side clip is magnetic, with a small tether to release and the martingale portion of this harness is on the chest. This was a different experience for me as I’ve always had buckles, but so is needing an anti-pull harness – I always walked my last lab through the woods, because he was originally trained for hunting and terrible on lead. Go figure.
With the Atlas, I did notice an overall decrease in the intensity of the pulling and it was apparent almost immediately; but within a week, I also noticed that Onyx had chaffing in his puppy pits, and he ran away every time I pulled out the harness for a walk. Chaffing might even be a bit of an understatement because large scabs had actually formed from the rubbing. I contacted APC to ask if I had somehow fitted it incorrectly – they never responded. After working in Quality Control in Biotech, this really burned my biscuits. Either they know this happens, or they are lacking in the Customer Service department. Either way, not cool. I adjusted the harness, hoping there wouldn’t be any more rubbing, and we carried on. Within a couple of weeks, I noticed he had figured out how to manipulate the harness to get where he wanted to go – he would drop his head and chest and literally charge to one side or another to get to his desired destination. He looked more like he belonged in the Spanish Bull Run than on the wooded streets of New England. This started to become very scary when cars would pass, and he would nearly take me off my feet trying to charge at them. I did not feel like either one of us had control in those moments, and it was terrifying. Our woodland walks weren’t much different. While he wouldn’t be charging at cars, he was absolutely dragging me through the woods when he really wanted to go toward a stream, and the harness design was putting pressure on his trachea and impacting his breathing. That side clip that seemed so awesome at first was regularly getting jammed due to the muddy adventures we were taking and his conformation when he was walking almost looked like his legs were bowing in an effort to push off his hind legs to get where he wanted to be. I consulted with my trainer about it, hoping this could all be chalked up to operator error and she encouraged me to look for another option, as she felt like this one was dropping his chest in an awkward way and restricting his shoulder movement. She recommended a head harness. The bottom line: at $84, your money is better spent elsewhere.
2HOUNDS DESIGN FREEDOM HARNESS
Much like the best things in life, I didn’t go looking for the 2Hounds Design Freedom Harness – it found me. I had finally opened an Instagram account and one of the first videos to appear was of a woman walking a dog she described as a “freight train,” and detailing the “total control” she had just by switching harnesses. It just kept reappearing in my feed. Blame it on algorithms, I prefer to think the Universe was speaking to me. The thing about harnesses is that no one reviews them in any great detail unless they are an influencer. You might find a few blurbs on Amazon (and I did), but there’s always the one person in every crowd who has a dog that chews through the leash and deems the product a trash pile, and they are almost never comparing two products in any meaningful way. Amazon reviews always throw me, because I know enough people who will complain literally just because they are allergic to happiness, and I also know plenty of people who think the world is so wonderful, they could find a silver lining to homelessness. Not knowing what sort of experience they’ve had, what type of dog they’re dealing with, or what harness they’ve used previously basically negated any review I read.
I still wasn’t ready to pull the trigger and I certainly wasn’t ready to listen to the grumbling if this harness also didn’t work out. The stakes are real around here. So, like all responsible adults, I bought the harness with the accompanying leash and put it in Onyx’s stocking, broadcasting to all inhabitants of our household that it was from Santa. The husband can’t be publicly angry with Santa, right? I have to admit: it was hard to choose. 2Hounds has a harness for every season and holiday, which is fantastic for people like me who should avoid bandanas lest one dog decides another dog should not be wearing it and a new variation of the evil stepsister scene from Cinderella plays out before my very eyes. I digress. I did eventually land on a red reflective number because we often walk before sunrise and red just always looks nice on a black lab. It’s classic.
Christmas morning came and I nearly ripped open the stocking. First things first, the harness’ big claim is “no pain.” I am happy to report that after avoiding the Atlas like heartworm, I (mostly) do not have to chase our gigantic dog through the house to get this harness on. Bulls and china shops and all that. He approaches me on his own and puts his head through with minimal drama. This was after a couple of weeks of use. I say “minimal” because I think he’s still scared I’m going to pull the Atlas out of my version of my walking bag. Additionally – no chaffing in his puppy pits. The underbelly portion of the harness is velvet, which is yet to be determined how it will hold up to romping laying in the mud and streams (it’s been fine so far with wet snow), but the webbing portion feels very durable (the site claims it can be used to tow cars3). Because the martingale portion of the harness is in the back, as opposed to the front, I am also able to clip his harness through the coat we use for him in the winter. This is an unintended benefit of this purchase as I despise the smell of a wet Labrador.
The leash is different than anything I’ve ever seen, but slick in design, nonetheless. I opted for the Euro Leash (5-8ft) to give my pup a bit more room to sniff and roam. The training leash is 3 to 5 feet, depending on whether you’re using one clip or two. The thing I find strange about the leash is that there are clips in two different locations. At the base of the handle, there is a D-ring to convert the leash. Of course, when walking a very strong dog, my first concern was whether that would withstand being yanked on because this guy has already torn my rotator cuff and dislocated one of my fingers. After using the leash, this no longer worries me. My only remaining issue, though, is it can be a little uncomfortable depending on how you hold your leash. I (stupidly) put the leash hook around my wrist, that way it’s unlikely he will bolt into the sunrise. I am aware this also increases the chances of him snapping my wrist or tearing my rotator cuff again, but right now the biggest concern is the cars.
As for pulling, the Freedom Harness decreases pulling significantly (I would say about 25-30% more than the Atlas), but not altogether, even when attached to both the front and the back connection points. I find he is still able to manipulate this harness to some degree with his duck, tuck, and charge maneuver, but he is not in pain, and the pain-free experience, plus the added control makes him much almost completely manageable.
Bottom line: would I recommend the 2Hounds Freedom Harness? Yes, absolutely! But with the understanding that this is a tool and may not be a one-stop-shop solution to all your pulling issues. Depending on the size of the pup and the intensity of the pull, this could be a one-and-done, but in our case, we use a combination of products to address our needs, and these things almost always take some training to reap the full benefits. If you’re ready to take the plunge, use code trendsetter15 for 15% off through 2-1-2023.
I think all my best thoughts on my early morning walks. And one day I realized this: dogs are much like human toddlers and one specific approach isn’t going to address all the issues. While the Atlas decreased the pulling on some level, it increased his car reactivity because he was in pain, and by the end of his walks, he’d had enough. Ultimately, we tried the Gentle Leader solo and while the Gentle Leader did an overall good job of teaching him where he should be walking, he didn’t appreciate the redirection on his face for long and I didn’t have any sense of control when he went into beast mode. And while the Freedom Harness eliminated pain and gave us a vastly more comfortable walking experience, it didn’t completely eliminate the charging of the bull when he was really excited about a scent or a squirrel. That’s when it hit me! There’s nothing that says I have to subscribe to one method or another in its entirety. We currently walk using both the Gentle Leader and the Freedom harness, in conjunction with the 2Hounds Euro Leash. I went from an unruly beast to a truly polite walking partner. I can take a quick photo or just enjoy a few minutes without the kids screaming. When a car approaches, I just slide my hand down the lead a little to gain more control, and happily, we’ve had exactly one car incident since I started our new regimen. Now I feel completely confident walking him in any condition and terrain, and I’m back to enjoying sunrises. My mental health and my family are forever grateful to have found 2Hounds.