Why a Puppy Bites When Putting on Harness (7 Reasons)

Today we are going to look at why a puppy bites when putting on a harness and how best to solve the problem.

You’d expect your dog to be happy when they see you take out their harness; after all, it means they’re going out and all dogs love going on walks, right?

But what if your furry friend tries to bite you every time you try to put the harness on? It can be very frustrating and you need to get to the bottom of the problem for your nerves and their well-being.

Consider whether one (or maybe more) of the explanations below may be causing your four-legged friend to react adversely to their harness.

Perhaps they’re afraid, overexcited or see it as a bad thing. Other dogs may not like their feet placed through the holes. The good news is: that there are training strategies and things you can do to help them overcome their fear.

Over the years here at Dogsbarn, we’ve all had issues with our dogs misbehaving, some of which make no sense. Still, we’re always happy to delve in further and see if there’s an easy way to help our canine companions feel more comfortable and happy.

Keep reading to see if the reasons below could be causing your dog to bite when putting harnesses on and how to address the issue.

1. The Harness is Uncomfortable

If the harness doesn’t fit your furry friend correctly, they will be uncomfortable and not want to wear it. Like humans, dogs don’t like to feel discomfort and if a harness is too tight, rubs against the skin or pinches, dogs won’t want to wear it.

This may cause a negative association with the harness and may result in your dog biting when trying to put it on.

The answer

Always ensure you measure your dog before ordering a harness and if your furbaby is still growing, check daily to ensure it still fits and is not chafing its skin or trapping its fur, which will cause them pain.

2. Most Dogs Don’t Like Things Going Over Their Head.

Many dogs are afraid of things that go over their head. This is because things going over their head, which is a sensitive area, makes them feel vulnerable.

Trying to avoid something coming towards their face can cause them to act negatively, resulting in them biting you.

The answer

Introduce some dog games. Hold the harness in front of them and use treats to encourage them to stick their head through the hole to reach them; after a few sessions, you should be able to slip the harness over their head without a problem.

3. A Rescue Dog May Not be Used to a Harness

If you have adopted a pup, you may know nothing about their background, they may never have experienced wearing a harness and some dogs react badly to new experiences. Especially if you have just brought them home and they are already fearful and nervous.

Plus, if your new addition has been abused or hurt in any way, they may not be comfortable with you forcing their body into a restraint.

The answer

Take it slow; leave the harness on the floor with some treats nearby so your pooch can sniff it and realise it isn’t the terrible thing they perceive.

Create positive associations by being excited when you take the harness out and offering rewards for good behaviour, such as letting you touch them while holding the harness.

With some time, patience and a few high-value treats, Fido should soon get used to it and you can clip on that lead and head out.

4. Your Dog May be in Pain.

One of the most common reasons your dog is biting is that they are in pain; this may be something you haven’t picked up on; after all, your furry friend can’t let you know where they hurt.

However, lifting their legs or pressing around their belly may be hitting a spot that hurts. Perhaps they have an ear infection, which is why they are snapping when you try to get the contraption over their head.

If this happens regularly in the same area and its serious biting, there may be a medical reason. You could try touching the area without the harness to make sure.

The answer

If you think your dog is biting due to pain, you must take them to the vet for a check-up, they may be fine, but it’s better to have peace of mind.

5. They May Have Negative Associations With a Harness

It’s easy for dogs to make negative associations with all sorts of things and harnesses are no exception.

They could have been frightened by a motorbike or attacked by another dog whilst wearing a harness. Although they won’t remember the incident exactly, they know they were wearing a harness when it happened and felt scared.

This is due to an almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala. A dog’s amygdala is responsible for emotions, aggression, and fear.

The answer

The only way to overcome this is by conditioning them to associate the harness with a positive experience. Try bringing out their favourite toy at the same time you pick up the harness or offering a reward if Fido sniffs the harness or shows interest.

Practice a few times and once you have finally got the harness on, leave it for a few minutes in the house until your canine companion loses his fear.

6. Over-Excitement

Most dogs get excited when they think they’re going on a walk and puppies have less control than older dogs, which may result in them play biting from over-excitement.

This may seem funny the first few times, but it soon becomes frustrating if there’s a battle every time you take them out.

The answer

Teach your dog to sit and stay while you get the harness out; he needs to know that food, a treat and even the walk will only be forthcoming when he is calm. This will help him focus on his behaviour rather than the harness.

Consistency is key; stop and go back to the beginning if he starts to get hyper when putting the harness on.

7. They May Not Like You Lifting Their Feet

As with harnesses that go over the head step in, harnesses present a problem to some dogs who don’t like you touching their feet.

Puppies should be taught that being handled is a good thing from an early age and those who haven’t may have an issue with you lifting their legs and placing them in the holes.

The answer

Place the harness on the ground with some treats in front of it; when the dog moves forward and places his front feet in the foot holes, give lots of praise and the treat.

After a few days, he should be happy enough to let you tighten the straps and fasten the buckle. If your dog baulks at any stage, go back to the beginning and make it fun.


Is A Padded Harness Better For A Puppy?

One with padding may be better for a puppy with short fur as it will prevent rubbing and be more comfortable. On the other hand, if it’s fitted correctly, it shouldn’t rub.

Exactly What Do I Do If My Dog Bites Me?

Don’t react with shouting or aggression as this will escalate the situation; you could say something like NO or BAD DOG, then isolate them to give them time to calm down.

It’s essential to understand what has caused your dog to bite; they could be in pain or frightened. If the problem continues with certain breeds, discussing the issue with a qualified dog trainer might be a good idea.

Why Doesn’t My Puppy Like His Harness?

There could be many reasons; he may not like it going over his head or the feeling of being restrained. However, this can be quickly addressed with a treat or two. As mentioned above, you’ll both soon be enjoying your daily walks.


Do you own a dog who tries to bite you while putting on its collar or harness? This is not an entirely unusual situation, as many pups will attempt to wriggle free when they feel uncomfortable or scared.

However, there are ways to avoid this without resorting to a dog trainer.

There could be a few reasons your pooch isn’t keen on a harness; something may have happened in their past when walking in one, they may not like the feeling of being constrained, or they could even be in pain.

Positive reinforcement, a method of training that uses food, treats, attention, praise and petting, encourages good behaviour and is the best way to get your dog comfortable with wearing a harness.

With positive reinforcement, it is possible to get to the point where Fido will not bite or nip during harnessing because he associates the process with fun things or a reward such as being fed roast chicken, being petted or being given his favourite toy.

Also, try to pick the correct type; if your dog hates a harness going over its head, try a step-through option and vice versa.

A walk with your canine companion is one of life’s pleasures, so break out the treats, put on that harness, clip on the leash and enjoy. We hope this article has helped with any harness issues and if you need more, see our main page for a range of guides.

John Devlin

Hi, my name is John, and I am the founder of Dogsbarn – a UK-based website dedicated to helping the owners of furry friends enjoy life with their four-legged companion. We currently own two golden retrievers, George and Henry, who love running around in the park together. We are thinking about adding a third – called Frank! Our mission is to provide excellent guides and introduce great products we’ve bought or come across online.