Following a recent meeting with members of the Canine Massage Guild (http://www.k9-massageguild.co.uk/) where we spent a whole morning critically evaluating a wide range of harnesses, I thought I would write another short blog on harness fit, as it really is crucial to be looking a number things when evaluating if the harness you have is right for your dog.
The first and foremost thing for any dog sport harness is that it does not restrict the breathing of your dog and whether that be because it is too tight on the neck or too tight on the ribs, you need to ensure your dog can breathe comfortably. The harness should allow you to fit at least 3 fingers underneath it when it is pulled back. The harness neck is however not as likely to be too tight, as it is too loose, which brings me on to the next thing to look for…
The harness must not be too loose around the neck and this is really important because if it is too loose, then it can start to restrict the shoulder movement if the material covers any part of the shoulder. One of the best ways to test this (a tip I picked up from the therapists) is to extend your dogs’ leg gently all the way forward and all the way back when in the harness and if the material of the harness in any way blocks the movement, then you know you have to find another harness for your dog.
Likewise, if the ribs straps cut in too close behind the front legs, then they can also have a restrictive effect on your dogs’ movement. I advise people to watch their dog free running and study how they run, then watch them pulling in harness and note any changes. It is helpful to ask a friend to take pictures of your dog whilst doing this, as you can then see for yourself in pictures how freely your dog is moving.
Things to look for to indicate restricted movement range from the obvious ie. not wanting to pull and being hesitant, to very subtle for example a slight shortening of stride, which can only really be captured and observed properly in pictures or film. Also keep in mind that when weight pulling, your dog may move slightly differently anyway and it is the restriction of the movement you are looking for not just a difference in movement.
If you are sure the harness isn’t restricting breathing or movement, then you have few other things to consider – the length of the harness (to ensure no pressure is being put on the dogs’ hips or back) and also that any plastic clips or metal rings are not digging into your dog which could cause any sore spots.
A harness related injury the canine massage therapists have seen, particularly in smaller dogs, is that heavy brass clips on a bungee line or lead, when used with a shoulder harnesses with no padding underneath the attachment ring, have sometimes caused a problem if the line becomes slack and the clip is bouncing on the dogs’ back repeatedly. It may sound obvious when pointed out but many people fail to notice little things like this which can cause pain and prevent a dog enjoying their runs.
The length of the attachment point on the harness should not go beyond the base of the tail and with a long harness (X-back, Zero DC Euro Long, Non-Stop Freemotion and Nome harnesses) you need to make sure the harness does not put any pressure on the dogs’ hips. With the X-back and Nome harness it is better they are used with low points of attachment or long lines, as they have been designed to work properly this way and so may not be suitable for all dogs for canicross. As long as there is no downwards pressure on the hips, nor upwards pressure on the ribs or stomach and the dog can run comfortably, then your longer harness should be fine.
When critically evaluating any harness look for any negative reaction in your dog, for example if they flinch when a certain part of the harness touches their back or side. If there is any reaction, then you need to look closer at what may be causing the discomfort. I’ve found that observation is the key to knowledge in getting the right harness and a great deal of trial and error!