Harness Selection – Every dog is unique!
If you are new to dog sports you’d be forgiven for being a little confused about what type of harness you should be using for your dog! This question is not easy to answer and is based on a number of variables.
The first thing to consider is what type of sports you will be doing with your dog?
If you are competing in agility or flyball classes then a good fitting shoulder or walking harness should be perfect for your dog, as you are not asking your dog to pull any weight into the harness, it is there for ease of use for yourself and to prevent your dog from potential neck injury if your dog pulls strongly when walking. We stock the Non-stop Half Harness, the Zero DC Euro Short, the Neewa Running Harness, and the Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness which all serve this purpose very well.
The Non-stop Half Harness is pictured below – the perfect multi sport harness, for walking, canicross and even bikejoring.
If you are going to be running with your dog (canicross) then the harness needs to be designed to allow your dog to pull you along with no restriction on breathing or natural movement, the aim of the harness is to capture the dogs’ running power and allow the dog to pull you along through a bungee line (the line must always have this element of bungee to prevent jarring injuries).
The same is true of biking with your dog (bikejor), scootering (your dog pulls your scooter and you help by ‘scooting’) and mushing (pulling a three wheeled rig which you stand on). The harnesses used for these activities need to be fit for purpose and so it is not worthwhile selecting a walking harness for these purposes. Every harness we stock is designed to be multi-functional and in most cases can be used for walking in addition to the dog sports.
So if you have decided what sports you are taking part in and have decided if you need a pulling harness or not (I have made some suggestions for walking harnesses and multi-use harnesses above) the next thing to look at is your line height. This is very important because it can affect how the harness was designed to be used.
For example the x-back harnesses are a wonderful harness with years and years of success for sled dogs all over the world. The x-back is designed to spread the strain of pulling from the dogs’ shoulders down to the point of the line attachment by the base of the dogs’ tail. The line then extends at an almost horizontal angle to a sled or rig. If the line angle is more acute then the x-back cannot work as it was designed to function and could end up causing problems if it ‘lifts up’ from the base of your dogs’ tail.
Pictured below is the Dragrattan x-back harness, a traditional design but be careful of your line angle
I use either a Dragrattan or Non-stop Nansen Nome x-back harness on a couple of my dogs for canicross, bikejor & scootering because they pull very strongly and I have a long line (plus I’m really short) so the angle of my line is never too high to cause any problems and I know plenty of other canicrossers who also compete their dogs successfully with x-backs. I would generally recommend x-backs for most dog sports where your dog is pulling out front consistently, be aware of the potential problems with a much shorter and steeper angled line if canicrossing and bikejoring, but as long as your line is long enough, you should be fine.
So what other harnesses can you use? One of the newer European harness designs is that of the Euro Harness by Zero DC which comes in both a long and short option. The Zero DC Euro Harness is designed to be a multi-sport harness suitable for canicross, bikejor, scootering, mushing and even skijor (skiing with your dog). With the long version it directs the pull from the dogs’ shoulders away from the neck and to an attachment point at the base of the tail but the difference in this harness to the x-back is that there is no material over the dogs’ back. The harness material comes from the front underneath and along the rib cage then up to the base of the tail. It does not suffer the same problems as the x-back with using a shorter line and at a steeper angle because it is not designed for the line to pull straight along the back, but for the pull to come up from underneath the dog.
Pictured below is the Zero DC Euro Long Harness, a great multi-purpose harness for dogs who pull strongly
I have used the Zero DC Euro Long Harness on my Sprollie because when he runs he ‘bounds’ along and his back when running is much more mobile than my other dogs’ backs when they run. Anything which directed his pulling power along the top of his back could potentially hinder his natural movement.
The Zero DC Euro Short Harness is designed much more like a shoulder harness with a shorter attachment point mid way down the dogs’ back and seems to suit both small and large breeds alike because of the adjustability of the girth on this shorter harness and it’s suitability for most sports. I have used the short version on my husky cross because the pulling power is lost through the long version when she ‘trots’.
Pictured below is the Zero DC Euro Short Harness, great for both pulling and non-pulling dogs
Another good multi-sport option is the Non-stop Freemotion Harness, which again has an attachment point at the base of the dogs’ tail and is designed to direct the pull away from the throat and allow freedom of movement. The Freemotion is used for all sports and is more adjustable than the other harnesses which allows it to work correctly for a larger number of breeds who might be broader or longer in shape than the sled dog breeds, who the original pulling harnesses were designed for. I have used the Freemotion on all of my dogs because it is so versatile in its uses and can be adjusted to accommodate their individuality.
The Non-stop Freemotion Harness below is one of the best multi-sport harnesses available
The Howling Dog Alaska Second Skin or Tough Skin Harness is another option you may want to consider for pulling activities, as it has a simple design, is adjustable around the ribs and by attaching your line at the end of the cord, gives you a happy mix between the long and short harnesses. One thing to note about this harness however, is that it must be used for dogs that pull into the harness, if the Second Skin is not pulled into, it can tend to slip on the dogs’ back and for that reason I do not recommend it for activity where you may want to let your dog off lead in the harness.
Finally, and brand new to the dog sport harness market is the Dragrattan Multi Sport Harness which is based on an x-back style harness on the neck, with all pull being directed along your dog’s body and underneath, but with the back being left open to allow your dog to move more freely. The harness is also suitable for dogs who might be a less traditional sled dog or hound shape and has a belly strap for those who might be liable to wriggle out of longer harnesses. I recently used these harnesses on all my dogs for a long distance canicross challenge we completed and they performed perfectly over 100 plus miles, so I can highly recommend them.
To conclude this article on harnesses I need to say this is my personal experience of the harnesses I have mentioned when being used on my own dogs. Each of my dogs has a different running style (trot, bound and all out pull from the shoulders) each of my dogs is a slightly different breed which means they are a slightly different shape and so it would seem obvious to me that each dog might suit a different style of harness.
When selecting a harness for your dog, you need to consider the purpose for which you need the harness, the angle at which your line will be and lastly but most important, the individuality of your dog. I have chosen to stock a variety of harnesses for this reason as I don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach and if you can it’s always better to trial a harness to see how it works with your dog and set up before you commit to one. Otherwise you’ll end up like me with half a dozen harnesses for each dog!
If you need any further help I have provided a ‘Harness Consultation’ sheet here: http://www.k9trailtime.com/index.php/information/harness-consultation-questions which will help us to advise you and I would suggest considering the questions to provide us with a bit more information so we can get the perfect harness for your dog.
We also have a video on choosing the right harness for your dog here: