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 Line 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 Line Harness is pictured below and is 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 dry land 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 settling for 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 how hard your dog is going to pulling you as we always recommend a longer style harness for dogs who are always out front pulling hard.
The x-back harnesses we stock are a fantastic longer 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, away from the throat with a ‘V’ shaped neck and along the body to the point of the line attachment by the base of the dogs’ tail. The x-back does have some limitations in use as they do not suit very small dogs when used with a short ‘parkrun’ length line. This is because they were originally designed to have a horizontal line pull angle but in most cases the x-back works very well for strong pulling dogs for both canicross and bikejor in addition to scootering, sledding and dry land mushing.
Pictured below is the Dragrattan x-back harness, a traditional design of harness, used for a variety of dog sports
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 these harnesses work well for dogs who are always out in front.
So what other harnesses can you use?
Arguably the best multi-sport option available for strong pullers is the Non-stop Freemotion Harness, which 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 neck of the harness has a deep ‘V’ keeping the harness for riding up into the throat of the dog. The two straps either side of the dogs’ spine also allow the spine to flex freely when the dog is bounding in a run and so suits any dogs who really bend and arch through the back when running.
The Freemotion can be used for canicross, bikejor, scootering, skijoring (skiing with your dog), sledding, dry land mushing, even hiking and is more adjustable than the other longer harnesses which allows it to work correctly for a larger number of breeds who might be broader / slimmer in shape or longer / shorter in the body 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 in length to accommodate their individuality.
The Non-stop Freemotion Harness below is one of the best multi-sport harnesses available
Similar in design but with a higher neck piece which may not suit all dogs, is the Neewa Racing harness, again this harness is great for strong pullers, adjustable in length and leaves the back free to arch, however the sizing is more limited in these harnesses and therefore doesn’t suit such a wide range of breeds.
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. It falls into the category of a longer style harness because the pull is directed along the body and away from the throat in the same way as the other longer harnesses, however these harnesses are great if your dog doesn’t like things too close to their tail or has had any issues with things in the hip area. The Second Skins also work exceptionally well for stockier, shorter bodied breeds of dogs such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier because they fit shorter on the body.
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.
Relatively 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. Because your line is attached to the cord at the back of the Dragrattan Multi Sport, it doesn’t interfere with the front of the harness if your dog moves to one side or another on the trail, so if your dog gets distracted when running, then this might be the perfect harness for you.
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 used these harnesses on all my dogs for a long distance canicross challenge we completed in 2016 and they performed perfectly over 100 plus miles, so I can highly recommend them.
Another of the European harness designs is that of the Euro Harness by Zero DC which comes in both a long and short option. The Zero DC Long or ‘Faster’ Harness is designed to be a multi-sport harness suitable for canicross, bikejor, scootering, mushing and skijor. With the long version pull is directed from the dogs’ shoulders away from the neck and to an attachment point at the base of the tail. The neck of the harness is round in shape which tends to suit the hound shaped dogs better than other breeds of dog and differs from the x-back and Freemotion harnesses which have the ‘V’. There is also no material over the dogs’ back with this harness, the harness material comes from the front underneath and along the rib cage up to the base of the tail, therefore avoiding any potential restriction of the back if your dog really arches through it’s back when it runs.
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, such as a shorter style harness, 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’. These harnesses work well for dogs who don’t always pull strongly because they do not have the longer length of material or webbing which can become redundant if your dog is not pulling out in front. The neck of the Zero DC Short is also rounded in shape.
Pictured below is the Zero DC Euro Short Harness, great for both pulling and non-pulling dogs
I mentioned at the start of this blog the Non-stop Line Harness and although we suggest these for walking and other activities, if you have a dog who only lightly pulls or tends to drop back with you, you let off lead for most or part of your runs, or even if you’re unsure what your dog will do to begin with, you can’t go far wrong with one of these.
They are lightweight, robust and with a selection of sizing from 1 to 9, fit most breeds of dog who want to take part in any pulling sports. We really rate these harnesses for all activities and wanted to mention them again because they can be over looked as a running harness but in our experience are very much up to the job.
Similar to the Non-stop Line harness is the Neewa Running harness, the main difference being the style of neck again, the Neewa harnesses have a higher padded section on the neck than the Non-stop and do not cover such a wide range of sizes, therefore might not suit such a wide range of breeds.
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, how strongly your dog is going to be pulling you 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: