For this product feature we asked one of our K9 Trail Time Members to test and review the Ruffwear Front Range Dog Harness for us, as it’s a tough job doing all the testing ourselves! Here’s what Jayne Caudy had to say about the latest edition to our active dog harness range…
‘Merlin has been road testing the Ruffwear Front Range Dog Harness. Merlin had tried many harnesses, but due to his disability and his posture, we have struggled to find a suitable harness for Merlin and one he feels comfortable in. Well the search is over! This is the harness for Merlin and also is an amazing versatile harness for walking and exploring the outdoors.
If you’d like to know more about this harness or to purchase, please visit our website using the link below:
With four dogs here at K9 Trail Time we have plenty of experience of dog walking, as well as the canicross and bikejoring we train for. Over the years we have put together a kit list of our dog walking essentials along with our top tips for enjoying your walks.
Firstly we would always recommend using a harness if your dog is going to be on a lead at any point during your walk. This is not just because it gives you more control over your dog but also because any strain on your dogs’ sensitive neck area can cause muscular issues in the dog without you even realising and in extreme cases has been linked to eye problems in dogs where pressure has been exerted on the neck over prolonged periods of time. We have a huge range of harnesses in our Dog Walking section here:
Keeping your dog on a lead is sometimes a necessity, around roads, livestock and other dogs who might be nervous are just some of the examples when you will want your dog under more control and a harness is a great way to do this without causing your dog any harm, whilst still allowing them a bit of freedom to get their head down and sniff to their hearts’ content too.
The next thing we would suggest is a walking belt for you. Belts are designed to give you your hands free when walking and this comes in handy not only with multiple dogs but even for one dog if you have to stop and pick up dog poop or need to answer a phone call. We have a large range of belts on our website too and many of them have pockets and / or loops to hang useful items from such as poo bags or a water bowl for your dog. If you need any help choosing a belt or a harness then we are always happy to help find something that fits your requirements.
The addition of a bungee lead on its’ own can make a huge difference to your dog walks, having a bit of ‘bounce’ in the line means there is less strain on you and your dog if they suddenly pull after something and reduces your chances of injury. We love the Howling Dog Alaska Line for strong pulling dogs:
and the new Non-stop Touring Lines are also fantastic for dog walking:
Bungee lines do mean your dog can get a bit further away from you than with a regular lead, so do be mindful of that when approaching things which you may not want your dog to reach.
We also like to take a handful of treats out with us on every dog walk, we may not necessarily use any of them but the dogs know I have them and so if I need to recall them from something exciting, they are more willing to come back if they know I have something decent to offer them in return! Many dog treats are full of ingredients that act in the same way as sugar and additives do on kids, so we are very careful about what we use and only have high quality meat treats in our cupboards. We have just started to stock a range we have been using for a while, so if you’re looking for good quality dog treats we offer a selection here:
Taking some treats on a dog walk is also a great way to interact positively with your dog, reinforcing your recall and encouraging calm behaviour. It can be very easy to get lost in your own thoughts when out with your dog but dog walking should be fun and rewarding for you both, so practice basic training on walks and use the time to build on that bond you have rather than seeing it as a chore.
Dog walking is a big part of our weekly routine in addition to any dog sport training we do because walking allows your dog to use its’ nose which is highly sensitive and a huge part of the way your dog interprets the world around it. So we make sure the team get a chance to use their noses every day to explore new places. With dog walking being such a big part of our lives, we use the tools listed above to make our walks the best they can be and we hope by sharing these we can help make your dog walks great for you and your dog too.
Here at K9 Trail Time we are constantly researching and learning more about dog anatomy and physiology to help us understand the impact working a dog in harness will have on the natural movement of the dog. Part of this study has involved reading the latest research into dog movement undertaken by Dr Martin Fischer in the Jena study and his most recent work which has yet to be published. The findings have been summarised nicely here:
You might be thinking ‘what has this got to do with me and my dog?’ but we believe that to understand the dogs’ natural motion helps us to understand why a harness may or may not work for your dog based on it’s skeletal structure and how it was designed to move.
The first thing to say is that dogs are designed to move most efficiently in a ‘trotting’ gait and so if your dog is a trotter when they are pulling, they are using their energy efficiently and moving minimally. If your dog is ‘bounding’ when pulling in harness, either in a canter or a gallop (more likely at higher speeds when attached to a bike or scooter but if you run fast enough then canicross too) then your dog is exerting more effort than the efficient trot pace and it is even more important you have the correct fitting harness to ensure they have the freedom of movement necessary so as not to restrict them in any way.
The single biggest problem we see is harnesses which are too big on the dog and so are inadvertently restricting shoulder movement because the neck of the harness is encroaching on the shoulder when the dog moves. It is so important the neck on your sport harness is nice and snug to avoid this restriction but also to avoid your harness slipping up into the armpit of your dog when they might pull to one side and this again then restricts shoulder movement.
Below are 4 pictures of one of the K9 Trail Time dogs, Yogi, in 4 different sizes of the Non-stop Freemotion harness and in all honestly to the untrained eye it might be hard to tell which fits and which doesn’t. From top to bottom Yogi is wearing the size 4 Yellow flash (too small) size 5 Red flash (perfect fit) size 6 Blue flash (too big) and size 7 White flash (far too big).
Now looking at these picture you might think the size 6 is the one which fits Yogi best and we’d agree that based purely on the photos, it does perhaps look like it is sitting in the best place but if you look closely the top of the shoulder is slightly restricted and when slotting your hand in the neck (you can’t tell that from the photo) there is a huge amount of room for the harness to slide around on his neck. The size 4 is obviously too small being too close behind his front legs and the angle is wrong on his ribs. The size 7 is obviously too big, coming too far back on his body and when he pulls into it, the straps on his ribs will come behind the last ribs and pull up into his soft stomach region – not good!
At this point it is also worth saying you cannot always tell correct harness fit from a photo. Yogi is an easier candidate to judge from a photo because he lacks thick fur but even then you can only tell the neck on the size 6 Freemotion was too loose by feeling the gap when it is pulled tight. We see a lot of people asking for advice on social media and lots of people who comment haven’t got the first idea what they are even looking for, let alone have the experience to make a critical evaluation of harness fit based on a couple of photos!
Our advice would be if you’re unsure about your dogs’ harness fit get along to see someone who is experienced with correct harness fit in person and let them have a feel of the harness on your dog and observe how they move in it, this is by far the best way to get proper advice on harness fit. By asking people on social media you risk getting bad advice and ending up with something which could potentially cause your dog damage in the long term.
Another thing to look out for is that your harness is not too long. This doesn’t happen so often with the shorter harnesses although you do have to ensure the harness is not coming back behind the last ribs and pulling up into the stomach area. Again I have used pictures of Yogi below to demonstrate this (because he lacks the thick fur of my others!).
In the first photo the Zero DC Short is too big and is sitting right on the end of his rib cage. When Yogi pulls forward properly in this harness it will come further back still from where it is sitting in the photo and pull up behind his ribs into his stomach. In the second photo the Zero DC Short is much more snugly fitting on his neck and sits better against his ribs, you can still see he has room behind his front legs for movement but because of his (relatively) deep chest compared to his length the harness is sitting further forward on him than it would ideally.
The below photo of Judo shows the Zero DC Short harness as an ideal fit on him and as you can see it sits much further back from the front legs than on Yogi, this is because Judo hasn’t got the deep chest that Yogi has but this harness is still fitting him correctly and not restricting his shoulder by being too big or by coming too far along the ribs and likely to pull into the stomach.
It is most important with the longer harnesses that they are not too long as this can really have an impact on the way your dog moves. With a harness such as an X-Back or even the Zero DC Long you need to be very careful that when the harness is pulled into that it doesn’t extend back beyond the base of the tail. This may mean that when the harness is not being pulled into it looks as if it may be too short. I think this is demonstrated perfectly in the photo below.
Donnie is wearing the Zero DC Cross harness and it’s the correct size for him, however when it’s not being pulled it seems to sit quite far up his back. You can’t really see (the problem with a hairy dog) but it’s sitting perfectly on his neck and has enough clearance behind his front legs so that it will not be restricting front shoulder movement in any way.
You can see from the photo of the harness being pulled that it’s now sitting further back on his body and along the ribs in the correct way. The black webbing straps (not the cord) come to the base of his tail when the harness is pulled and will come back even a fraction more if he were to pull strongly into it, so it is in the correct place for a well fitted x-back harness.
Below is a photo of Donnie in an x-back harness which he used to wear (when he was heavier) and you can see what a harness looks like if it is too long. The length of the side straps mean it’s coming right back onto his hips when it is pulled and this will be even worse when he pulls forward into the harness. The neck on this harness is actually still ok and not causing any restriction to his shoulder but that extra length means the harness will be putting pressure on his hips if he bounds forwards and really pulls into this harness which is not great for his natural movement and could cause him to get sore spots in this area with repeated use.
So hopefully this blog and these photos give you a bit more of an insight into how your dogs’ harness should fit on your dog. We offer a free harness consultation service for our customers and you can either come and see us in person at one of our trade stands or pop up shops listed here:
or we do offer an online service for those who can’t make an event. If you are interested then e-mail us at email@example.com after answering the questions here:
If you can get to an event then that is always the best way to get a harness fitted for your dog, however we have successfully fitted thousands of happy, active, dogs with harnesses based on information taken online. So why not get in touch and see what might work best for your dog for the sport you take part in.
During the summer months when it’s warmer we tend to do more walking with the dogs and take the opportunity to enjoy a slower pace when we are out and about. We still always use a harness on the dogs, even for our walks, because of the pressure on the neck that using a collar and lead exerts if your dog pulls at all. We also use a hands free system with a walking belt and bungee lead, even if some of the dogs are off lead most of the time, they have a line attached to a belt just in case they need to be under control if we come across livestock or need to cross a road.
All of the harnesses we use for walking are also suitable for canicross but because they are shorter in style, allow you the flexibility to let your dog off lead safely in them, as there is less to get caught in undergrowth.
Our favourite hiking harness is the Non-stop Line Harness because it’s padded throughout with strong buckles and webbing straps either side which offer plenty of adjustment to ensure a snug fit on your dogs’ body. The Non-stop Harness was originally designed for tracking and features a concealed webbing loop on the underside of the harness too. A snug fit on body and neck means the harness doesn’t move on your dogs’ back if they are off to one side or the other sniffing. This also makes it a good canicross harness for dogs who drop back and drop to the side but it’s perfect for our strong pullers when walking:
We also love the Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness because it too offers a great option for both canicross and walking. It has one strong plastic clip and adjustable webbing on the chest and is padded through the neck and chest section to offer comfort for your dog. The Distance harness offers two points for you to attach a line to, the ring on the back of the harness and a cord from the ring which sits further down the dogs’ back, this gives you the choice of how much freedom you give your dog on the walk. The ring offers closer control, the cord more freedom:
Another great multi purpose harness is the Neewa Adjustable Running Harness because it is padded through the neck and chest and as well as being adjustable on the chest, it is the only harness we stock which is also adjustable on the neck. The Neewa Running Harness is again great for walking your dog in because of the adjustment, ensuring a snug fit and that the harness doesn’t move around over your dogs’ back if you’re just wandering along and stopping for little breaks:
The Zero DC Short harness is another one than can be used for walking and of all the harnesses we sell is the most popular for canicross, dog walking and a range of other activities such as swimming and agility. The Zero DC Short, in spite of it’s name, sits the longest down the back of the harnesses we’ve suggested for walking. This means it does move a little more over the dogs’ back but this doesn’t cause any issues. We use these harnesses a lot for swimming as they are so lightweight and dry quickly:
All of the harnesses we use for walking / hiking are lightweight, dry quickly if they get wet and can be used for canicross as well as off lead work such as agility and flyball.
So if you’re thinking of doing more walking with your dog, your dog pulls and / or you would like to be hands free for a more comfortable experience, you can look into getting your dog a hiking harness and belt set up with us to enjoy hitting the trails with your four legged friend.
For a personalised harness consultation please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
So we’ve now reached the stage where our first race is not too far away, we’ve thought about a ‘proper’ harness and also been doing a little bit more in terms of actual canicross training for Yogi, the K9 Trail Time pup. It is still important to remember that dogs will continue growing right up to and even beyond 12 months old and essentially even at a year old, they are still youngsters who need to be trained gently, with consideration for their joints and their impressionable minds.
Yogi was comfortable with his shorter harness from a very young age but looking at his movement and his shape, it was fairly obvious that he would be better suited to running in a longer style. Yogi is a natural puller and also when free running really ‘bounds’, he has a very long stride length and so whilst a short harness doesn’t restrict his running in any way, a longer harness will be better for him long term to capture the ‘pull’ of his movement. With this in mind at around 10 months we started to try on the longer harnesses to try and gauge what might suit him best, he was an unwilling model and didn’t seem to like the longer harnesses over his back, so we persevered and just had a few fitting sessions for him to get used to the longer style, just whilst sitting around.
We are lucky in that we have the harnesses to try but if you can borrow some kit for your dog and just get them used to having different styles and lengths on your dog, this is a great way to see what looks good and get them walking around in a proper running harness. Many dogs won’t need a longer harness but because Yogi is hound shaped and an athletic build, there was never any doubt in my mind he would be in a longer harness eventually. We didn’t actually start running him in one until he was about 11 months old.
So with the harness selection covered we were also doing lots of other little bits of training to get Yogi used to life running in harness. We have not covered any great distances in this time and it is important to build up any distance slowly to encourage your dog to want to do more. If you exhaust your pup by taking them straight out to do 3 miles in harness, you might find they make a negative association with the process. It is far better to stick to short runs and leave them wanting to do more so they are excited when the harness comes out. You also need to ensure they do not overwork, like humans, dogs will feel aches and tiredness in muscles and joints, so be very mindful of this when training.
The other thing we have done to make training fun is to vary what we do every day. Yogi has done runs in woods, through fields, through water, up hills, through ankle deep mud and it’s all good experience for him to learn nothing is scary and that we might encounter any type of surface during a run or race too.
Yogi has been training through, mud, water, snow, fields, woodland and on as many different surfaces as we can find, grass, track and even very short sections on tarmac to ensure he will not be phased by anything we might come across
So with all this in place Yogi shouldn’t be intimidated by anything he might find on the course at a race but what about other dogs? We’ve done a lot of socialisation with Yogi to make sure he’s friendly and interacts well with other dogs but we’ve also had times where he’s had to ignore other dogs and focus on the job in hand. Being honest he’s very interested in saying ‘hello’ to other dogs when he’s been out but I’ve actively discouraged this while he’s working in harness because this isn’t acceptable behaviour during a race and it’s not something I want to be dealing with when I eventually put him on the bike! We’ve met up and run with friends a few times who have dogs that Yogi only sees from time to time and he has been encouraged to ignore them whilst running but he’s been allowed to play with them when he’s not in a ‘working’ situation and this seems to be working well.
When training a young dog it is always helpful to have other experienced dogs around from them to learn from and this is what we have found works best. That’s not so helpful if this is your only dog but with so many canicross groups around now to meet up with, it shouldn’t be a problem to find friends with dogs who are very focused that you can meet up with to join for a social run. I have found that Yogi is now confident running on his own while my other dogs are off lead and I also recently took him on a night run with some other dogs he didn’t know and he behaved very well, passing without trying to interfere with another dog and taking the lead when he needed to, so he has learnt to run out front and not to chase.
When training a dog at this age it’s also important to consider that this type of focus will be tiring and whenever I’ve asked Yogi to really think about what he’s doing, he has been tired afterwards, so do give your young dog plenty of rest time too. You’ve hopefully got a long and happy running career with your pup so there’s no need to rush things or cram loads of training in right now, they can carry on learning ‘on the job’ as long as the basics are in place and you have a happy and confident dog who enjoys their running.
To summarise we recommend:
Take training very steady and wait until your dog is both physically and mentally developed before you ask them to run in harness with you.
Make sure you have done the basics, socialisation and voice commands are two key things that are crucial to have your pup happy and focused.
Don’t ever push your dog beyond their capability or get cross with them if they’re not doing something you want, go back to basics and start again if you find you have issues.
Meet up with others and let your dog learn from experienced canicrossers and their dogs, sharing knowledge, experience and tips can make a big difference to how you get started.
We hope that this (very brief) guide has been of interest and we look forward to seeing how Yogi (and all the other pups we know who are coming into the dog sports) get on in the coming year as they become old enough and experienced enough to take part in races.
Happy trails everyone!
With the dog sports of canicross (running with your dog) and bikejor (biking with your dog) becoming so popular it is inevitable that new people will come into the sport and want information on how to get the best experience for them and their dog. From our point of view the most important piece of kit you need for both canicross and bikejor is the harness for your dog. If you are going to expect your dog to pull any weight when running, then it is your responsibility to make sure that your dog is in the most suitable harness which allows your dog the best range of movement to suit their shape and running style.
We’ve recently seen a number of people out running with their dogs on a collar and lead, which for us is just not an acceptable way to exercise your dog, unless it is running to heel and not pulling at all. The pressure put on the neck (a very sensitive area) with your dog pulling is something that should always be avoided and we even walk with a harness for the same reason. If you are going to run with your dog, it is highly likely your dog will be faster than you and therefore pulling at some point even if off to the side, so ensuring their comfort and safety should be a top priority.
The next problem we’ve seen more regularly is well-meaning people who have been badly advised or have been mis-sold a harness and although the dog is wearing a harness, it is just not suitable for the purpose of running. For example there are no-pull harnesses which have been used because they have a fleece lining on the webbing and so it is assumed to be comfortable but anything which tightens when pulled into will not be comfortable for a dog and will not encourage freedom of movement. The other common unsuitable type of harness is one which has a strap across the front of the shoulders, these are often sold as ‘sport’ harnesses by the manufacturers so people are being misled into thinking these are suitable for the pulling sports – they are not. The reason being that this front strap restricts shoulder movement and will prevent a full, free range of motion when the dog is running.
Sometimes even when the correct style of harness has been chosen unfortunately the sizing is wrong and most commonly, too big. As a general rule a dog sport harness should fit snugly, many people feel that the neck is too tight, when in actual fact the neck of the harness should make it snug to put on and pull off over the head of the dog. You only need to be able to fit a few fingers in the neck of a proper fitting harness and there should be no gaping along the body when the harness is pulled into. If the harness is just sitting on the dog with no tension through it then it may bunch up or slide about, this is normal, these harnesses are designed for dogs to pull into. If you have a dog who doesn’t pull, there are harnesses which don’t do this and we can point you in the right direction for these particular harness styles.
It is actually quite rare for a harness to be too small, it isn’t easy to get a dog into a harness which is too small and unless your dog is young and has been growing, or put on a bit of weight, then it’s usually very easy to tell if the harness is too small straight away. If you think your harness is putting pressure on your dog’s neck (you might hear a coughing noise) this is not necessarily down to it being too small, in most cases the style of harness doesn’t suit your dog and in some cases the harness might actually be too big but is pulling back because of this and causing an issue.
Most owners will recognise a properly fitting harness as soon as they see it on their dog but without having anything to compare it to or someone to confirm the harness fits, it can be difficult to know for sure. We get asked all the time to check harness fit and we’re honest, if you don’t need a new or different harness we won’t try and persuade you to buy one and if your dog is running happily in a harness then 9 times out of 10, it is suitable. But if your dog isn’t in the correct style and size of harness to suit them then it’s a bit like wearing ill fitting shoes, they will pinch, restrict, rub or even stop your dog wanting to run. If you own more than one dog you might even find that each dog you own is suited to a different style of harness.
There’s loads of information on our blog about choosing a harness and we’re always happy to help anyone who wants to find the perfect harness for their dog, just drop us an e-mail to email@example.com and we’d love to help. It really is the most important part of your dog sport kit, so it’s worth spending the time to get it right! Happy trails 🙂