The importance of getting a properly fitted harness for your dog

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.

Your dog should be comfortable and have free range of movement while running and pulling – Photo courtesy of Horses for Courses Photography

 

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.

Harnesses such as this with one strap across the front of the shoulders are just not suitable for running dogs in, although may be sold as such

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.

The Non-stop Half Harness, one of the selection we have which suits pullers and non-pullers

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.

Choosing the right harness for your dogs might mean each dog is in a different style of harness, not every dog suits every harness, they are individuals

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 info@k9trailtime.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 🙂

 

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Voice Commands – Who, What, Why, When & How?

Voice commands are a big part of training in the dog sports and it’s important you get them right for you to get the best from your dog, so we thought we would do a quick blog on the Who, What, Why, When & How of voice commands in canicross, bikejor and dog scootering.

Who? – This one is fairly obvious, you are giving the command to your dog and your dog is the one listening and hopefully understanding and responding accordingly. It is worth mentioning that because these commands are for you and your ‘team’, you can use whatever specific words you want, which leads us on to…

What? – The words you choose for your commands can be anything you like, as long as you’ve trained it and your dog understands, no-one else has to. Many people simply use right, left, go on and other short words, some use noises and more obscure terms to indicate directions to their dogs but pick what you can be consistent with and stick to it.

Good voice commands are essential, particularly when you are on a bike or scooter – Photo courtesy of Take 2 Event Photos

Why? – Again relatively obvious but you might be surprised at how many people feel they don’t really need strong voice commands trained, especially when canicrossing, as you can generally reach out and pull your dog away from any situation. However it’s really important that your dog is listening to you and not just hauling you along enjoying doing their own thing with you as a passenger. It helps tire a dog out faster if they are concentrating on what directions you are giving them and it also builds a much stronger bond of trust if you can call to your dog and they want to do what you’re asking of them. As soon as you involve wheels into the equation, with a bike, scooter or rig, then this becomes crucial and we would never recommend trying any of the wheeled dog sports without having a good degree of control over your dogs’ actions through your voice commands first.

When? – Perhaps the most important of the questions on this list. Our answer to this would be to give voice commands ONLY when you need to. All too often you see people repeating over and over again a verbal direction to their dog, the most frequent of these being ‘go, go, go’ or similar. Your dog will switch off if you are continually issuing the same command, your voice will become like ‘white noise’ in the background of what you are doing and you may lose your dogs’ concentration on you as a result. It is much better to keep quiet while your dog is moving forward and save yourself for when you need to turn or stop or do something other than just run forward in a straight line.

You don’t need to be shouting voice commands at your dog during the whole run, if they’re moving forward in the direction you want then you just need to smile and enjoy! – Photo courtesy of Basil Thornton Photography

How? – Again a really important one because the tone and volume you use for your dog can have a huge affect on how motivated your dog is to work for you. If you are shouting at your dog and not using encouragement, then it follows that your dog may not feel so happy about following your directions. If you watch some of the best dog sports people with their dogs, they are generally always minimalist with voice commands, they never raise their voices unless there is danger (dogs have much better hearing than we do!) and they use a tone of voice which is calm, controlled and encouraging for the dogs.

 

Dog sports are always team work, so make sure you’re not too hard on your ‘team’, using encouragement rather than criticism is always more motivational! – Photo courtesy of Houdscape

Always make your training fun for your dog and remember voice commands can be taught from a very young age out on walks, so take the time to get your dog really responsive to your voice and we’re sure you’ll see the benefits when you’re out and about with them. Happy trails!