K9 Trail Time Myth Buster Number 2 – You can’t canicross a dog in a short harness

You can’t canicross your dog in a short harness – Ever heard this one? I’ve seen this comment on a number of groups recently and the irony of this is that 11 years ago when I started canicrossing, everyone was told they could ONLY canicross in a short harness!

At that point there weren’t so many options for a longer style harness and X-Backs were the main design for a long pulling harness, so the theory was at that time, that you shouldn’t canicross in an X-Back because the harness was designed for a low pull point (this much is true) and that when used for canicrossing, the X-Back would lift off the dogs back and cause issues for the dog (never seen this happen). This prompted us to write a blog about why we love the X-Back harness because certain companies and individuals were trying to profit from this false information and we wanted to explain why the X-Back was still a fantastic harness for running dogs in, no matter what the sport…

We love X-Backs (even if Donnie’s face doesn’t say so in this picture!)

https://k9trailtime.wordpress.com/2016/06/21/why-we-love-x-back-harnesses/

So instead of an X-Back, people were suggesting that a ‘H- Back’ Harness (essentially a short harness) was the only option for canicrossers to use safely. We actually started out with shorter style harnesses for this reason and quickly realised that there were pros and cons for both styles of dog sport harnesses and that different dogs suited different things.

The Howling Dog Alaska Distance Harness an example of a ‘H Back’ style

Another typical ‘H Back’ style harness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At K9 Trail Time we prefer to use common sense and a knowledge of a dogs anatomy to determine whether a particular style of harness will cause a dog any restrictions to movement, rather than hearsay and the marketing of companies who have a vested interest in persuading you one way or the other about a suitable running harness they manufacture.

There are certainly some short harnesses we would not recommend for canicross and there are many ‘walking’ harnesses which claim to be suitable for canicross but are not in our opinion. Remember what you are looking for in a harness is for it to be non-restrictive and allow your dog to move as freely as possible, so a harness which comes across or covers the shoulders in any significant way, will not be suitable.

Harnesses which restrict shoulder movement are not suitable for canicross

However, we have used a number of different, highly suitable, short harnesses and recommend only harness which we have personally used for the dog sports. It is also worth mentioning at this point that we took all our harnesses to a group of qualified and experienced Canine Massage Guild members and in terms of potential for muscular problems from a badly fitting harness, they preferred the shorter styles of harness on the whole.

The Non-stop Line Harness, one of the selection we have which have been throughly tried and tested by our team!

We do always recommend the shorter harnesses for dogs who are more leisurely pullers and dogs who drop back because sometimes dogs who pull very hard out in front all the time can make a rasping noise in a short harness. This is due to the fact that the pull on a short harness is directed along the top of the harness, which pulls the harness back, sometimes up and if the harness isn’t sitting low enough on the dog, this can mean into the throat. All this depends on your dog and the way the harness fits and I can run 3 of my 4 dogs in a short harness with no problems, however the 4th dog will always make this rasping noise, even when walking!

Even my biggest, most athletic dog can run well in his short harness

So we hope that blog has helped dispel another myth we have seen floating around in groups and reassure those of you who do run your dogs in short harnesses, that you’re not going to do them any harm running them in a shorter style harness.

Happy trails!

Product Feature – The Ruffwear Front Range Harness

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.

Merlin tested the Ruffwear Front Range Harness in Orange Poppy size L/XL

 

The harness is fully adjustable to get the perfect fit to ensure it stays securely in place and is a comfy fit while exploring and sniffing around the forest. Securing the fit from each angle, reduces risk of the harness slipping off over the head or backing out. Usually while walking, Merlin’s harness moves and slips out of place. Have yet to experience this with the Ruffwear Harness. Padding on the chest and back piece give the harness a comfy fit for the dog.

Merlin in the woods in his new Ruffwear Front Range Harness

The harness is quick and easy to put on when going out the door on an adventure. Merlin can be tricky when fitting a harness, however, this one goes over the head and two clips to secure around the chest. Even quick to fit on my wiggly young husky when she’s super keen to go out.
A feature of the harness is a place to secure an ID tag. Perfect for the dog who likes to go over lead or encase they go AWOL while on a walk.
Reflective edging for those night time walks. Sleek and stylish design which looks good. There a few choice of colours to choose from. Merlin is modelling orange as it’s his favourite colour.
Overall we give this harness 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Super pleased with it and Merlin seems happy and gives him confidence to explore. I plan to purchase another harness for youngest husky for our walks.’
So as you can see Jayne found the harness perfect for her sled dog to go for walks, offering adjustability, control and comfort. We have also been testing out the harness, same colour but smaller size for Yogi and have been impressed too

Yogi has also been getting on well with his Front Range Harness in Orange

If you’d like to know more about this harness or to purchase, please visit our website using the link below:

https://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/ruffwear-frontrange-harness.html

 

Harness fit in a bit more depth

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:

https://www.dogsymposium.nl/professor-dr-martin-fischer/

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:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/K9TrailTime/events

or we do offer an online service for those who can’t make an event. If you are interested then e-mail us at info@k9trailtime.com after answering the questions here:

https://www.k9trailtime.com/information/harness-consultation-questions

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.

Happy trails!