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 đŸ™‚

 

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Harnesses – What to look for in the perfect harness

Following a recent meeting with members of the Canine Massage Guild (http://www.k9-massageguild.co.uk/) where we spent a whole morning critically evaluating a wide range of harnesses, I thought I would write another short blog on harness fit, as it really is crucial to be looking a number things when evaluating if the harness you have is right for your dog.

Your chosen harness must allow your dog to run with no restriction to movement

Your chosen harness must allow your dog to run with no restriction to  breathing or movement – Photo courtesy of Sharon Reid

The first and foremost thing for any dog sport harness is that it does not restrict the breathing of your dog and whether that be because it is too tight on the neck or too tight on the ribs, you need to ensure your dog can breathe comfortably. The harness should allow you to fit at least 3 fingers underneath it when it is pulled back. The harness neck is however not as likely to be too tight, as it is too loose, which brings me on to the next thing to look for…

The harness must not be too loose around the neck and this is really important because if it is too loose, then it can start to restrict the shoulder movement if the material covers any part of the shoulder. One of the best ways to test this (a tip I picked up from the therapists) is to extend your dogs’ leg gently all the way forward and all the way back when in the harness and if the material of the harness in any way blocks the movement, then you know you have to find another harness for your dog.

The neck must allow your dog full range of movement through the shoulders

The neck must allow your dog full range of movement through the shoulders – Photo Copyright Chris Clark 2012

Likewise, if the ribs straps cut in too close behind the front legs, then they can also have a restrictive effect on your dogs’ movement. I advise people to watch their dog free running and study how they run, then watch them pulling in harness and note any changes. It is helpful to ask a friend to take pictures of your dog whilst doing this, as you can then see for yourself in pictures how freely your dog is moving.

The full range of your dogs' movement must be evident when moving in the harness, as it is when they are free running, although bear in mind your dog may be pulling weight if attached and the movement won't look exactly the same - Photo courtesy of Chillpics and Claire Martin

The full range of your dogs’ movement must be evident when moving in the harness, as it is when they are free running, although bear in mind your dog may be pulling weight if attached and the movement won’t look exactly the same – Photo courtesy of Chillpics and Claire Martin

Things to look for to indicate restricted movement range from the obvious ie. not wanting to pull and being hesitant, to very subtle for example a slight shortening of stride, which can only really be captured and observed properly in pictures or film. Also keep in mind that when weight pulling, your dog may move slightly differently anyway and it is the restriction of the movement you are looking for not just a difference in movement.

If you are sure the harness isn’t restricting breathing or movement, then you have few other things to consider – the length of the harness (to ensure no pressure is being put on the dogs’ hips or back) and also that any plastic clips or metal rings are not digging into your dog which could cause any sore spots.

The Zero DC Euro Short harness has padding under the ring to prevent the line clip banging on the back of a smaller dog

The Zero DC Euro Short harness has padding under the ring to prevent the line clip banging on the back of a smaller dog

A harness related injury the canine massage therapists have seen, particularly in smaller dogs, is that heavy brass clips on a bungee line or lead, when used with a shoulder harnesses with no padding underneath the attachment ring, have sometimes caused a problem if the line becomes slack and the clip is bouncing on the dogs’ back repeatedly. It may sound obvious when pointed out but many people fail to notice little things like this which can cause pain and prevent a dog enjoying their runs.

The length of the attachment point on the harness should not go beyond the base of the tail and with a long harness (X-back, Zero DC Euro Long, Non-Stop Freemotion and Nome harnesses) you need to make sure the harness does not put any pressure on the dogs’ hips. With the X-back and Nome harness it is better they are used with low points of attachment or long lines, as they have been designed to work properly this way and so may not be suitable for all dogs for canicross. As long as there is no downwards pressure on the hips, nor upwards pressure on the ribs or stomach and the dog can run comfortably, then your longer harness should be fine.

When critically evaluating any harness look for any negative reaction in your dog, for example if they flinch when a certain part of the harness touches their back or side. If there is any reaction, then you need to look closer at what may be causing the discomfort. I’ve found that observation is the key to knowledge in getting the right harness and a great deal of trial and error!

A few of the important things to look for in the perfect harness

A few of the important things to look for in the perfect harness