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!

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K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – R is for Rest

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that the ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross would be for ‘run’ and although running is an important part of canicross, for this blog I wanted to focus on ‘rest’. Resting both yourself and your dog regularly is vital to allow your muscles to recover from activity and although you might have a dog with seemingly boundless energy, constantly running your dog in harness will cause fatigue in the same way daily exercise has a tiring effect on your own body. Without rest both of you are more prone to injury and illness and also your canicross runs could become monotonous for your dog, unless you are constantly changing the routes you take. Your dog might always be keen to go out with you, but you need to be the one to enforce a ‘down day’ from time to time and enjoy some other less physical activity to keep him or her occupied. The other thing to be gained from regular rest days is that your dog will learn to be calm without being run every day and that can be invaluable if for any reason you have to have a short break from training. So although canicross is all about running with your four legged friend, we think it’s well worth factoring in a few rest days in your programme and for that reason we have chosen rest as our ‘R’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross.

Resting is often as important as running for your dog

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – O is for Obesity

We all know that there are two main ways to stay fit and healthy, firstly by eating the right diet and secondly by getting out and exercising. In the UK alone it is predicted that by 2020 as many as one third of the adult population will be classified as obese. The same can be said about the UK’s dog population. Recent studies estimate that up to one third of dogs nationwide are already overweight and this figure is set to rise to over half of all dogs by 2022. Obesity is linked with diabetes, orthopaedic disease, heart disease, respiratory distress, high blood pressure, skin diseases & cancer in both dogs and people, so this alone is a very good reason to be getting out and about canicrossing with your dog. A recent PDSA report estimates that across the country, six million dogs go for a daily walk shorter than an hour long, and a quarter of a million dogs don’t get walked at all. With these statistics it’s easy to see why we need to find a way to encourage people to exercise themselves and their dogs, and who can think of a better personal trainer than their dog?! At K9 Trail Time we are trying to make it as easy as possible for you to get into canicross too, by providing you with loads of information, including links to local clubs and national events we know about, as well as offering advice and help to anyone who asks for it. So if you are thinking you would like to find a fun way to combat obesity for both yourself and your dog, look no further, canicross is the perfect way to keep trim, whilst having fun and doing something you’ll both benefit from mentally and physically. For that reason we have chosen obesity, or rather, a way to combat it, as our ‘O’ in the A-Z of canicross.

Canicross with your best friend is a fantastic way for both of you to stay fit

Canicross with your best friend is a fantastic way for both of you to stay fit

K9 Trail Time – Top Selling Belts

Continuing the theme of best-sellers, the waist belts we sell here at K9 Trail Time have gradually been expanding in range too, as the top brands bring out better materials and designs based on feedback from the growing number of participants.

We have seen a number of innovative styles released since we first started canicross and as manufacturers respond to the canicrossers’ needs, we’re sure we will see more new belts being brought out in the future.

One thing that we do often get asked is for a ‘hip belt’ rather than a ‘waist belt’ but the term really just describes where you might wear it, as we call all of our belts ‘waist belts’ but they should all (in our opinion) be worn low down on the hips to prevent any strains to the lower back.

So from our current range, our 3 top-selling belts are as follows:

1 – Non-stop Running Belt – Top of the range and fully adjustable, this belt is the one people seem to stop upgrading at, so we have to class it as number one!

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/non-stop-running-belt.html

The Non-stop Running Belt - the innovative waist belt from Non-stop

The Non-stop Running Belt – the innovative waist belt from Non-stop

2 – Neewa Canicross Belt – Relatively new and with a great price tag as well as a comfortable design, this belt has been flying out of our online shop

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/neewa-canicross-waist-belt.html

The Neewa Canicross Belt is the newest of our 'hip belts'

The Neewa Canicross Belt is the newest of our ‘hip belts’

3 – Zero DC Canicross Belt – A more traditional design but with detachable leg straps for those who aren’t sure if they will like them, plus a huge back pocket, this belt has been very popular for years.

http://www.k9trailtime.com/shop/zero-dc-canicross-waist-belt.html

The Zero DC Canicross Belt, with detachable leg straps seems to offer the best of everything

The Zero DC Canicross Belt, with detachable leg straps seems to offer the best of everything

Of course we have many, many more belts in stock and would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of them with any customer. The Zero DC Speedy belt is a personal favourite of mine and the Dragrattan Ergo and Howling Dog Alaska belts are all up there but just fractionally behind in sales when compared with the 3 above this year – that doesn’t mean they won’t be up there next year though!

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – L is for Line

One of the three key items of equipment you need for canicross is the bungee line, the line is what connects you to your dog and can make a big difference to the comfort of your run. When I first started canicross, I just grabbed a lead and attached it to my dog’s harness but I could see very quickly that without a section of bungee, there was the potential for a lot of force to be transferred through the line which could cause damage. The line for canicross is usually around 2 metres when stretched, as that gives the runner enough room to run without tripping over, however both longer and shorter lines can be used in different situations. For example if you are canicrossing at a Parkrun or other event where there are regular runners, you might want to keep your dog closer to you and under more control with a shorter bungee line. If you are training with lots of open space or are using one line for canicross and bikejor, you might want to choose a slightly longer bungee line. The line you use for canicross is an often underrated, but vitally important link in the equipment you use, so for that reason the ‘L’ in the K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross is for line.

Your line is an important connection between you and your dog when canicrossing

Your line is an important connection between you and your dog when canicrossing

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – H is for Harness

Your dogs’ harness is probably the most important bit of kit you can buy for canicross and is also probably the bit of kit you will have multiples of too! Getting the right harness for your dog can be very tricky as your dog will potentially change shape the more you train and become a more confident runner, which can mean the best type of harness for your dog will change. I spend hours of my time with people in person, on the phone and via e-mail or messages, helping them to get the best harness for their dog because I think it’s really important in this sport that your dog is comfortable. For canicross your dogs’ harness must be snug on the neck so it doesn’t slip around and potentially cause rubbing, it must allow freedom of movement through the front legs and not cause any restriction or pressure points along the body. The purpose of the harness is to capture your dogs’ energy and send it through the bungee lead and the waist belt to propel you forward. Your dog is meant to be pulling so the harness you choose must be suitable for this. There are so many different shapes and styles to choose from now that making a decision can be confusing, but K9 Trail Time is dedicated to helping you get the right harness for your dog, so I have written many, many blogs about choosing a harness and am always happy to help. The harness for canicross should be your number one item on your canicross shopping list and for that reason, I have chosen harness as my word for ‘H’ in this A-Z of Canicross.

Harnesses come in so many shapes and styles now, it's worth getting help to choose the right one for your dog

Harnesses come in so many shapes and styles now, it’s worth getting help to choose the right one for your dog

 

K9 Trail Time A-Z of Canicross – F is for Fun

I couldn’t write an A-Z of canicross without emphasising that the main reason for running with your dog should be the fun you will have doing it. I often hear people saying ‘I’m not fast enough’ or ‘I’m not fit enough’ to run with their dog, when the aim should be to get fitter with your dog and maybe get faster as a result (two more ‘F” words for you!). Even racing is generally about the fun you can have whilst taking part in an organised event and most people just enjoy being able to canicross on new trails with a bunch of other like-minded folk. There is also the social aspect for both dogs and humans that gathering canicrossers together can bring, and as I’ve mentioned previously, it’s a safe environment for dogs who might not be so great at being social, to be around other dogs and people from a distance. There is nothing quite like running with your furry pace maker for enjoyment and even when it’s a wet, muddy and miserable day, we always end up having fun canicrossing. So my word associated with the letter ‘F’ has to be fun!

Canicross is the only sport I have actually found even more fun when it's wet and muddy outside

Canicross is the only sport I have actually found even more fun when it’s wet and muddy outside