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Harness hiccups

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Your dog’s harness is arguably the most important piece of equipment in CaniSports. So it’s not surprising the most frequently asked questions on the trailrunners Facebook page are harness related.

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes but there is a limited range of dog harnesses available so finding the ‘perfect harness’ for your dog can be tricky unless you get a custom made one, and even then it might not always perform as you had hoped.

I’ve been doing CaniSport with Huskies, Eurohounds and Greysters for over 18 years and with my knowledge of canine anatomy through my work as a Galen Myotherapist, I would say I’m very knowledgeable on how a harness should fit. Over the years I found good fitting harnesses for my Husky and Eurohounds and we’re so fortunate now that there are even more types of harness available than when I first started the sport.

But I wanted to share my latest experiences with you because my Greysters are proving to be rather difficult in the harness department. Let me explain why.

Firstly, when I’m checking if a harness fits well I’m always doing it on a stationary dog and I look to see whether:

  • It fits on the sternum (the nobbly bit on the chest).

  • It isn’t too tight, or too big around the neck and is going to slip back onto the top of the shoulder blades.

  • It fits on the last couple of ribs and is not going to slip onto the fleshy part of the abdomen.

  • If it’s a long harness that it finishes at the base of the tail.

So far so good. My next step is to hook my dog’s harness up to my line and belt and go out for a quick test drive, so I can check if the harness stays in place when we’re running together. From the back and above it all looks good, the harness stays in place and our dogs are working well and not rasping for breath.

I then take our dog’s harnesses off and check for any hot spots with the back of my hand to check for any excessive areas of heat. I also check for any signs of rubbing and to ensure there are no signs of discomfort.

So based on everything I have looked at and if I can't find any problems based on the simple checks above, I’m pretty happy that this is the most suitable harness for my Greysters. Fabulous, mission accomplished!

If, after several months of training and wearing the same harness there are no issues, no rubs under the dog’s “armpits”, still no hotspots or any sores, I’m still thinking we've found a good fitting harness.

Then the racing season starts and suddenly I’m looking at some amazing race day photographs taken from lots of different angles of me and my gorgeous Greyster going flat out, reflecting on what a fantastic race we had.

But then bang, it hits me! Right in front of my eyes is a harness that doesn’t fit.

This picture (credit to Jackie Burrell) shows that, due to my dog’s deep chest that the harness’s chest plate, the harness slips to one side and does not sit in place when he is pulling into it.

In the long term this can cause bruising and a possible reluctance for the dog to work, as it becomes uncomfortable for them to pull.

In contrast, this photo (credit to Zac the Snapper) clearly shows another of our dogs wearing exactly the same style of harness (but in a different size), which fits ‘perfectly’ on the chest and is not slipping to one side.

It just shows that there isn’t a one size fits all “perfect harness” but there is a ‘best fitting harness’ for your dog. All our dogs are individual and there can even be variation in size and shape within the same breed.

The main takeaway from what I’ve learnt is that it’s worth getting someone to take photos, or even better, a video of your dog working in a harness from different angles as soon as you can so you can assess how the harness fits when they are pulling out in front.

It’s also important to remember that while a Dog is for Life, a harness is not.

Dogs change shape just as we do when we start training. They can develop muscle mass and continue to grow until they are about 2-3 years old. A harness which fits ‘perfectly’ when your dog is 12-18 months old, may not when your dog is 3 years old. So keep videoing and keep assessing how your dog’s harness fits.

So I’m continuing with my journey to find the best fitting harness for my Greysters. I’ve tried quite a few different brands and models but the Greyster’s deep chest is problematic as the typical chest strap shifts from side to side. We think we’ve now found a new style of harness that is going to work but I’ll keep you updated as to what we discover!

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