The truth is, if dogs had it their way, they’d likely be running around naked, without collars or harnesses. But in our ‘hooman world,’ it’s our responsibility to keep our beloved canines safe. While we all want our dogs to be comfortable, we also need them to be secure. Happily, the right harness can help you unleash adventures with your pup, from routine walks to K9 Nose Work®. But, with all the pet gear options available, where do compassionate pet parents even begin? Well, perhaps it helps to think about harness selection a little like shoe shopping.
The Right Dog Harness for the Job
First, consider what activity (or activities) you and your pup will be doing together and what those activities entail. Will you mostly be walking or running with your canine pal? Helpful hint – it’s okay to have more than one harness for your dog! You have more than one pair of shoes, right? You might choose to have different harnesses for different activities, where the gear becomes a trigger for that activity, signaling to the dog that it’s time to track, play or walk calmly.
Beyond that, harness selection for dogs depends on body size and shape, how your pet moves, and what’s comfortable and practical – not breed, weight or gender. There’s a reason you don’t usually see one-size-fits-all shoes!
You know your dog’s body language. Even when dogs are encouraged to love their harnesses with lots of positive associations, look out for signs of poor fit: an uneven gait, stumbling, facial expressions indicating stress, etc. If you’re not quite sure, you can try to assess your dog’s comfort level by paying attention to his responses to your requests to move in various ways.
Like your favorite pair of shoes, a properly fitted harness should:
- Not restrict movement in any way.
- Not chafe or pinch anywhere, especially with repetitive movements.
- Be comfortable enough to wear all day.
- Be easy for you to put on and take off.
Made for Walking
When selecting walking gear, you can choose a harness with a front leash attachment, back leash attachment or both options available. (Remember, collars are like wallets – meant to carry ID and match your outfit. That’s it. Rely on a harness for attaching the leash!)
For times when you prefer your dog walks calmly on a loose leash, choosing a front leash attachment option can help discourage pulling without usually being aversive. Then, when it comes to less structured outdoor adventures, like the upcoming National Take a Walk in the Park Day (on March 30), it’s convenient to have the back leash attachment option available. The important thing to keep in mind is, while it can be nice to have multiple options for the location of leash attachment, the harness is used as a management tool, rather than a training tool.
Beyond the Walk
And then there’s life with dogs beyond the walk. Think about therapy dogs and service dogs, who may have specialized harnesses specific to their jobs. For fun enrichment activities like K9 Nose Work® or tracking, dogs are on leash and it doesn’t matter as much if they pull. The dogs are in control and you want them to have freedom to move and go where they want to go. Here, it would make more sense to clip the leash to the back of the harness. Similarly, search and rescue dogs can wear a special harness and know that then and there it’s okay to pull. In canine sports like Flyball, you might see handlers amp up the dogs and get them excited, then unclip the leash from the harness and let them go!
When dogs know they are supported, they can feel more confident. So, if your dog is recuperating from an injury or even surgery, look for a harness with a handle that you can hold to help guide and support him. In this case, physical therapy exercises or canine fitness classes may be part of the recovery plan and you’ll want to ensure freedom of movement and also be able to offer gentle support by holding onto the handle of your dog’s harness.
When it comes to mobility support, some harnesses have two handles, which can be used for walking assistance and even for lifting the dog into and out of a car. A single handle can also add support for climbing into or out of cars- just be sure not to lift a dog by the harness unless it’s designed specifically for that.
Stilettos at the Beach?
So, what do selecting a harness for your dog and shoe shopping have in common? More than you might think! Ultimately, when you’re buying shoes, it generally boils down to selecting the right option to fit the individual and the activity. A snazzy pair of stilettos might be great for an evening out, but probably not the best choice for strolling on the beach, running a marathon or walking the dog. It makes sense, then, that our precious pooches may also enjoy a wardrobe that is varied, comfortable, practical, and yes, even stylish.
So, here’s to unleashing adventures and harnessing fun with your fashion-forward pup!