Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Harnesses Demystified: Part 1, Back Clip Harnesses

I have been obsessed with dog gear since childhood. When I couldn't have a dog of my own, I used to love going to the pet store and gazing at the rows of collars and leashes. I never quite got over my love for dog equipment, and I still love checking out new things. Every time I spot something unfamiliar, I am compelled to research it. I want to know how that harness or collar works, how it is fitted, who makes it, and how long has it been around. What training principles is it based on? What are the risks and benefits of using it? I often look for reviews on sites like Amazon so I can read what other people have said about using it, and find out about fitting issues, safety measures to prevent escape, and how the average dog owner is likely to misuse the product.

Harnesses seem to be one of the most confusing pieces of equipment out there. How does one pick up a random pile of straps and buckles and automatically know how it is supposed to go on the dog? Which part is the front? Where is the ring supposed to go? How did this extra strap get here?

There are basically four styles of back clip harness out there, not counting some of the weird ones used for sledding, weight-pulling, and roading. "Back clip" means the leash attaches to the back of the dog, behind the shoulders, usually at the point closest to the tail. I've seen people put them on the opposite way, with the leash ring closest to the dog's neck. There are a lot of wrong ways to put a harness on a dog.

I own a sledding harness for absolutely no reason.

Back Clip Harnesses

Back clip harnesses are intended to keep pressure off the dog's neck, and distribute that pressure along the chest instead. The X-Back harness is used for sledding, weight pulling, and other applications that involve hauling some serious weight. This harness slips on and off over the dog's head, and there is nothing to stop him from backing out if he feels like it. Obviously nobody uses these for everyday casual walks, and they work best when the sled/scooter/car bumper is lower than the dog's back.

Pretty much every other type of back clip harness involves a strap going around the dog's chest, behind the front legs and shoulders. That's the purple line in this picture. Some types also have a strap that goes around the neck of the dog, this should sit very low on the neck. That's the green line. Some harnesses have a strap that runs along the dog's chest, between the front legs, connecting the purple and green straps, that's the yellow line. Some also have a strap that connects the green and purple straps along the top of the harness, that's the orange line.

This is a Roman harness. The green circle goes over the dog's head, with the orange strap on top. The purple strap goes around his chest behind his front legs. This harness only has one buckle, the purple strap must pass through a loop on the end of the yellow strap. To put it on, I can either thread that strap through the loop each time, or I can leave it threaded and put one of the dog's front legs through that section before buckling the strap on the other side. Same Roman harnesses have a buckle on either side. Some omit the orange strap and just have the tops of the green and purple straps meet.

There are a variety of harnesses designed on this same plan. These are all Roman harnesses, including the pink Kurgo Go-Tech Adventure Harness, the teal Petco mesh harness, the green Planet Dog Cozy Hemp harness, and the red Premier Come With Me Kitty harness.

The step-in harness is another common type of back clip harness. This is supposed to be easier to put on because it does not require picking up the dog's feet. Clearly this was designed by someone who has never tried to make a dog deliberately step into anything. Brisbane was so disturbed by the whole concept that I had to clicker-train him to put his feet in the right place in order to get the thing on with minimal trauma. 
"If you have to grab my feet I'll just hide every time I see this."

The step-in harness has most of the same straps as the Roman harness, but it opens in a different way. There is no need to put the dog's head through a circle in the harness because the entire thing buckles around him.

The leash is supposed to attach to both D-rings on the step-in harness, that way there is no stress on the plastic buckle. Some step-ins don't even have a buckle, just rings for the leash.

Here are three different step-in harnesses. The black one is by RC Pets, the tiny pink one is the Midnight Pet Lite and E-Z, and the blue one came from a thrift store with no identifying marks. I use it when I need to keep random large dogs restrained in my car, which happens strangely often.

The shorter strap goes in front, around the neck. If both straps are the same length, it doesn't matter which goes where.

There is a third type of back clip harness that is becoming more popular, but it isn't common enough yet in the USA for manufacturers to have decided on a single term for it. Depending on what brand it is, this could be a sport harness, a quick-fit harness, a padded harness, or an "Xtreme" harness. The rest of the world appears to call it a Norway harness.

Cattledogs are semi-arboreal.
The Norway harness has a strap that goes around the middle of the dog, like the purple strap on the step-in and Roman harnesses, but it doesn't have a strap that passes between the dog's front legs. Instead, there is a horizontal strap that runs around the front of the chest.

Here are three different Norway harnesses, the purple on is a Comfortflex Sport, the pink one is an EzyDog Quick Fit, and the black one is a leather harness that I bought on eBay for $15 and have yet to trace to a manufacturer. It might be made from endangered animal hide and dyed with the tears of orphans for all I know, but Brisbane loves it.

So simple, yet so effective.
Norway harnesses have a single buckle, which opens the strap that goes around the middle of the dog behind the front legs. When that strap is unbuckled, it leaves a single large circle that goes around the dog's neck. I just have to drop the harness over Brisbane's head and buckle it under his belly, no feet-touching required.

Obviously the pink one is for Ru.

No comments:

Post a Comment