Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ten Reasons to Use a Harness

The most basic method of attaching a leash to a dog is via a regular buckle collar, so why use a more complicated body harness instead? Most of the time, the answer is that a harness protects the dog's neck and back. There are a wide variety of harnesses that serve many different purposes, but they all perform this essential function. Here are some of the reasons I use a harness:
tiny biothane chihuahua harness
Ru models his custom Fraggle Rock biothane harness.
Photo by Erin Koski

1. My dog is very small.

Josie the German Shepherd in her Kurgo harness
Josie in the Kurgo Go-Tech Adventure Harness
Photo by Erin Koski
 Small-breed dogs have very sensitive throats, and the pressure from a collar can collapse the cartilage of their trachea. A collapsed trachea doesn't happen all at once, it's a degenerative condition that develops over time. Many tiny dogs can walk on a regular collar for years without a problem, but it's difficult to assess how well their cartilage is holding up. Early symptoms include coughing and gagging as their throats literally close up. I have never walked Ru on a collar because I just don't feel the need to risk it.

2. My dog is very old.

A harness can give a senior dog a helping hand. Whether they need a little help getting down the stairs or a lot of help just standing up, the right kind of body harness can provide the needed support.

3. My dog is disabled.

Harnesses are also awesome for differently able pups of all sorts, from tripods to blind dogs. Many manage to compensate in amazing ways, but a harness can allow them to do it all, keep them safe, and provide support to give their working parts a rest.

Brisbane models the Help 'Em Up mobility harness for dogs.
Brisbane rocks the Help 'Em Up Harness
Photo by Erin Koski

3. My dog is injured.

Years ago, when we first x-rayed Brisbane's sore back, a veterinarian recommended I use a harness for him on a regular basis. Whether the problem is in the tails, the middle of the back, or the neck, he told me that it was best to distribute pressure and not pull Brisbane around by one end of his spine. Some harnesses also help provide support for dogs with reduced mobility.
Ru demonstrates the Flexi Mini leash on the beach
Ru in the Midnight Pet paracord harness attached to the
Flexi Mini.
Photo by Erin Koski

4. I want to give my dog more freedom.

Though I'm not a fan of retractable leashes in most situations, I do use Flexis for certain outdoor adventures with my crew. When I use any kind of extra-long leash, I always attach it to a harness. This protects my dog's neck in the unlikely event that something causes them to bolt to the end of their leash. I can't predict earthquakes, poorly-timed fireworks, or stealthy joggers with no personal space, but I can make sure that the pressure is distributed across my dog's chest when they suddenly stop after accelerating for 15'.

Foster puppy Hellin models the Mhu Ghu LED harness
Hellin wears the Mhu Ghu LED mesh harness
Photo by Erin Koski

5. My dog doesn't know how to walk on a leash yet.

While I've found collars to be more useful for communicating with a dog via a leash, harnesses are preferable for casual outings with dogs who are still figuring out this whole "leash" thing. Whether I'm working with a new puppy or a rescue fresh from the shelter, I want to protect their neck while they learn to move with me.

Brisbane models the SENSE-ation no-pull harness alternative to the Easy Walk
I like the SENSE-ation harness a lot better than the Easy Walk.
Photo by Erin Koski

6. I don't want my dog to pull me. 

Loose leash walking is a skill that must be learned, and many dogs need a lot of exercise while they are mastering the concept. There are a wide variety of harnesses that can help discourage pulling while preventing a strong dog from overpowering a smaller handler. Some regular Roman harnesses can be used as a front-clip no-pull harness.

Brisbane models the Urban Trails mushing harness by Alpine Outfitters
The Urban Trails mushing harness by Alpine Outfitters.
Photo by Erin Koski

7. I do want my dog to pull me.

Mushing isn't just for winter anymore! There are a wide variety of dog-powered sports and activities out there. If I'm asking my dog to pull me on a skateboard, scooter, bicycle, or skis, I need to make sure he is comfortable. Harnesses designed for pulling tend to be thickly padded around the chest to help distribute pressure. Some dogs will cheerfully pull on a collar, but this can cause damage over time.

Brisbane models the Ruffwear Webmaster harness
The Ruffwear Webmaster harness allows me to carry
Brisbane like a suitcase.
Photo by Erin Koski

8. I need to pick my dog up. 

Whether I am helicoptering my chihuahua out of harm's way or helping Brisbane up a particularly steep section of trail, a harness is essential for comfortable lifting. Not every harness is designed for this, though many can be used for emergency lifts. Those used for rappelling and parachuting have straps that go around the rear legs for extra security.
Brisbane holds a perfect stay while I take off the
SENSE-ation harness and put on the
DT Works harness.
Photo by Erin Koski

9. I need my dog to pick me up.

The job description of a service dog can include guiding and steadying their handler as they navigate obstacles that most of us barely notice. A vest may be enough to identify a hearing assistance or seizure alert dog, but a harness is necessary for those that provide mobility support. Some service dogs are even taught to brace their bodies to allow their handler to pull themselves up if they fall. Mobility assistance dogs need handles.

Brisbane, Sisci, Ru, and Annie are ready for a drink of water after our hike.
Annie, on the right, is the most talented escape artist I know.

10. My dog can escape from any collar.

I know a dog that can escape from martingale, slip lead, any type of head halter, and most harnesses. So far the only thing that can securely contain her is the Ruffwear Webmaster harness, and a prong collar. The Freedom No-Pull harness is also more difficult to escape than the average harness, though foster puppy Hellin managed it a couple of times.

Do you use a harness for your dog? Why?

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