Harnesses

I am a steadfast believer that all dogs should be walked in a harness, not on a collar.  A mountain of philosophical and training data supports this notion, but I will leave it to those more talented to explain these concepts.  A great start on the topic can be found here:  http://dogmantics.com/is-it-harmful-to-attach-a-leash-to-your-dogs-neck-2/  Turid Rugaas is a queen in the dog training world.  She is the gal who taught us all how to read dog body language and what postures mean to other dogs.  Her thoughts on harnesses can be viewed in this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPuf_nhUmE0.  I've not seen the harness she uses in the video.  Turid lives in Europe and the product may not be available in North America. 

Even skirting the philosophical debate on harness vs. collar, medical evidence should convince pet parents that all dogs under 20 pounds, and all bracycephalic dogs, should harness up to avoid tracheal collapse, increased ocular pressure and respiratory impediment.  Bracycephalic dogs have shortened muzzles and include the following breeds:  Affenpinscher, Boston Terrier, Brussels Griffon, Boxer, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chow Chow, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, French, British & American Bulldogs, Japanese Chin, Lhasa Apso, all Mastiffs, Presa Canario, Pekingese, Pug, Shih Tzu, Shar-Pei, Staffordshire Terriers, and some Chihuahua and Newfoundland sects.

Due to increased ocular pressure, all dogs with glaucoma need to wear a harness for leashed walks.  The same holds true for dogs with thyroid issues, owing to pressure on the thorax/thyroid.

A parent account of damage from a restraining collar used at a groomers is here:  http://able2know.org/topic/111986-1

Dogs with narrow skulls (like Greyhounds) or thick necks (like Bulldogs) can easily slip a collar and are safer in a harness.  I’ll toss in the view that all dogs over 50 pounds should be harnessed for increased handler control, and together with the under 20-pounders and bracycephalic crowd, that pretty much captures most dogs.  Just do it, folks.  Race out and buy a harness NOW!  A $30 investment in your dog’s health and happiness trumps possible vet bills stemming from aforementioned damage and a lifetime of discomfort for your dog.

Not all harnesses are created alike, alas.  Here’s my opinion on those locally available:

Sure-Fit

Hands down, this is my favourite walking harness.  As the name implies, it FITS!  I can’t tell you how many times other pet parents have stopped us and inquired about the harness.  Each complained that the harnesses they were using rubbed blisters in the armpits.  No blisters happen with a properly adjusted Sure-Fit.  It has sizing buckles on every aspect – both neck loops, the side straps and chest length.  It’s an easy harness to don:  simply slip the neck loop over a dog's head and snap the side buckles.  A key indicator of quality is that all stitching is finished on the OUTSIDE, meaning those sharp nylon ends won’t rub your dog’s skin.  The most potent reason for choosing a Sure-Fit is that this equipment is designed to be used with a double-ended leash:  it has a D-ring on the back and a ring on the chest.  Using two points of attachment gives ultimate control to handlers, and is key in teaching a balanced walking gait to leash-pullers.  I’ve owned Sure-Fits for years that have been washed regularly.  The colour fades a bit with time but there is no other indication of wear.  Like a coveted pair of jeans, these harnesses soften with use and get more pliable, easy to adjust, and I assume more comfortable to wear.

Sure-Fits are appropriate for most dogs with one exception:  those with deep chests and narrow rib cages, particularly Greyhounds and Great Danes. 

The Pet Gear Store (http://calgarycanine.com/pet-gear-store/) is the only retailer that I know of in the city that sells Sure-Fits and double-ended leashes.

Sure-Fit:  side straps sit well back from the leg, eliminating blister potential.  Even on a mannequin, it's visible how well this harness fits. Straps lay smoothly against the body without need of any ribbon flatteners.  Compare it with photos of the other brands below.

Sure-Fit:  side straps sit well back from the leg, eliminating blister potential.  Even on a mannequin, it's visible how well this harness fits. Straps lay smoothly against the body without need of any ribbon flatteners.  Compare it with photos of the other brands below.

Chest pieces lay flat and smooth against the body, and the straps sit well above the legs

Chest pieces lay flat and smooth against the body, and the straps sit well above the legs

All nylon ribbon ends are stitched to the outside, so they can't rub skin

All nylon ribbon ends are stitched to the outside, so they can't rub skin

Freedom

The Freedom is my choice for Danes and Greyhounds, since Sure-Fits don’t tend to fit these breeds well.  Like the Sure-Fit, the Freedom has size adjustment options on the neck, belly, and side straps, and it’s easy to don with a slip over the head and buckle on the sides.  The Freedom also has both back and chest rings for two points of leash attachment.  One nice feature is that the belly strap is wrapped in velvet for greater wearing comfort, though the velvet tends to break down with washings.

Cons:  The back contains a martingale strap, and I prefer not to use physical intimidation with my dogs.  The strap is nylon and it is short, so pressure is mild and that’s the only reason I can include this equipment at all in review.  Bafflingly, the Freedom has some outside stitching but also has some inside stitching, a really bulky joint at the chest centre, and irritating plastic flatteners, rendering this a less comfortable harness to wear.  The Freedom has less range within each size than the Sure-Fit, so take accurate measurements to ensure a good fit.  

Freedoms come with a double-ended leash, though the clips are too large and heavy, and the leash contains a hand strap that infers one-handed use, though double-ended leashes are properly used with two hands.

Freedoms are widely available in pet shops across the city.

Freedom

Freedom

Chest joint has a whopping six layers of ribbon!  And a pokey plastic flattener directly below the chest ring.

Chest joint has a whopping six layers of ribbon!  And a pokey plastic flattener directly below the chest ring.

Martingale

Martingale

Velvet wrap on belly strap

Velvet wrap on belly strap

SENSE-ation

The SENSE-ation is a cinch to don, with an over-the head loop and only a single buckle on one side.  Stitching ends are correctly oriented to the outside, and a nice feature is a colour-coded belly strap, making it easy to always know which side is up.

Cons:  The SENSE-ation has those irritating plastic flatteners and a divided horizontal chest strap which slides vertically when a dog changes position – i.e.:  from a stand to a sit.   My dog detests the chest strap on this model.  The only attachment choice is the chest, so a conventional single-clip leash must be used and I find that the leash clip bounces extravagantly against his chest when walking. The jangling sound is annoying to me and is likely a contributing source of my dog’s disapproval.  The angle of the belly strap has potential to cause rubbing in the armpits.

SENSE-ation harnesses are available at Dogma (http://dogmatraining.com) and Just Fur Kids.

SENSE-ation:  a different colour belly strap is a great feature

SENSE-ation:  a different colour belly strap is a great feature

Jointed chest strap naturally wants to fall into a 'V' shape, causing a lot of vertical movement.  You can see that it falls to the top of the leg, which may be why it bounces so much when walking.

Jointed chest strap naturally wants to fall into a 'V' shape, causing a lot of vertical movement.  You can see that it falls to the top of the leg, which may be why it bounces so much when walking.

Because the chest strap wants to fall forward, and because a leash is attached to the chest strap causing additional forward pressure, this harness wants to pull forward into the leg.  It's a red flag for rubbing raw spots in the armpits.

Because the chest strap wants to fall forward, and because a leash is attached to the chest strap causing additional forward pressure, this harness wants to pull forward into the leg.  It's a red flag for rubbing raw spots in the armpits.

Nylon ribbon ends are correctly stitched to the outside

Nylon ribbon ends are correctly stitched to the outside

Rogz

Rogz is a step-in harness, so I immediately like it less than the others listed.  An over-the-head model can be donned on the fly when heading out the door, in the car, etc. . . ., while a step-in requires the dog to stop, sit, and give up his paws.  You also have to hold a step-in on one side with one hand, trying not to let go as you wriggle into the other side.  With practice, a step-in can become as easy to don as an over-the-head, but a break-in period is required for uncoordinated folks like me.  An alternative option is to train your dog to step into the harness while it lays flat on the floor. 

Rogz has plastic adjustment buckles where the other harnesses have metal adjusters.  The plastic buckles are bulky and the nylon ribbon does not thread smoothly through them, making adjustments more tedious. Rogz also has scratchy plastic flatteners.  Stitching is oriented to the inside.  Side straps have a good range of adjustment, but the belly strap is oddly short, making this harness difficult to fit properly over the diverse array of dog shapes. Like the SENSE-ation, the side straps are angled, inviting rubbing in the armpits.  The release snap is located in between two nylon strips, making it awkward to remove.  If that's not difficult enough, the release button actually has a lock that can be engaged so it can't come off.  This feature makes me wonder how durable the release is.  Rogz has a single leash attachment on the back.  It is an H-shaped harness mercifully lacking a horizontal chest strap.  Appealing to pet parent aesthetics, Rogz come in an enormous array of colours and patterns.

Rogz are widely available in most pet shops.

Rogz

Rogz

Nylon ribbon ends are stitched on the inside - ouch!

Nylon ribbon ends are stitched on the inside - ouch!

Whichever model you choose, any harness is preferable to walking on a collar!

Double leash attachment points on chest and back

Double leash attachment points on chest and back

A proper double-ended leash will have two different clip sizes.  The large clip attaches to the back ring on a harness;  the small clip attaches to the chest ring.

A proper double-ended leash will have two different clip sizes.  The large clip attaches to the back ring on a harness;  the small clip attaches to the chest ring.

Sleepypod

Walk into any big box pet store and you will find a myriad of car travel harnesses claiming to be crash-tested.  What the products fail to display is the results of crash tests, all of which FAIL.  There is only one product that has consistently, since 2013, been found to acceptably restrain pets in a crash test conducted independently (not by the manufacturer) by the Center for Pet Safety.  The Centre for Pet Safety publishes videos of test results for all brands on their site.  http://www.centerforpetsafety.org/pet-parents/how-to-select-a-harness/.  Consumer Reports summarizes findings here:  http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2013/10/pet-restraints-may-be-inadequate-in-a-crash/index.htm.  My favourite synopsis was done by CBC’s Marketplace:  http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2014-2015/pet-safety-paws-for-concern

Since Sleepypod is the only safe harness for car travel, it’s what Jay wears.  However, the product performs less well for dogs his size (over 75 lbs).  For a product that retails at over $100 CAD, I wish the quality was better.  Our Sleepypod has two years of wear, and the zippered chest pad is coming apart and can not be re-sealed.  The harness does not fit well enough to be a comfortable walking harness, so I’m constantly switching him into a Sure-Fit for excursions outside of the car.  The back straps need enough slack to loop through a seat belt, so the harness can never fit well enough for general use.

My additional concern is the fact that most large dogs do not sit on car seats facing forward.  Car seats do not accommodate large canine bodies comfortably in a forward-facing position, so most big fellas turn sideways.  Sleepypod can accommodate a side position, though awkwardly, and safety testing has not been performed in a side position. 

I do like the large padded chest, designed to disperse force more widely (and thus less acutely) across your dog in a collision, or even if you just need to hit the brakes hard.

Like the Sure-Fit, Sleepypods are not recommended for narrow-chested breeds.  Sleepypod specifically cites Greyhounds, Whippets, Salukis and Afghans as unsuitable for their product.

Sleepypods are sold at Global Pet Foods and Optimal Pet Foods.  The only retailer that stocks an XL size is Unleashed.  https://calgarycanine.com/pet-shops/

Chest plate is padded                                              Side of pad plate has come undone over time