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Good Harness Fit

A critical element of exercising your dog/s in harness!

Author: Natalie van der Merwe – Snowdrift Siberians - 2020

Harnesses that don’t fit are a major cause of back injuries, as well as many other potential muscular issues.

Any dog in poor fitting equipment will start to change their gait, or pattern of movement, to avoid pressure in places that hurt. If the dog’s harness ends too far forward of the sacrum, it puts pressure on the top of the last lumbar vertebra and on the lower rib cage. If it fits too far back (x-backs), it puts pressure on the sacrum, sacroiliac joint and lateral aspects of the lower lumbar vertebra. Obviously, good harness fit is a must in preventing injuries.

We use several different harness designs in our team, depending on the dog’s performance and/or injuries. A dog that crabs is more likely to get SIJ (sacroiliac joint) and hip soreness than a dog that runs straight. We use Shoulder Harnesses for these dogs.

Every time we have a dog with a suspected back issue, he/she immediately gets a short harness to stop any pressure over the area and free up his movement.

X-backs, Shoulder (short) harnesses, H-backs and other newer designs - all of them have their place. The main thing is good fit and freedom of movement. Remember that it’s not just the harness design, it’s also the individual dogs’ structure and physical limitations, as well as the activity that dictates performance.

We use Shoulder Harnesses and X-Backs for our personal dogs – for activities ranging from walks (shoulder harnesses) – bikejoring (shoulder harnesses) – hiking (shoulder harnesses) – therapy work (shoulder harnesses) - to a full team on a cart/sled (a mix of x-backs and shoulder harnesses – depending on the individual need of each dog).

Shoulder Harnesses are also used for many other dog sports : fly ball, agility, canine biathlon, dock diving, scent work, SUP canoeing - to name but a few.

There are a lot of short harness designs out there but be aware of what can cause injury (both short term and long term) for your dog. Harnesses whose design goes straight across the dogs chest restrict movement in the major shoulder muscles and will, over time – cause your dog physical distress and impact his mobility as he/she ages.

Shoulder Harnesses are extremely valuable for training puppies in trail work and general training (calm walking on lead, general obedience, etc.). The harness design means they cannot back out of the harness.

Measuring your dog correctly is KEY to ensuring a proper harness fit. Our website has a Measuring Guide (shown above) to make it easier for our clients to know that the harness they order will fit their dog.

Shoulder Harnesses are also a great way to start yearlings off on the gangline- again because they cannot back out of the harness, and we have personally found it a gentler way for a rookie sled dog's first time on the gangline overall if they have been trained generally (walking, etc.) using a Shoulder Harness in the lead up to a gangline introduction.

X-Back from Mtn Ridge is our preferred X-back, as they are extremely well made and we love the fully padding to the tailbone.

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