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Harness Information  

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Sledding and Weight-Pulling harnesses are specially designed to allow the dogs a combination of maximum pulling power and comfort.

The harnesses are designed to transfer the stress and energy of the pull to the bony structural points at the neck and shoulder, where the harness is padded. Harnesses must never place any pressure on the dog's spine, particularly in the loin area where the vertebrae are unsupported by the ribs or pelvis.

The energy of the pull is focussed by the harness onto bony points of the dog: the withers (shoulder blades), prosternum (breastbone) and ribs. This stops the harness from digging in to the softer fleshy parts of the dog’s body which would cause discomfort when pulling.

Sledding Harnesses

Sledding harnesses are designed for dogs to pull at speed, such as in sled dog races or when exercising a dog attached to a pushbike, scooter or cart.

Car or walking harnesses should never be used for this work as the harness does not apply pressure in the correct way to the dog and can cause injury and rubbing. Likewise a dog should never do this work with a lead attached to a collar for the same reason.

It is also important that the webbing used for harnesses is not too wide in proportion to the size of the dog. Webbing which is too wide will not sit flat as it curves around the body, and the edges will tend to dig into the dog when pulling causing discomfort.

For sledding harnesses the standard webbing width is 1 inch, but for very small breeds a narrower webbing should be used.

The breastplate section that runs down from the neck between the forelegs can be wider as this sits flat on the dog, and a dog with particularly prominent prosternum (breastbone) may be more comfortable with the “keyhole” or open type breastplate section.

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Weight-Pulling Harnesses

Weight pulling harnesses are designed for pulling a heavy load for a short distance at a slow speed, as in weight-pull competitions. In these competitions the dogs pull a low trolley loaded with increasingly higher weights over a short distance of around 16 feet. Alaskan Malamutes have pulled well over 1000 kilograms in weight-pull competition, so good fit of the harness is very important.

It is important that the webbing used for the weight-pull harness is not too wide in proportion to the size of the dog. Webbing which is too wide will not sit flat on the dog as it curves around the body, and the edges will tend to dig in causing discomfort. For weight-pull harnesses the standard webbing width is 1 inch, but for very small breeds a narrower webbing should be used. For very large breeds a slightly wider webbing could be used up to a width of 1.5 inches, and the webbing can be wider through the breastplate section which sits flat on the dog.

The weight-pull harness has a lower centre of pull which is designed for pulling a trolley, and incorporates a rear spreader bar behind the hindquarters so that the rear legs are not laterally compressed when pulling a heavy load. The weight-pull harness also has additional padding around the chest area.

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Harness Fit

It is important that any working harness is a good fit on the dog to maximise comfort and minimise rubbing and injury. Because every dog is built differently it is best to get sledding and weight-pull harnesses made to measure to fit your dog.

In particular the harnesses need to be a firm fit around the neck so that the webbing “cross over” points sit on the shoulder blades at the top of the neck section and the breastbone at the bottom. If too large the harness will tend to slip down around the shoulders and interfere with the movement of the forelegs, if too small the harness will dig into the softer flesh around the throat and windpipe causing discomfort when pulling.

Working harnesses are padded around the neck and chest areas to prevent the webbing from digging into the dog. We have tried various types of padding but have found that polar fleece padding wears the best, is easy to keep clean and is very quick to dry. We have well-used harnesses that are 10 years old with the polar fleece padding still in quite good condition, whereas we have found other types of padding have worn within a very short time with very little use.

The join of the webbing at the ribs should sit just over the last rib, so it is important that this point can be located on your dog. If the last rib is hard to locate it could be that your dog is carrying excess weight which he or she must lose before doing any long distance strenuous exercise. This allows the harness to place minimal pressure on the rib cage when pulling, and therefore keep the lung cavity area free to expand.

The rear of the sledding harness should sit just at or beyond the base of the tail but never shorter, and the rear spreader bar of weight pull harness should sit loosely at the back of hind quarters when not in use.

The cross over section of the both types of harness should be loose to allow for the arching of the dogs back during pulling. These sections are placed in the harness to assist in keeping the harness sitting in the correct position on the dog and to assist with handling the dog, but should never be so tight as to be load-bearing. If too tight these sections could place stress upon the weaker part of the dog’s back at the loin causing discomfort or injury.

The sledding harness should be attached to the bike or scooter with a bungee-line. The bungee-line incorporates an elastic section which takes up the shock and therefore prevents jarring injuries to your dog. This is a must for most types of harness work at speed - a static line (rope, lead or chain) should never be used for pulling at speed.

The weight pull harness should be attached to the trolley or tyre by a static rope - a bungee or elastic rope or line should not be used for weight pulling.

PLEASE NOTE:  a correctly fitting harness will appear short on a dog when relaxed - correct fit can only be assessed when the dog is pulling hard.

Note that a correctly fitting harness will often appear too short when it is sitting loose on the dog.  Correct fit can only be assessed when firm backwards pressure is placed on the harness by pulling on the toggle loop as would be the case when the dog is pulling a load or accelerating during sledding.  This is the time when the maximum stress is being placed on the harness and therefore the time when injuries are most likely to happen and a snug fit is critical. 

A harness that appears to be the right length when sitting loosely on the dog will, in most cases, be too long when pressure is applied during pulling.

Harnesses can be custom made to suit any breed, size and shape of dog.

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Harness Colours

Harnesses come in a range of colours, but we recommend that you choose a colour that contrasts with your dog. That way you will be able to see straight away if the harness is twisted or not sitting correctly on the dog, or if the dog has stepped out of the harness. The polar fleece padding is also available in a range of colours, with the most popular being black.

For those with a number of dogs it is important that each dog’s harness can be easily recognised, so it's a good idea if different coloured harnesses are used for different dogs or we can supply embroidered name-tags for harnesses if the team owner prefers a matching team colour.

A combination of different colours and name-tags will allow you to quickly locate a harness for a particular dog by colour, and the name-tags allow other handlers to locate a harness for a particular dog and will help a lost or lent harness get back to you!.

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Harness Care

A well looked after harness will have an increased life-span, be less prone to wearing and will be much more pleasant for you to handle and for your dogs to wear. Unwashed harnesses become stiff, increasing the rubbing action on the dog and reducing the life of the harness.

Dirty harnesses are also more tasty for your dog to chew.

We wash our harnesses in a mild soap such as Wool Mix whenever they appear visibly dirty or get smelly, wring them out or spin them in the washing machine and hang them out to dry in a shady place.

Here are a few tips on keeping your harnesses in good condition:

  • Hand wash your harnesses with a mild soap, such as Wool Mix, in warm (not hot) water.
  • Hang your harness up to dry away from direct heat and sunlight after every use - do not tumble dry or place in front of a heater.
  • Check your harness for wear and evidence of being chewed before each use.
  • Do not leave the harness on your dog when he/she is not working - bored dogs chew harnesses, dogs that play can get tangled in the harnesses and the polar fleece padding is often damp after a run. Harnesses are for working in, not for lying around in.
  • If the stitching shows signs of wear, do some repairs or send the harness back for repair.
  • Do not store your harnesses in plastic bags – they will become smelly and any moisture will be retained which can result the harnesses becoming mouldy.
  • Weight-pull harnesses: remove spreader bar before washing.

Make sure your harnesses are still in good condition and, most importantly, are still a good fit before the sledding season commmences. Sledding outfitters are busiest at this time so it’s best to get your orders in early if new harnesses are going to be required to avoid the situation of starting the season having to use ill-fitting harnesses.

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