Your Dog's Harness Might be Causing them Problems
In many countries, the pet accessory industry is not regulated - that means that any Joe Blow or Jane can decide to start making and selling pet accessories for a little extra weekend cash. Sounds like a good deal if you were Joe or Jane, but not so great if you're the purchaser of said 'side hustle' products that aren't subject to any standards on safety or proper fitting for longer-term implications.
And this is exactly what has happened in the world market of pet accessories today. We've been flooded with all the Joe's and Jane's who think the market might want another colourful dog harness in the season's most popular colours, and they make these and sell them to you without a requirement to have their products tested for proper fit, strength or safety. Don't get us wrong, it's not their fault that the industry lets them do it this way - we've been campaigning for regulation in the pet industry for years - but it does pay to do your own research before purchasing accessories for your furbaby, even ones that you can buy straight from your local pet store that seem trustworthy.
So what should you be looking for in a dog harness?
A clinical study into a dog's walking motion has concluded that the dog's full shoulder blade should be able to move without any restriction. The shoulder blade is the highest extension of their front legs and can often feel like a part of bone either side of your dog's chest. Restricting any part of the shoulder blade would feel a little like wearing an off-the-shoulder top as a human - you can move your arms freely below your elbow, but you can't lift your entire arm up. *Yes, we see you flapping your forearms about to put it into perspective.* Wear this top every time you're at the gym or doing your best exercise and over time your shoulders will become weak and frail as you're not allowing them to move whilst strengthening all the other muscles around them.
It's the same with our four legged friends.
Speak to a qualified animal physio or pet rehabilitation clinic and they will tell you how often they see dogs with joint or mobility issues coming into their clinic for treatment, often as a result of an incorrectly fitted harness. Unsuspecting pet parents think they're doing the right thing by purchasing a harness to walk their dog, but without any industry regulation to filter out the harness designs that can cause damage, it's hard to know who to trust to keep their baby safe and free from injury. The video below shows the effects of an ill-fitting harness on the leg motion and spine.
1. Look for a design that sits high and snug at the neck
A properly fitting harness will be nice and snug on your dog, without being too tight and restricting blood flow or creating pressure points. The entire point of a harness is to support a dog's body, unlike a collar that pulls against the throat. The harness should sit up around the neck but not so high that it pushes against the throat - the ideal spot on a human would be somewhere around the collarbone.
If you're planning on using a chest plate or soft harness, the strap or fabric going around the neck should not be gaping or sitting too low down the chest where it could be inhibiting movement of the shoulder blades.
The PUPSTYLE harness was designed with this research in mind so the neck sits at the collarbone and the front leg cutouts start high enough to allow complete freedom of the shoulder blades. Some similarly designed harnesses on the market have problems such as the neck hole being too wide which encourages the harness to sit lower on the chest, therefore restricting the upper shoulder blades. Others don't have enough length in the vertical chest plate which means that when the harness is high enough to free the shoulder blades, the strap that clips up around their body can rub and irritate behind the front legs. It's a Catch 22, and one that we're proud to say we took steps in our design process to avoid.
2. Avoid no-pull strap harnesses with a horizontal front body strap
This style of harness has probably featured all over your social media accounts in the last couple of years, marketed widely as a 'no-pull harness'. They say 'no-pull' because the front strap goes from left to right, directly across the top of your dog's shoulder blades. So what they're actually saying is that your dog can't pull on the lead because their movement is restricted. Go figure.
If you're wanting a strap style harness, which we personally recommend for bigger dogs for the strength of the straps, look for a design in a Y-front shape, providing it sits high enough on your dog that the top straps are not sitting over their shoulder blades. Even some strap harnesses that seem well-fitting (they have the vertical strap down the chest, not the horizontal front body strap) are actually more like a T-front shape where the top strap goes straight around their chest horizontally rather than in the angled Y-shape. Even these T-front harnesses can cause problems if the top strap is low enough that it sits against the shoulder blades. The PUPSTYLE Adventure Strap Harness is our recommendation for bigger, stronger dogs - it has the strongest marine-grade strapping in a step-in Y-front shape that doesn't restrict the shoulder blades.
There are so many more problems associated with ill-fitting harnesses which would need their own article (we'll get to that, one day!) but this article has helped you start recognising the safest harness designs that shouldn't cause longer-term problems for your furbaby. Got any questions? Let us know!
Citation: Clinical Study on Dog Locomotion: 335660240 A Systematic Review of the Biomechanical Effects of Harness and Head-Collar use in Dogs