Restrictive Harnesses: Restricting more than your dog’s pulling.
I am developing major concerns about the increased popularity of these easy restrictive leading harnesses.
Yes, they do work as described-your dog can’t pull you along as easily on a walk, but at what cost to the proper skeletal development and function of your dog?
I truly believe no actively growing puppy dog should ever wear this restrictive style because of the potential to place abnormal negative forces on growing bones and joints.
If you are having to use a restrictive harness on an adult dog, then seriously consider taking your dog to either group training classes or have private one-on-one dog training sessions to train your dog to walk normally on a lead or Y-harness.
Next time you see or fit your dog on a restrictive body harness-the one that are a solid band across the front of the chest: Watch the dog from side-on, to see how they move on a restrictive harness.
You don’t have to be a vet to realise the dog is being effectively hobbled…
- The dogs are unable to fully extend their shoulders and elbows out into a normal stride gait.
- Additionally, the dog’s neck is held higher with the head more rigid then when on a Y shaped old-style harness. Half the joy of a walk for a dog is the chance to use its nose to appreciate the world and its amazing smells and odours-a dog with its head spent stuck up in the air is a dog missing out on a basic need of life.
- The pet’s neck bobs up and down more around the C6-C7 joint (where the neck joins the body)-this is not a good place to have abnormal wear-n-tear in general, but especially not good in all puppies and in larger breed dogs.
- Often the tail is down and tight to the body in order to balance out the higher head position at the other end.
- The toes are often over-extended and end up splayed-out to provide balance. As a result, the side toes, usually the non-major weight bearing toes are now weight-bearing. We begin to see the appearance of diseases and deformaties of the pad and web skin disease as a result of abnormal stance and contact.
Fig 1: An example of an restrictive harness, correctly fitted, but still a problem for the dog.
Fig 2: Link to video- courtesy of Willow’s UK Rehab Centre showing the abnormal gait: https://www.facebook.com/HydrotherapyForDogs/videos/278711409626940
Y-shaped harnesses are our preference.
In some dogs, these harnesses may initially restrict the range of shoulder movement, often simply because the dog has to get used to the odd feel of walking on any harness. However, should the dog really need to fully extend its front limbs for whatever reason it can do so.
The head, neck, toe and tail gait on a Y- harness more closely resemble normal walking gait.
The Y harness must have the front band neat and snug against the sternum and neck. It must not hang down loose over the shoulders otherwise this loose, low-slung position will act as a de-facto restrictive harness. It is better to have an adjustable clip open and clip close set-up on the harness, rather than a fixed frame that fits over the head. These larger fixed frame harnesses sit too low down on the shoulders and are often quite heavy especially for the smaller breeds.
We prefer the softer, light seat-belt material type of Y-harness.
Y harnesses need to be fitted snug and high up, so not dropping down over the shoulders. Our nurses will happily fit your dog for one of these harnesses, so it is worn properly from the beginning.
Fig 3: An incorrectly fitted or too big a size Y harness. The Y- harness on this dog in the photo sits too low on the front and too far back.