Tips for Finding the Perfect Canicross Harness for Your Dog20 December 2022
written by Canicross expert, Dawn Richards; reviewed by our in-house vet.
Canicross is the sport of Cross-Country running with your dog. With its origins in sled-dog sports, the dogs are harnessed and attached to the runner via a bungee line and belt. Working as a team the dogs assist the runner, moving them through the air, by pulling into their harness.
In the early days of the sport choice of kit was limited, with traditional X-back harnesses being the mainstay. However, as the sport has grown, so has the range of harnesses, with leading manufacturers producing several to choose from in a rainbow of colours!
With one of the most frequently asked questions in Canicross groups being “Which is the best harness for my <insert breed of dog>”, it is usual for a plethora of answers to be offered, very often based on personal preference, or what has been advised for their own dog of the same breed.
There are however several points to consider before the question can be answered with accuracy.
This point is demonstrated by my own four German Shorthaired Pointers, who all Canicross in a different style of harness.
So where do we start when choosing a suitable harness for Canicross?
Primarily we want our dogs to be comfortable, we also want to prevent injury from a poorly fitted or unsuitable harness, and finally we do not want our dogs to waste energy and tire which can be the result of a poorly fitted harness.
Therefore, my advice would always be to talk to an experienced retailer, one who understands the sport, perhaps participating themselves. The best will have a large range of stock, giving them several options to work with to find the most suitable for your dog.
The preferred option would be to have the harness fitted to your dog, and often the best opportunity for this is at a Canicross event that has retail stands. For those looking online or who wish to arm themselves with more knowledge before visiting a retailer, there are a number of important considerations.
How about my current dog walking harness?
You may be asking yourself why you need a Canicross Specific harness, and would your ordinary harness used for dog walking not suffice?
Remember, in Canicross we want the dog to pull into the harness. Many walking harnesses are designed to stop this, and may do so by restricting movement, for example at the shoulder, or by lifting the weight from the forelimbs.
In Canicross we talk about the harness as being non-restrictive. What do we mean by this? Primary concern is breathing; this should be unhindered, and no rasping noises should be heard. Then consider how your dog moves in walk, trot, or canter when not in harness.
We want this natural movement, or gait to remain as unaffected as possible when in harness. So, you will observe in traditional terms the forelimbs “reaching” forwards, whilst the rear limbs provide the “drive”.
The Canicross harness should not restrict this range of motion at the shoulder, or the hips. You might observe that some dogs arch their backs, flexing their spine whilst running, whist others run “flat”.
These observations lead us to the differences in fit for purpose Canicross harness, and a walking harness.
Canicross harnesses have a Y shaped chest piece, thus allowing the forelimbs to “reach”.
Harnesses of the type with a horizonal strap across the chest, or straps around the legs are not suitable for Canicross as they restrict this motion which could lead to injury over time.
What’s the strength of their pull?
The next decision is determined by whether your dog is a strong puller or a more leisurely puller. The more leisurely puller can wear a “short” harness. These have the attachment for the bungee line at mid body length and leave the hips free.
These are not suitable for the stronger pulling dog, as the harness might “tilt” up into the structures of the throat, restricting breathing. The stronger pulling dog usually wears a long harness, with care given to ensure the hips are not restricted. By having the attachment for the line at the rear the harnesses are designed so that the dogs can pull into the harness and the force of the pull is directed along the underside and up to the attachment point at the rear.
“It’s always the harness that chooses the dog”
The final piece of the puzzle is really your dog. Toria Seaton of K9 Trail time, describes this as a similar process to the wands choosing the wizards in the “Harry Potter” series, stating that “It’s always the harness that chooses the dog”.
We can add up all of our information about gait of the dog, range of motion, how the dog runs, but when we start to fit a harness that “should” be a good fit, they don’t always sit exactly as we would want them to.
When attending a fitting be prepared to spend a bit of time trying different harnesses. If buying online, a good retailer will make provision to check the fit with you to ensure you are happy.
Canicross is about going out and running the trails with your dogs and having fun. An appropriate and well fitted harness, places your dog’s welfare and comfort at the heart of this activity, and allows you to run with your best friend with confidence.
This article is for information only. Always choose products depending on your individual dog's needs and by taking advice from your vet. Always speak to your vet to ensure your dog is fit for taking on new forms of exercise.
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