Sagging D-rings and Forelimb Integrity

ugh!

oh, my

You’ve seen them, the dogs walking down the street with an Easy Walk harness hanging down over their shoulders. For me, there’s nothing that induces a facial tic quite like it. It’s not so much that it makes me want to adjust my bra strap, but that all it requires is a simple adjustment (or, really, a different harness, altogether!). I know a trainer who used to own a shop where Easy Walks were sold (before better products were developed), but all sales came with a lesson on proper fitting, and she demonstrated by adjusting it on the dog before the customer left the store. Unfortunately, it seems everyone just buys them at PETCO or orders them from amazon, neither of which have any interest — nor knowledge — in advising you of the proper use of any of its products (yet another reason to support your local businesses!). 

Freedom harness – much better!

  Allowing the front strap and D-ring to fall over the shoulders of the dog restricts its movement, even if not consciously or noticeably. When the musculature of the dog’s front-end assembly is constantly forced to adjust itself, what effects would that have on the structural integrity of the dog?  Years ago, I was gaiting my dog outside at a show for a couple of breeders, and one asked if I had used an Easy Walk. Surprised, I said yes, and asked how she would know that. She replied that his gait was off; that his front end lacked reach, as a normal dog’s should – which is often seen in dogs wearing Easy Walks. The effects of this are not merely an elitist dog show particular, but speak to the function that a dog should be able to perform in his or her daily life. Chasing squirrels in the yard? Running gleefully to catch a ball? Jumping off rocks on the trails? Turning sharp corners faster than you can say ‘tendon injury’? How are those tendons and ligaments going to fare if they’re compromised? Dr. Chris Zink gained notoriety for speaking out on the effects of early spay/neuter on growth plates and musculoskeletal development of the legs. It’s no surprise, then, with a specialty in canine sports medicine, that she would also raise concern with the use of front-clip harnesses. I was thrilled to open an issue of Whole Dog Journal and see that she had written a letter to them in response to a cover photo showing a dog in a front-clip harness. In an editorial, WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller wrote “Dr. Zink explains that these harnesses sit on top of the biceps and supraspinatus tendons, two of the most commonly injured structures in dogs’ forelimbs, particularly in canine athletes. She asserts that, just by logic, one has to assume that the pressure this kind of harness exerts on the dog’s forelimbs in an activity where the dog is supposed to be extending her forelimbs (i.e., running, walking), is not a good idea.” IMG_8976_2 I have a big dog bred for drafting work – the dog is hard wired to pull. Having had one that suffered rear weakness due to a collapsed cervical disk, I no longer use neck collars. Harnesses are far safer on spinal integrity, but does it need to cost muscular integrity? No. Look for a harness that doesn’t include a cross-chest strap. One no-pull design that I like is the Freedom Harness, which includes D-rings on both the front and back (between the shoulder blades). I have found that even clipping the leash to just the back clip is effective in reducing pulling. Another design that I use is the Holt (pictured, right) — which is marketed as a no-pull, but it’s really not. As an alternative to a collar, I just like its lightweight, rolled design as a seemingly more comfortable option for everyday use. If your dog pulls, though, no harness is going to train him not to. It may prevent him or her from pulling while it’s on, but only you can train your dog not to pull.

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22 Comments

Filed under dogs, musings

22 responses to “Sagging D-rings and Forelimb Integrity

  1. Hi! Interesting post. Have you seen/heard of the front-clip harness VGWbälte? I have used it for my barbets 3 years now and it is working terrific! It is ergonomic and does NOT hinder the movement of the dogs. They wear it always and are very athletic dogs. It is a good alternative for those who are looking for a harness that reduce pulling. I can’t post a photo here it seems. Or let me know how to and I will. Elisabeth

    • Yes! Haven’t used it, but looks like it was designed to avoid restriction of forelimb mobility. A little clunky, but nothing across the chest. Thanks for sharing.

  2. lizzyflanagan

    Wow. I had no idea! Thank you for this great information. I will adjust Tildy’s existing harness and look for a better product!

    • alexandra moffat

      “walk your dog with love” Harness is a minimal style with front strap sitting high. (I have no connection with the company). Google it and see what you think-

  3. As an employee of PETCO I take offense at the assumption that you feel that “Unfortunately, it seems everyone just buys them at PETCO or orders them from amazon, neither of which have any interest — nor knowledge — in advising you of the proper use of any of its products (yet another reason to support your local businesses!).” I’ll put my knowledge and advice up against the best of them and that doesn’t stop at fitting a harness properly. I can advise on proper nutrition, problem solving, dog training and any other topic you’d like to chat about. Don’t think just because you’re supporting small business you’re getting great advice.

  4. Can you please post a photo of a dog wearing one correctly?

  5. Sbaron

    I recommend the Freedom Harness on all dogs. It is the best one for all our dogs!

  6. Hayley E

    So by this logic and explanation a properly fitted front-attach which is not normally pulled tight across the dog’s front (because it’s not pulling) would not cause these issues?
    I walk both my 42 and 45kg dogs at the same time, and they have been trained fairly well, but the odd cat or dropped chicken bone will still cause them to get over-excited and pull. For safety I won’t get rid of my front-attaching harnesses as they allow me to hold the dogs even if they both go to take off. And the double lead with the freedom harness is unmanageable with two dogs at once. So at this time it’s a case of making the best of a situation, and maybe it will give my dogs a slightly altered gait? The lesser of two evils?

  7. Tamara Dormer

    I find that for many of these dogs, if you turn the Easy Walk upside down i.e. put the different color on the back of the dog, while the clip is still on the front it solves the problem. Dogs that have not much width in their chests seem to have this problem from my experience. Of course, having the right size and being adjust properly is still important.

  8. Hayley E

    I did buy a dual leash when the second dog was young thinking it would be easier, but it was the most horrendous experience lol. The two dogs got so grumpy at being yanked by each other whenever they wanted to sniff different things, and the constant yanking made me concerned about the physical effects. I also had to jumpt he dual connector whenever they made a quick direction change and the other kept going. Total failure. Also, I’m not sure how you’re thinking that would help me hold them better sorry?

    • You said that having each one on a double-ended leash was too much to handle, so I was just throwing out a possible option, if they could walk in brace. Sorry.

      • Hayley E

        No need to apologise 🙂 I was just trying to work out what you were suggesting to try exactly.

  9. d

    any concerns about the other harnesses applying throat pressure, which has been in the news lately as a negative as well?

    • Great point, and hoping that someone will design the perfect dog walking tool. To me and my non-expert opinion, I like that the harnesses 1) distribute the weight and oppositional reflex more evenly, rather than solely on the neck, and 2) the top straps lie much lower on the neck/chest than a standard collar, which sits right up there on vulnerable cervical vertebrae, laryngeal structure, and thyroid.

  10. What are your thoughts on the Brilliant K9 and Julius K9 type harnesses? They are not the same pulling points, but both would appear to restrict forelimb movement, and I see them at agility trials all the time. Rethinking going to this now….

    • I haven’t used either one (and, to me, both have too much unnecessary apparatus!), but seem like fit could be an issue — especially on the julius k9, which seems to have a lower chest strap, crossing the shoulders.

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