The Anatomy of the Harness
To me, in seems like very common knowledge that sport harnesses for the various dog sports differ greatly amongst one another. Perhaps that is quite ignorant to assume, and it has come to my attention that it is worth writing about to help share the correct information. A harness that is designed for resistance training or competitive weight pull is not the same as one that is used in racing or mushing. A protection sport harness looks and feels a LOT different than one that was crafted with the intent for walking, even though they are both harnesses. The most common question I receive from beginners, specifically talking about resistance training here, is “ What makes a custom weight pull harness unique?"
In my online education of the foundational material, I included a video talking about the purpose and functionality of each aspect of a resistance training harness; I refer to it as the “Anatomy of the Harness”.
For starters, each harness SHOULD be custom made for the dog that will be using this harness. I do not recommend borrowing harnesses, especially if you intend to stick with the foundational work and/or move into dynamic or performance work, as the shortcomings of a harness not made for the dog you are working, may accumulate and be detrimental to the dog’s physical well being. That’s not to say you can’t borrow one for the day, but I wouldn’t be using a borrowed harness long term.
With that being said, below is a picture of a harness that is typically used within resistance training, and the three most prominent features are discussed:
1. The Spreader Bar--- which is located at the top of the photo, is unique to a custom resistance training harness and it has two main purposes: to ensure safety and to maintain integrity of the dog's form. The most common misconception is that the spreader bar "distributes" weight throughout the dog's body, which is misrespensentative of its true function. The spreader bar acts to help evenly distribute the weight throughout the back end of the harness, because there are what what we refer to as two lifting points or points of attachments. Those two points of attachment promote for a natural elongated stride by providing a wide channel for the dog's hind legs. In addition to providing a channel for optimal movement, the spreader bar contributes to a level relationship between the object of mass (object being moved) and the height of the point of attachment. If there was one single attachment point, such as seen in a mushing or racing harness, not only does it sit higher than the resistance weights, causing an off shift in weight, but it would create a narrow channel and NOT allow for full movement of the back legs. Another thing to keep in mind is that just like a narrow channel does not promote full powerful movements of the back legs, a spreader bar that collides with the dog's hocks when there is NO weight attached, has the propensity to cause shortening of the dog's natural gait. Arguably, when the harnesses are attached to a weight pull cart or wagon, whose point of attachment is level to the dog's spine--- the dog can absolutely get full strides in. Not all dogs will move onto competition or performance work, so they need to be mindful of the distance between their hocks and that spreader bar.
2. Just behind the spreader bar, at the very top of this photo, you can see a silver "D" ring hardware---and this is where the resistance weights you select are attached to. This is important because it provides a focal point and center of mass for the object being pulled. The placement of the D ring in the middle of the spreader bar, allows for a more neutral position, and eliminates unpredictability in weight shift. As already discussed, a single point of attachment that sits higher than the object to be moved, can result in unpredictable weight shifts and therefore be considered unsafe. Proper soft tissue and muscle development occur as a result of time under tension, and when weight shifts, it does not provide steady "time".
3. Lastly, a padded neckline gives way to additional support in the chest area, but also promotes positive form. Regardless if you choose to use a "rolled" padded or flat neckline, the neckline guides the posture and position of a dog moving resistance weight (competition weight or not). I tell every student of mine, that the beginnings of proper form are built and etched to memory in the foundation work, or the Building Blocks program. The reason is this---- along with the placement of the D ring, and the spreader bar giving a lower point of attachments, the tension caused by the resistance weight (whether it is 10lbs or 100lbs) drives the dog's head down and allows the inertia to be steadfast in one position (head down, shoulders forward), ensuring safety and strong form. If the higher single point of attachment, such as seen in the mushing harness, meets tension that is lower than that point, the drive created will force an upward shift---developing improper form.
Custom harnesses for resistance training are one of the most vital pieces of equipment for success. I preach the use of a quality maker to be 100% that these three prominent features are nothing short of exceptional. If you have any questions about how to measure or what harness makers to use, please contact me!