Travel and the Perfect Canine Harness

The Backpack Harness - by Kiki Hamann

Before I start into the specifics of selecting harnesses for travel, I want to share with you why we are big believers in using harnesses rather than collars, especially for little dogs.

First, a harness will help avoid any respiratory problems, beginning with the obvious one – collapsed trachea. Respiratory problems aren’t limited to just that, however. Collars used for walking, training or running can also exacerbate bronchitis or other throat aliments. A little money spent now on a harness might avoid pricey and painful medical treatment later.

A harness also helps with keeping a dog calm. A collar, especially when pulled tight, puts pressure on receptors found in a dog’s neck. Pressure on these receptors will excite a dog, making it bark, pull, and even lunge.

Putting a dog in a harness also will often give an owner better control of an eager puppy and can help correct a dog’s poor behaviour without the risk of injury. We will never recommend a choke chain. They once were popular, even among trainers, but we know better now. There are always more humane ways to deal with a pulling, assertive dog. Our favourite for this is a loop that gently sits around a dog’s muzzle. If the dog pulls, the loop leads the dog’s head under its body as if it were bowing after a great performance. That also means that the dog must look back at the owner!  You also can’t beat obedience training for eager dogs … or for any and all dogs and owners!

For all these reasons and more, I have worn a harness right from the beginning.

Buying the right harness for your dog can be overwhelming without some help. I recommend you first go online and do a little research. To give you a bit of a head start, here are the basic styles of harnesses:

No Pull: Often used more as a training tool than as a long term harness, these babies should allow your dog to walk in a straight line without twisting or straining, while discouraging pulling by tightening gently around the chest. There are many variations on this harness, some more effective than others. I never needed one of these; I was more of a “drag me to go out” kind of puppy, not a puller. The bipeds often felt terrible as they pulled me behind them.

Step-In: As the name suggests, this is an easy harness for both canine and owner because, basically, all the dog has to do is step-in. My very first harness was a nice fawn coloured, leather step-in harness by Buddy Belts.  We loved it. These types of harnesses are easier to put on than a standard adjustable harness.  The step-in design usually provides a good fit and disperses the load so the harness will not pull on your dog’s neck and cause trachea problems. The step-in design has one down side: you can’t adjust the “armhole” size.

Slip-On: This the classic go-to design for nearly all harnesses. Fashion designers usually prefer this style. They often feature one strap around the neck and another around the middle. The straps fasten with Velcro or plastic clips, and for really gentle pooches, the straps may even fasten with buttons and snaps. Many canine coats, jackets and dresses are basically slip-on harnesses with more fabric.

My Puppia - a.k.a. The Blue Bras!

Hybrid: There are some harnesses that seem to straddle more than one category. My Puppia Soft Harness (a.k.a. the blue bra) is one such harness. It is almost a step-in, as I just pull it over my head, but it also has a strap that slips around my middle. Many love Puppia harnesses since they they are soft, comfortable, and don’t “dress the dog.” Puppia harnesses are not fancy, swanky or flashy.  Rather, they are playful, colourful and very effective.

Having done your research, resist buying anything you might like online. Take time, first, to visit a pet store with you canine companion. Try on different types of each of these harness options to see how they fit, how your dog reacts to them, and what size works best. Some dogs prefer the thin-barely-there harnesses; others like the hug of a fuller harness. Let your dog – not just your own personal taste – be your guide.

Harnesses and Travelling

What harness you choose for your trip depends, as with most things, on what you plan on doing while away. We tend to like a lot of different activities, so these are my preferences and why.

My Hybrid, Puppia soft harness (the blue bra) is a go-to. Aesthetically, the bipeds and I feel the blue bra leaves a lot to be desired, even if it does come in a rainbow of colours. Where it wins, hands down, is in versatility and durability. The harness is made of a soft mesh that when wet, will also keep me cool. In our case, that makes it  ideal for sailing, the beach or really hot weather. It’s also a fantastic harness for messy activities such as going to the beach because you can just rinse it and hang it up to dry. I have had my Puppia for almost 3 years and it just will not fall apart.

Where we find fault is with the step-in nature of the harness: you can’t control the width of the arm holes or how much fabric goes around the neck. For a tiny little one like me, this means that even the XXS is loose and not a perfect fit. Additionally, it’s tough to get in and out of the blue bra quickly. Therefore, it’s not ideal for airplane rides when I need a harness on until security, then off while I sleep away in my carrier.

Most of my harnesses – about  98% – are slip-on harnesses. That style allows for an exact fit with no extra fabric floating around my arms or neck. The Velcro fasteners mean that if I get hot, the straps can be loosened, and in the winter, we can fit a little sweater underneath. That flexibility is wonderful.

My Favorite - Montecristo Harness by Kiki Hamann

This style of harness also allows for the most variety in design. This is why almost all canine fashion or couture designers use some form of slip-on harness. Designs may not have much of a back at all, or they may have warm fur trim for colder days, or even a back-pack for carrying my own poop bags!

I have a few – okay, maybe more than a few – variations on this design. They are my “dog about town” harnesses. They are comfortable, stylish and not dangerous to my delicate throat. When flying, I always wear a slip-on harness; easy on, easy off means extra comfort for me as I sleep in my carrier harness free.

Where we find fault with slip-on harnesses is with the Velcro commonly used to fasten the straps. Velcro is not a fun thing when you have long fur. All too often, if rushed, the bipeds will get some of my fur caught in the Velcro – and that can hurt when it is being removed. Thankfully, this is now a rare occurrence since we are now all used to paying attention.

When we travel, we rarely take more than three harnesses with us: my blue bra and two “designer duds.” Of course, it all depends upon how long we plan on being away and what we plan to be doing.  If I am going to a really fancy event, then I bring my Kiki Hamann “Montecristo Evening Jacket” harness  – a harness cleverly and beautifully transformed into the perfect evening tuxedo.

What harness do you prefer? How many have you tried? How many do you take with you when travelling and why?


14 Comments on “Travel and the Perfect Canine Harness

  1. Well as you all know I prefer the slip on style. But how do you get by with just a few on trips. I take matching harnesses for all 3 of mine for each day that we are going to be gone… That way we can always have the same colors on.. I use my wardrobe for the trip to decide on theirs..
    Great informative post Monte.. Thank you

    • Well I suppose we travel super light. Carry on only. So the bipeds do the capsule wardrobe thing. One colour scheme for the trip. And of course there is just little “moi” not three!! We don’t see dressing the same for holidays as we do at home. Plus we are minimalists to start off with. 🙂

  2. We dont really travel, unfortunatly but when we go places with the pups Cocopuff wears her pink step in with a matching leash and well…Dusty goes nekkid! LOL! He hates to wear anything but he does have a blue step in if we feel we must put him down even for a minute. Yes, he is carried alot but he is timid and shy and this is the way I prefer to transfer him from place to place. Many people may think that is wrong but I do what I feel is best for both my babes. Coco walks well on a leash and Dusty just freezes in place.
    P.S. I love your blue bra Monte!

  3. We have both a step in, and the black Puppia one. I really like the Puppia. I find it quick enough to put on and take off. No complaints here. Pepi is a good walker, so any style works well for him. But like Marlene’s little Dusty, he prefers to be carried around! It’s so bad now, that I’ll put him in my zip up sweater and he will just sit there and fall asleep while I go about my business with him zipped up to the front of me! He loves it.
    Pepi doesn’t own lots of harnesses like you Monte. But I don’t think he notices. 🙂 He is just happy to be with us.

  4. We, too, are harness fans. Wrigley had kennel cough when we first got him from the pound, and the vet recommended using a harness because a collar might exacerbate his coughing.

    Wrigley’s quite proficient at backing out of collars and since we live/walk him on a busy road, we feel much safer using a harness. Plus, we’re pretty sure wearing a harness saved his life back in 2011. We were riding in a golf cart and unbeknownst to me, the free end of his leash slipped from my lap and got caught in the cart wheel. The poor dog was yanked from my lap and onto the road. (It still sickens me to think about it.) Amazingly, an emergency vet exam revealed no major injuries — just a sore elbow and some road rash. But given his small size, and the force with which he was yanked from the cart, we’re certain that had he been wearing a collar instead of a harness, his neck would have been broken.

    We also find it frustrating that there’s no way with the Puppia harness to adjust for extra fabric around the neck, but overall, we love its simplicity, bright colours and ease of care. More than once in hot weather, I’ve dipped one of them in water, wrung it out and used it as an impromptu cooling vest!

    • That is a great point – we dip it in water too and it works wonders as a cooling vest!

      What a terrifying experience I am just so glad that Wrigley is alright. I think your assessment is correct – had it been a collar i think injuries could have been worse if not fatal. Thank you Amanda, for sharing that terrifying experience to illustrate yet another reason harnesses are better than collars.

      How long for the cough to clear? I have often wondered.

  5. If I remember correctly, it took 2-3 weeks from the first signs of kennel cough until Wrigley was better. I believe he had to take antibiotics for about a week.

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