Sunday, September 20, 2015

Crew Safety - Putting Them To The Test

The crew hard at work

The hard work began. The crew faced hours of swimming and running and bumper retrieving from the Bahamas to Maine with numerous stops in-between. It was an arduous task but we are happy to report that their performance was exemplary.

We now had three harnesses each for Dylan and Dee Dee to test. Dylan had the RuffWear Web Master, the Kurgo Pinnacle, and the Kurgo Tru-fit. Dee Dee had the RuffWear Web Master, the RuffWear Front Range, and the Kurgo Tru-fit. See Size Matters for what we discovered about fitting the harnesses.

While Dylan thought it would be a good idea to do a live test and throw Dee Dee overboard three times on the ICW, we thought there was a better way. We decided to mimic Dee Dee's half hour swim by bringing the crew to whatever swimming opportunity we had nearby for at least an hour of swimming and retrieving. Dylan and Dee Dee were happy to oblige and performed all of their testing with gusto.

Putting their harnesses to the test

Unlike the Kong harness, all of the harnesses we tested were a combination of webbing attached to plates of material.  The non-waterproof webbing on all of the harnesses did stretch a bit during an hour of strenuous swimming. However, the material did not appear to stretch. We found the overall stretching wasn't enough to compromise the harnesses for lifting.

Here's a run down on each harness.

The Web Master Harness
The Web Master Harness by RuffWear
The Web Master harness was designed to assist a dog's back legs up and over obstacles when they are hiking/climbing with their owners. It has 3 straps and two handles. One handle centered on the back near the rear legs for lifting the dog up and one on the far back for helping the back legs get over things. The Web Master has a small padded chest plate but lacks a full belly plate.

I hoped that the extra strap would mean a more secure fit but immediately ran into a problem fitting the back most strap. You can find out more about this in the Size Matters entry.

Lifting Dee Dee with the Web Master
We tested the Web Master harness on both dogs.  While we were able to lift them using the handle on the back, we found the lifting a bit awkward due to the placement of the handle. The dog's head tended to tip forward requiring more strength and maneuvering to lift them. Even with smaller Dee Dee, it was difficult to lift her front paws up.

Lifting Dylan with the PFD keeps his front paws and head up

A look at the canine life vest shows the handle between the shoulder blades.  This allows you to lift their heads up and out of the water. With the PFD strap I was able to easily lift Dylan's front paws off the deck.

The Front Range Harness

The Front Range Harness by RuffWear
This harness is designed as a walking harness and it comes in a variety of colors. When you have more than one dog, it is extremely helpful to have different colors for each dog, especially when they are different sizes.

The Front Range performed very well even after many hours in the water.  When lifting Dee Dee, the belly plate gave a solid base, keeping her stable.

Grasping the back plate was more difficult

My only complaint is that there is no safety loop on the dog's back. Having a loop on the back would make the harness much easier to grab and hold with a boat hook. It was more difficult to grasp for lifting and not simply because it is wider than the traffic loop. It also requires you to slip your hand between the harness and the dog. Remember, you want the harness snug so there should be minimal room between the harness and dog. Having a loop that sticks up is far easier to grab in an emergency.

The Pinnacle Harness

The Pinnacle Harness by Kurgo
The Pinnacle harness had the same qualities I liked in the Front Range harness. Most of the harness is made of a breathable ripstop fabric with minimal webbing. Notice the large belly plate which aids in lifting by distributing the weight.

The harness only comes in one color on the Kurgo website. When I inquired about a different color I was told that the Journey Harness sold at Petco was identical and came in other colors. So if you have more than one crew member, you may want to look there.

The big safety loop is an easy target.

But my favorite part of this harness is the large safety loop on the back.  It offers a great target for the boat hook, a firm place to grasp and pull the dog in, and an easy way to control the dog on the dock or in traffic. The size of the loop makes it very easy to grab and lift the dog. It is positioned right between the shoulder blades so that you are pulling the head upward.

The Tru-fit Harness
This harness is Kurgo's car crash-tested harness. If you sometimes travel with your crew by car, you need to have a crash-tested harness to keep them safe. In our 20 years as volunteer EMT's, we have attended accidents where the human was belted and safe but the dog was injured. They are subject to the same dangerous forces in a car accident that you are. You can watch a video on the Kurgo website of the harness being tested with a canine crash-test dummy.

The safety loop is easy to grab.

The Tru-fit harness has a broad belly plate to distribute the dog's weight when lifting. It also has the all important safety loop on the back, positioned between the shoulders. There is only webbing on the back which meant it stretched more than the Pinnacle but we were still able to lift the dogs easily.  The Tru-fit harness also offered the most flexibility for finding a good fit for Dee Dee.

One issue I had with both of the Kurgo harnesses was that the metal clips began to rust after a few months of use. To be fair, I was warned of this when I explained how I would be using them. They are made of steel rather than stainless steel. After several months of heavy use, the most manipulated set of clips on the girth strap were showing signs of corrosion. The other clips are fine.

We have certainly put them to more of a test during that time than is typical.  The crew spent many, many hours swimming in the harnesses, mainly in saltwater. Of course, the goal of a real safety harness is for it to never end up in the saltwater. Still living in a saltwater environment means that it will eventually rust.

In the next and final entry, I will summarize what we learned and offer some suggestions for finding the best harness for your canine crew.

The company websites:


Unknown said...

We'll be passing through Solomons hopefully on Monday on our way over to St. Michaels. Quite the Summer you had! We hope you and the kids enjoy year round cruising. See you on the water!
Fair winds & Smooth sailing,
Elaine & Lawrence S/V Elle & I

MV Red Head said...

Elaine & Lawrence,

We will be around on Monday. If you put the dinghy down make sure to stop by.

Safe travels