Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crew Safety - Size Matters

The crew looking sharp.
Our first task was to sort through the various options for dog harnesses and there are quite a few. Many of you sent us suggestions which was very helpful. I spoke with several manufacturers and we decided to test several options from Kurgo and RuffWear. I believe both are committed to providing optimum solutions and were open to hearing our honest feedback.

We tested 5 different harnesses including the original Kong harness that had failed for Dee Dee. Here is a brief rundown.

Dylan in his Kong harness.
The Kong Harness was our go-to harness for years and the one we wrote about in Dyna and Dylan's most popular blog entry ever, All That Dog Gear. Check it out for more info about the gear we use onboard for the crew. The main attraction for the Kong harness was the large "traffic loop" on the back which made grabbing it by hand or with a boat hook easy. We had a Kong harness for Dylan and one for Dee Dee.

Dylan in his Kurgo Pinnacle harness
I liked the Kurgo Pinnacle Harness as soon as I saw it because it had a large padded chest plate and back plate, and a traffic/safety loop like the Kong. With less webbing and more of the mesh material I felt it would be less likely to stretch. We had one for Dylan and one for Dee Dee.

Dee Dee in her Kurgo Tru-fit harness.
I wanted to try the Kurgo Tru-Fit Harness because it is also crash-tested as a car harness. Living on a boat makes one really appreciate any item that can do double duty. We never have the crew in a car without being strapped in for safety. The Tru-Fit has a very broad chest plate and a strap running down the back. It also has a traffic/safety loop. We had one for Dylan and one for Dee Dee.

The crew in their RuffWear Web Master harnesses.
The RuffWear Web Master Harness was interesting because it had two different safety loops on the back. This harness was designed for hiking to allow the owner to help the dog scramble over obstacles. I also found the 3rd strap interesting as I felt it might afford more security in a lifting situation. We had one for Dylan and one for Dee Dee.

Dee Dee in her RuffWear Front Range harness.
I originally tried the RuffWear Front Range Harness for Dee Dee to help train her to pull less on normal walks. But harnesses don't provide enough correction for a pulling dog and so I decided to try it as a boating harness instead. This is really more a failure of us than the harness - we have spoiled dogs. The Front Range comes in a lovely shade of pink, even if she is a Tom-boy.

We began acquiring harnesses and realized that the first issue was sizing. The fit had to be both comfortable and secure. As we learned from our rescue of Dee Dee, a harness that becomes too loose will not serve its purpose when you need it most. However, a harness that is not comfortable will mean an unhappy crew and is less likely to be used.

Both companies' websites had sizing charts that provided information about the dog's weight, girth/chest, and/or neck measurements. We dutifully took out the tape measure and made careful measurements. 

This is where things first began to get interesting. It became obvious that we were not going to find a "one-size fits all" sort of harness. Even though we had two dogs of the same breed who were closely related, we found significant differences.

Check out those 6-pack abs!
The first harness we received was the RuffWear Web Master which has 3 straps: one around the neck and two around the torso. I immediately ran into a problem fitting the backmost strap. Labs are very deep chested dogs. Looking at them from the side you can see how the chest is large but then the belly curves sharply upward.

The problem was fitting the back strap for all day use. I found that if I made it snug when Dylan and Dee Dee were standing up, it would dig into them when they sat. If I loosened it to be comfortable sitting, it hung loose when they stood up. I finally selected what I hoped was a good in-between fit.

Next we tried the RuffWear Front Range Harness on Dee Dee. The Front Range Harness is what they call their every day harness designed to be comfortable and used for walking. I selected the size based on the chart and this harness fit like a glove. The only thing I didn't like was the absence of a traffic/safety loop on the back but more on that later.

We turned to the two Kurgo harnesses. Dylan fell between sizes so we obtained a large and an x-large for the Tru-fit  and a large for the Pinnacle harness. For Dee Dee we received two large harnesses. The large harnesses fit Dylan perfectly. Dee Dee turned out to be more of a challenge (is anyone surprised?).

Why is Dee Dee always the problem...
All four harnesses adjusted easily and at first seemed to offer a good fit. However, Dee Dee's harnesses kept riding up on her back. After several attempts to readjust the harness, we determined that because of Dee Dee's small size, the girth strap was not hitting her on the chest. Instead it was coming across her belly and because of that sharp curve it would ride up to her chest creating a big pucker on her back. The length of the harness was just too long for her.

So we got another Pinnacle and another Tru-fit harness in medium for Dee Dee. This solved the length issue as the girth strap now fell nicely across her chest. Unfortunately, the girth strap was too tight on both harnesses. On the Pinnacle, the girth strap is sewn into the chest and back plates, so that eliminated that harness for Dee Dee.

Fortunately, they designed the Tru-fit so that the girth strap could be interchanged. Perfect. We took the medium harness and replaced the girth strap with the strap from the large harness and had a perfect fit for Dee Dee. Kurgo Customer Service told me that they will work with dog owners in these situations to help obtain a good fit.

The Lesson Learned
The lesson I learned is that a dog is more than just a weight or a girth. It would have been helpful to have more measurements such as the lengths of the back and belly pieces.

When you are looking for a harness, consider all of the dimensions of your dog as well. You want something that will fit snugly but comfortably and that will stay in place especially when you are lifting them. Make sure you can easily return what you purchase and if unsure consider getting two different sizes to try.

Two hardworking product testers.
Now we had several good fitting harnesses, it was time to have the crew put them to the test. We'll let you know what we found next time.


Snowcat said...

Does the Kong harness have a metal loop on the front as well?
Very informative, thanks!

MV Red Head said...

As I recall, no they do not. Just at the back.

Glad you found it helpful!

Unknown said...

Hi, do you remember what size of Ruffwear WebMaster you used? Kona is a labrador female, around 28 kg (53 cm tall), girth 81-82, so I'm not sure which one would fit her best. Thanks in advance!

MV Red Head said...

We used a size medium for Dee Dee. Sending ear scratches for Kona.

Unknown said...

Thank you! Web Master seams like a bigger model, compared with Front Range. Kona has FR size M, but is a bit small (still has about 10 cm, but the fabric part is to small)

João Andre said...

Thank you for the review. I'm trying to decide between the Front Range and the Kurgo Tru-fit and I hope you could help me. Particularly, 1) which do you think would fit best on a tall, narrow and long bodied 55lb lab mix? 2) how do they compare weight-wise (do the metal buckles on the Kurgo weigh a lot? they also have a plastic buckle version). 3) How sturdy is the front clip of the Front Range (would it survive everyday walks on an average puller)? Also, is the Journey/Pinnacle worth the extra cash?

Thank you once again.

MV Red Head said...


I found it is not simple. My first advice is, if possible, get them from someplace that is easy to return - as liveaboards ourselves, I know that's not always easy. Dee Dee is about 64 lbs, narrow for a Lab but not tall. Dylan is more the typical male Lab and weighs about 75.

I like the Pinnacle a lot and think it is a better option for lifting - like the large belly piece which would support them and the big handle on the back. But it was harder to get a good fit as the adjustments were kind of limited. The company will send a different belly strap to help. For Dylan we needed the large harness with the x-large belly strap. The biggest problem was that the metal corroded fairly quickly in the saltwater - we always rinse dogs and harnesses after a swim.

We had a second one we had gotten for Dee Dee (which didn't work), so I began using that one while underway and went back to the Kong one for dinghy rides and swimming. It's been over a year and no corrosion.

The Front Range worked great for Dee Dee - with the exception of no handle on the back. It is designed for walking. The front loop is sturdy. As for weight, I can't really tell a difference.

Having said all that. I am about to embark on another search as there's still not one harness that meets all the needs. The manufactures have told me "the marine market isn't big enough." I think they're mistaken... Very shortly, I'm going to put up another entry, cross referenced to the ActiveCaptain Facebook group, looking for input from boaters. My hope is to find a sturdy harness with good belly support for lifting, a large handle on the back for grabbing, metal that won't corrode in saltwater, and that will be comfortable for the crew to wear all day. After that, I am going solve world hunger and race relations...