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The Great Outdoors: Large Dog Harnesses for Camping and Backpacking

By Canada Pooch on Oct 3, 2023

Using a harness instead of a traditional collar offers major benefits for large and giant breed dogs when enjoying outdoor adventures like hiking and backpacking. A harness disperses pressure across the chest region instead of focusing it on the delicate neck area. This makes it a safer and more comfortable option for big dogs. The design also gives you more control over a powerful puller. 

Choosing the Right Hiking Harness for Your Big Dog 

Several factors should be considered when selecting a hiking harness for your large dog companion: 

Proper Sizing and Fit 

Finding a properly fitted harness is the most important factor in choosing outdoor gear for your large dog. An ill-fitting harness that is too loose or too tight can cause significant problems by restricting movement, rubbing and chafing your dog's skin, or even escaping and getting lost. 

If your dog's chest size falls between two harness sizes, always choose the next size up for the best fit. This prevents the harness from being too tight and allows for your dog's winter coat growth. Custom-fitting features like adjustable straps and multiple buckles also help achieve the perfect fit for your pup. 

For giant breed dogs over 100 pounds or dogs with unusually shaped chest, a custom harness tailored specifically to your dog's measurements is worth the extra investment. This is the best way to achieve an optimal fit. Most large dogs can wear an adjustable retail harness as long as the correct size range is selected. 

Strength and Durability 

Large and giant breed dogs can put a lot of wear and tear on gear like harnesses, especially when running on rugged, rocky trails. Choosing a harness made with strong materials designed to withstand heavy use is crucial. 

The strongest harnesses use fabrics like nylon, polyester, and ballistic nylon, which are formulated to handle hundreds of pounds of pulling force without tearing. Steel hardware provides greater durability than plastic clasps and rings. Avoid lightweight fabrics like cotton which can fray quickly under pressure. 

Examine the construction to evaluate durability. Look for reinforced stitching, wide straps, box stitching at stress points, and robust fasteners. Avoid harnesses with thin straps, flimsy fabric, or minimal stitching regardless of how cheap they may be. Investing in strength now will pay off for years of adventures. 

Easy On and Off 

For a big dog that is wary or impatient about getting outfitted before each hike, the right harness can make a huge difference. Seek out quick release buckles, wide neck openings, and adjustable straps to make the process of putting on and taking off the harness as smooth as possible. 

Wide neck openings prevent the need to force your dog's head through uncomfortably tight gaps. Adjustable straps and multiple buckles give you leeway to loosen and tighten as needed until you find the perfect fit. 

For dogs that dislike the harnessing process, investing a little more in quick and simple features goes a long way towards hassle-free adventures together. Soon your dog will associate the harness with fun trail time! 

Weather Resistance 

The weatherproofing qualities of your dog's hiking harness become crucial during adventures in rain, snow, sleet, and muddy conditions. Wet weather hiking brings new challenges. 

Seeking out harnesses made with water-resistant synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester helps withstand the elements. These materials resist the absorption of moisture compared to leather, suede, and natural fibers like cotton that become soggy when wet. 

Reflective stripes and trim greatly enhance visibility on overcast days when light is limited. This allows you to keep an eye on your pup from all angles.

Choosing the right hiking harness helps ensure you and your dog can keep moving through any type of weather and trail conditions. Don't let wet weather dampen your adventures! 

Attachment Points 

The way your dog's hiking harness attaches to the leash and holds trail gear can greatly impact comfort and control. Multiple leash and pack attachment points give you options to find your ideal set-up. 

Front clip harnesses deter pulling by redirecting your dog's momentum back towards you when they forge ahead. These help teach polite leash manners. But for prolonged hikes, attaching the leash to a back clip allows them to move freely while maintaining security. 

Look for a harness with both front and back attachment rings for the leash so you can easily switch between them as needed. Top-mounted leash rings are also handy for maintaining a view over your shoulder of your hiking buddy. 

How To Measure Your Dog For The Right Fit 

1. Measure Your Pup 

Use a soft, flexible measuring tape to measure your dog's chest and neck circumference. Have them stand squarely with their front legs straight. Wrap the tape snugly around the widest part of their chest behind their front legs, and at the largest part of their neck. Keep the tape flat, not twisted. 

For accuracy, have a helper provide treats to keep your dog still. Record the measurement. Refer to sizing charts and choose a starting size range. Make sure to also take your dogs weight into account, for big dogs who are strong puller you need to make sure the harness is rated for their weight. 

2. Adjust Fit As Needed 

With the harness on your dog, double-check that all straps are pulled through buckles for proper initial fit. You should be able to slide two fingers between the straps and your dog's body. The harness should not dig in or pinch. Clip together buckles across the chest and neck to secure. Tug firmly on the harness at all angles to confirm snugness. 

3. Check the Range Of Motion 

Observe your dog walking, sitting, laying down, and getting up while wearing the harness fully fastened. The harness should not restrict or rub excessively at the shoulders, underarms, or neck as they move naturally. 

4. Monitor Comfort Over Time 

Keep a close eye on your dog's comfort on early short hikes in a new harness. Look for any signs of chafing or irritation after removing it. Adjust and pad straps as needed if a problem area becomes evident. Gradually increase the duration and distance wearing the harness as they adjust to build endurance.

Following these key fitting steps ensures your large dog will hit the trails in secure hiking comfort and safety for years to come. A proper fit makes all the difference! 

Training A Dog To Walk On A Harness 

Dogs need a proper introduction to wearing a harness to avoid discomfort or confusion on the trails. Follow these tips: 

  • Allow your dog to inspect the harness before putting it on. Offer treats as you show it to them. 
  • Slip the harness over their head, then clip the straps around the chest. Reward with treats. 
  • Increase the duration of harness wear around the house, offering praise and treats. 
  • Take short walks close to home, encouraging forward movement with reward cues like "good dog." 

Taking it slow with positive reinforcement at home is crucial. The harness will soon become a cue for adventure! You could also use a certified professional dog trainer to train your pup! 

Packing Your Dog's Harness For Adventures 

The right preparation will help your dog's harness last for many trips: 

  • Allow the harness to fully air dry after adventures before packing it away to prevent mildew. 
  • Store in a breathable mesh bag or leave it out on a hook at home between trips. 
  • Use a big bin or compartment in your pack to avoid crushing the harness. 
  • Bring an extra fleece liner or pad to boost comfort on long treks. 
  • Designate a dry sack or plastic bag for wet/muddy harnesses to keep the pack interior clean. 
  • Attach small carabiners to make harnesses easy to clip on and off outside the pack. 
  • Check for signs of wear and damage before each use. 

With some planning, your dog's hiking harness will be ready to hit the trail at a moment's notice for your next adventure! 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the main benefits of a dog harness instead of a collar? 

A properly fitted dog harness disperses pressure across the chest instead of the delicate throat area, reducing strain on the trachea. Harnesses also give pet owners much better control over large, powerful dogs that tend to pull on leash. 

How do I pick the right hiking harness size for my dog? 

Refer to the sizing chart for weight and chest measurements. Measure your dog's neck and chest behind their front legs with a soft tape to get their circumference. Choose a size up if between sizes for a better fit. 

How can I get my dog used to walking on a harness? 

Start slowly with treats, praise and short sessions indoors. Gradually increase duration wearing the harness. Practice walks close to home before big hiking trips.

How do I know if a harness fits my dog properly? 

A properly fitted harness allows you to slide two fingers between the straps and your dog's body. It should not restrict range of motion or rub on the armpits. Your dog should seem comfortable walking and sitting. 

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