About Dog Harnesses


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I get harness questions all the time. The main thing I am asked is why a dog can not use an X-Back harness for their dog to pull a wagon with the tongue of the wagon. The X-Back harness will come up on the dog, and might in fact come over the dogs head and off the dog, when the wagon is going down hill or the dog stops. Wagons need shafts for brakes, but even with shafts, the X-Back harness will slip up and probably over the dogs head when the dog stops or going down hill.

No, you can not use your X-Back on your dog for it to pull a wagon or a child's sled. No, that harness you had for your Siberian Husky is not going to work for your Pit Bull or Saint Bernard or Cocker Spaniel.

I get these questions all the time....mostly people want an "inexpensive harness that will work for anything the dog might pull". Guess what? Inexpensive is relative and there are no cheap ways to keep your dog safe while you have a bit of fun. AGAIN, YOU NEED THE CORRECT HARNESS FOR THE JOB YOU WOULD LIKE FOR THE DOG TO DO AND IT NEEDS TO FIT THE DOG CORRECTLY.

Harnesses for any animal cost real money. The reason is that they are usually made well with good grade materials and take time to make.

Using the wrong harness and or the wrong equipment can not only get your dog injured, but you might just get hurt too.

Types of Harness

Siwash or Recreational Harness


The Siwash Harness is probably the oldest style know to man. Eskimos have used these for mannnnnnnnnny years, probably 1000s of years, and they are still being used for a reason. They are WONDERFUL HARNESSES, they work well, last long, are easy to use on the dogs, easy to wash and store, and look good on the dogs.

These are used for sleds, rigs, scooters, a person in skates being pulled by a dog, and the like.

X-Back Harness


The X-Back Harness is really a Siwash Harness with an X on the dog's back that makes the harness fit a bit better. It takes the Siwash Harness that in sizing could be compared to a woman' pants, in sizes Large, Medium and Small, and makes it more, with the X-Back, of a size, like a size 10 or 12 or whatever.

The uses are the same as a Siwash Harness, the padding is the same, it is the same harness with an X on the back.

Weight Pulling Harness


There is a difference between a Weight Pull Harness and a Freight Harness. Although they are made the same, Weight Pull Harnesses have double padding around the neck. If you are weight pulling and want to win, get a double padded Weight Pull Harness. Personally, I like the Weight Pull Harnesses for working around the farm too.

A Weight Pull or Freight Harness is used for pulling weight in competition, pulling a sled (only if well trained, untrained dogs can really get hung up in the back area of the harness), if it is converted (pieces added) you can also have your dog pull a vehicle with shafts, but the back bar also needs to be hooked into the vehicle being pulled.

Multipurpose Harness

Frankie Pulling A Wagon

I designed this multipurpose harness for my Labrador Retrievers years ago when I first got my sacco cart. I was so excited about getting a ride in my sacco cart. I put a "D" harnesses on each of the two dogs and told them to go... they both "stepped out" of their "D" harnesses and there I sat in the sacco cart with the harnesses dangling while the dogs ran off. They did come right back when I whistled, but I knew these D Harnesses were not going to work.

I had been a Sled Dog Harness Maker for several years, so it was time to design. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and so I went to the sewing machine with an idea. Not only can you use this type of harness for sled, rigs, carts, wagons, and travios, but also for dogs to pull you in a boat, on a scooter, or on skis or skates. Truly a Multipurpose Harness. It has one "ring" on top, and two sets of two for easy hook up to what ever your dog will be pulling.

The snap is on the top of this harness so when the dog is in water, if caught in a tangle, you can free the dog in an instant. This harness is usually completely padded with double padding under the snap.


Octavian Harnessed

Yes, the photo is of a goat. I could not find one of our dogs using one. I have not used this type of harness for dogs or goats in maaaaany years. It is a good harness for teaching your animals to wear a harness.

These harnesses are modeled after the old style walking harnesses.

This type of harness can be used for wagons, travois or any vehicle with shafts on both sides of the animal.



Most, if not all, sled dog harnesses today are made with either a poly pro or nylon webbing. There is a reason for that. Leather is nice, however, it will stretch, especially when wet, and your dogs might just eat it. Cotton, when wet, stays wet for a long time. Nylon and or poly webbing is not only strong, it is non absorbent so that it will dry quickly if it gets wet holding the size it was when made.

I remember when I first started making harnesses the padding was made with Fake Fur. Now the best stuff to use is a good grade Polar Fleece. Polar Fleece is not only non absorbent, but also is easy to wipe dirt and mud off with just a wet rag. It makes good padding and a good grade will last for many years.

Most harness makers use either nylon rope or parachute cord on the back of harnesses for the hooking area called the ring. Again, great stuff, last long and cleans up well. Of course, again, non absorbent.

I have added bells, and beads and conchos and the like to harnesses for years. I do not sew them on, I "weave" them into the harness under the padding. Items sewn on to harnesses will work their way off, won't last long.


Webbing harnesses are easy to wash and look like new when finished. I wash mine in THE WASHING MACHINE with settngs on cold, warm or hot water in with a load of towels....be warned, your padding might fade. I recommend washing the harnesses on cold or warm.

DO NOT MACHINE DRY! Hang your harnesses by the loops for 24 hours. I dry mine indoors, but drying them outdoors is fine too.

If your webbing is kept clean, your harnesses will last for many years to come. Your harnesses will be longer lived then your dog....so I never recommend putting names on your harnesses.


If you decide to make your own Dog Harness keep in mind that the stitches MUST be very strong. Your harness is only as strong as your sewing machines weakest sewn area. I get a kick out of "webbing strength" being used to describe harnesses, it should be "stitch strength", because the area that is most likely to break on an animal harness is where it has been sewn together. You also must use a good strength thread.

You can buy nylon webbing where you can buy fabrics and craft items. But before you buy the webbing you are looking at, double it over and decide if your home sewing machine can handle and/or pull the webbing though as it stitches. Now, keep in mind that you will have areas on the harness that not only has two or three layers of the webbing but also a doubled amount of padding too. NOW?? Can your machine handle that?

You must use a heavy duty needles. Your new needles will break the thread over and over while sewing the webbing until the needle head is "broke in". I have sanded the head of the needle to stop this, but you must remember that you DO need a needle head. If you file the needle do so a little at a time.

By the time you have bought you webbing, padding, needles (get at least a four pack because you WILL break needles), buckles, slides, metal rings, thread and whatever else needed for the type of harness you will be making, you may be spending as much as you would to just buy the harness. Price everything you need before you start buying parts. If you decide to make your own harness, prepare to be frustrated.

Making a Dog Harness will take some time, probably more of your time then you think. Not trying to scare you off, really I am not, but I have met far too many people over the years that have decided to make their own dog/goat/llama/pony harnesses that these folks have just thrown or given away the stuff they bought to make their own and bought a harness professionally crafted outright.

Now, what are you using for a pattern for your harness? It is very hard to make a correct harness by looking at a photo.

Other Side of the Coin

Making your own Dog and other animal equipment is fun and rewarding. If you have the time and can sew you might just save a bunch of money making your own equipment. You will be able to pick out your favorite colors right down to the snaps and or thread. You can make the item the way YOU want it to be made. You can make it a bit bigger if you have an unusually large or make it smaller for a little bitty dog. You can make matching harnesses in bright colors for each of your dogs. You can ad buttons, bows, bells, thicker padding or whatever to your item. You can also surprise a friend of yours with a nice Christmas or other Holiday gift.

more to come.............

I would like to invite you to join us on a Yahoo Group that I host called Working Big Dogs.
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