Harnesses- the bondage of the dog world?

For a fun Friday, let’s talk harnesses friends! But I can hear you saying ‘why?’! And that’s understandable. Why are harnesses an interesting area to chat about, and one that we need to think more carefully about before parting with our hard earned cash? Well the answer is simple, we should only be using non-restrictive harnesses, and there are very many harness on the market that simply aren’t non-restrictive.

The first thing to say is that I like harnesses, they’re great for lots of situations; small dogs with tracheal collapse (stick a lead and collar on these little guys and if they pull they might pass out!), dogs that like to pull (harnesses - apparently - change the dog’s centre of gravity and so make them feel more confident. They’re therefore more relaxed and less likely to pull. I thought this a ludicrous idea when told said info as I purchased a harness, and then watched in amazement as my - then young - hooligan puller of a border terrier became nearly instantaneously better at walking to heel. Amazing. What’s better though is to train your dog NOT to pull rather than rely on a harness. As I now know!), dogs who’ve had neck surgery, dogs at risk of increased intraocular pressure (increased pressure in the eye) - there are plenty of other reasons. But when buying a harness what should we be looking for? It is critical that we use a non-restrictive harness when exercising dogs, and by non-restrictive I mean one that leaves the entire front leg free to move. The front leg of a dog is attached to the body purely by muscles, and when the dog moves the front leg moves forward with some glide over the body wall too (more glide the faster that they are moving). A non-restrictive harness looks like this:

There are plenty of good non-restrictive harnesses around, this is just one example - I've tried to show it on a hairy border terrier and a more 'groomed' Oscar in his younger years (you've got to feel for Oscar, he gets dragged outside for photo opportunities regularly at the moment. He's less than impressed by this).

A restrictive harness on the other hand restricts the movement of the front limb, often by sitting over the shoulder joint. This is a problem because it restricts the ability of the dog to move its front leg forward and after a while the dog alters its gait to restrict movement of the limb forward even when not wearing the harness- this is bad for any dog, but especially so for performance dogs. It also presses on the front of the shoulder where the biceps tendon runs, and there is some debate as to whether the increased pressure in this area may be act as a factor in biceps tendon problems. In addition, some restrictive harnesses have a strap across the back that presses on the back of the dog’s shoulder blade, also preventing the free movement of the front leg. This is an example of a restrictive harness:

(The restrictive harnesses also seem to quite like sticking the D ring for the lead right in the middle of the chest. I just cannot understand why! Are they expecting the dog to walk behind you?! Furthermore, when you then stand to the side of the dog the harness then presses right on the shoulder joint opposite to you. This is fairly well demonstrated in picture two above.)

There is also some research demonstrating that using a restrictive harness reduces step length (or the stride of your dog), and reduces the foot pressure by the dog. Interestingly, if the dog was pulling then the step length increased if they were wearing a restrictive harness.

Frustratingly, the restrictive harnesses are often promoted for training and ‘all day wear’, and often win awards in the dog literature for ‘best harness’ or ‘best new product’, which isn’t helpful for the consumer or the dogs wearing them! Another problem is that a lot of the working dog harnesses are restrictive - look at the search and rescue dogs or the police dogs that wear harnesses. Maybe this is an area that us rehab vets need to tackle……!

If you are going to use a harness with your dog then please, make sure that it is non-restrictive. Harnesses can be brilliant-  as long as you get the right one and one that fits your dog properly! 

Davey Dog

Sometimes you hear the sad news that you never wanted to get - that one of your furry friends has had to head to the fields in the sky. I got that news last week. I first met Davey Dog many years ago - on an operating table! After he scared me witless but not playing ball with the GA, he finally settled and we did what we needed to do. Shortly after his 'mum', Sarah, came to work as a receptionist at the practice I worked at. So I got to see lots of Davey Dog, and hear all about his idiosyncrasies! Davey Dog was involved in a car accident shortly before I did first acupuncture course, and so after his major hip surgery he became one of my first acupuncture patients. Sarah was somewhat sceptical (as many of us were - me included!-  when we first come across veterinary acupuncture) but was a convert after she saw that Davey benefited from it.

I haven’t seen much of Davey for the past two years as I moved away from his home area. I still saw him cropping up in my Facebook timeline -playing on the beaches in France amongst other activities! But I saw him towards the end of last year when I had afternoon tea with Sarah in Salisbury. He was an old lad but still happy.

Sarah let me know early last week that she’d had to say goodbye to Davey. She is heartbroken. I have to be honest I had moist eyes when I heard the news, partly because I was so sad for Sarah, as well as knowing that I wouldn’t get to see Davey again, but also because it reminded me of the times that I have lost pets. The worst thing about our pets is that they simply don’t live long enough - I have visions of moving around on my zimmer frame when I’m older with Oscar by my side, yet I know that this is unrealistic. 

Whilst talking to Sarah today, she was telling me some of the ways that she is coping without Davey, and is wanted to know if what she was doing was normal. After seeing people’s grief at the loss of their pets for nearly 11 years now, I can safely say that there is no normal or abnormal - everyone copes in different ways. My feeling is do what gives you comfort, be patient with yourself and kind to yourself. It does get easier, but it can take a long time. 

It would be wrong to end this post on a sad note - Davey brought much joy into people’s lives. Sarah has kindly sent me a joyous picture of Davey, which I hope will make you smile as much as it makes me smile. I'm sure that Davey is bouncing from cloud to cloud in the fields in the sky, ears a flapping in his gung ho, slightly kooky kind of way.


Welcome to PinPoint and welcome to this new website! The idea of PinPoint Vet Care has been developing for a couple of years, finally it’s coming to fruition and we are about to start taking appointments to see pets that need our skills. The business cards are about to be ordered, I’ve learnt to design a website (do you like it? Any suggestions on how to improve it? All comments will be greatly received), and today I ordered the Cube 4 K LASER! Exciting times for us here at PinPoint HQ.

We are currently offering an ambulatory service, - i.e. appointments take place at your home. This is really nice for your pets as they are relaxed in their home surroundings. It’s especially nice for the older patients or post operative patients who really don’t want to be put into the car to go to the vets.

Our longer-term plan is to look to take on premises as the business grows. At this point we will get a hydrotherapy treadmill to expand the services that we can offer. "But why no hydrotherapy now?” I hear you cry! Well, hydrotherapy is a terrific modality to use in rehabilitation- that’s why we want to utilise it once we have premises - but we can do an awful lot without one, and as most clients don’t have a treadmill at home it’s a bit tricky to get them to do ‘homework’ outside of our sessions if we are just relying on the treadmill. 

So! How do you make an appointment? Well it’s very straightforward, speak to your vets so that we can get a referral from them and then give us a call or drop us an email. We can then send a form to your vets to get your pets clinical history and details. Then we can book the appointment and start PinPointing the solution to their needs!

Speaking of needs, I noticed the other day that my dog, Oscar, was scratching at his side -he’s irritated by one patch of skin, for which I can see no underlying cause. So, ever the one to reach for my needles, I gave him an acupuncture session to try and help him out. The pictures show him happily settled with his acupuncture needles in place.

Have a Happy Thursday all!