Now that you’ve found your new life partner and furry assistant, it’s time to outfit them with a practical harness to make both of your lives more comfortable and convenient. When looking for a harness, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the wealth of varieties available. Here are a few pointers to help you narrow these options down and better prepare you to make an important purchase.
1. Legal Requirements (or lack thereof)
Before purchasing equipment for you and your service dog, it is important to note that there are no specific legal requirements for what a harness should look like, or the information it should display. If there are vendors pushing you to buy specific harnesses or other gear for “legal” reasons, be skeptical. Your rights as the handler of a service dog are clear as listed by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act); no establishment is allowed to bar you entry based on your ownership of a service dog, with or without documentation/harnesses that illustrate that your dog is for a disability. Exceptions to this include if your dog is out of control (barking, jumping on people, etc) or if the dog is not housebroken (Brennan, 2014). For more information about your rights as the handler of a service animal, click here.
2. Type of Work Your Dog Will be Doing
Before making any decisions about harness design (color, style, material), the first step is to evaluate what needs your dog will be addressing.
Why do you have a service dog?
What will your dog be helping you with on a daily basis?
It might be helpful to make a list of each of the specific actions your dog may be performing to assist you on a day to day basis. This will narrow down the vast number of harnesses available to those that will provide your dog with the means to fully support you.
Here are a few of the most common types of service dog harnesses. Dozens of variations of each kind are available from a variety of vendors.
Saddlebag - These harnesses are best for those who need their service dog to carry medication, supplies, and other objects. They often have detachable parts which vary in size depending on what materials might be needed on a particular day.
Pull Harness - These harnesses are used for dogs who will be pulling a wheelchair or may need to open and move heavy things (Grace, 2016).
Mobility Support Harness - Also known as a brace, balance, walking assistance, or stability harness (Bold Lead Designs, 2014), this harness has a sturdy handle on top to allow the dog to support the owner.
3. Size and Breed of Dog
These are both important aspects to consider when buying a harness, as certain brands and styles will work best for different types of dogs. Fit and comfort are very important when buying a potentially pricey harness that your dog will be wearing all day every day. Ensuring the health and happiness of your dog from the get go is an investment in the strength of your professional and personal relationship, and may prevent problems further down the line.
Make sure to measure your dog before ordering any harnesses, or consider buying a product that is custom made to ensure long lasting durability and comfort.
4. Your Home Environment
Besides size, breed, and your disability needs, the area you live should impact the products you buy. If your dog will be working in extreme weather, like rain, snow, high humidity, or very strong sunlight, then you should look into products built to withstand these conditions.
If your neighborhood is poorly lit, or if you will be spending a lot of time out with your animal in the evening, consider buying products with reflective material. This will ensure the safety of you and your animal at all times of the day and night.
Here are a few vendors to get you started in finding a harness that is long lasting and useful.
The vendors listed below are ones which were easily accessible, reviewed, and appeared reliable. However, before buying any products, we always recommend that you conduct your own extensive research on what will work best for you.
Before buying a harness for your service dog it is important to remember that you aren’t required to display any legal identification of your animal, although it might make it easier to deter eager children or dog loving adults from trying to pet or play with your dog. Making a list of the daily tasks your service dog will be doing can help you narrow down the types of harnesses available, as can looking for brands that are appropriate for the size and breed of your animal. Finally, consider your home environment, including weather patterns and visibility, to find harnesses with durable or reflective material. Best of luck finding the perfect harness for your service dog!
Peek our vest page to get recommendations on our three favorite vests.
Bold Lead Designs. “Mobility Support Harness”. Bold Lead Designs. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. https://boldleaddesigns.com/products-overview/mobility-support-harnesses/
Brennan, Jackie, et al. “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals”. ADA National Network. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet
Grace, Kea. “Types of Service Dog Gear: Vests, Jackets, and Harnesses”. AnythingPawsable. Web. 15 Dec. 2016. http://www.anythingpawsable.com/types-of-service-dog-gear-vests- jackets-and-harnesses/#.WFKCCaIrKRs
It can be intimidating trying to find the right source for a service animal, especially when there are so many different resources online. This post will provide you with some advice to find websites and organizations that will ensure you find the best trained and supportive animal for your needs.
Pick a breed
Some organizations are strict about the type of breeds they provide for specific needs, but others are more flexible. Either way, it is a good idea to go into this process having done some research to narrow down what kind of dog will provide you the best support and whose health and training needs won’t break the bank for you. When choosing and researching a breed, try not to let your personal preferences cloud your judgment. The right dog for you might not be the type of dog you wanted when you were a child, or the dog you find the cutest. Making sure to remain unbiased in your choice is a good first step in choosing a dog that will make it through training successfully, and provide you with the support you need in your home, workplace, etc (Breed, 2016).
Check out this article for some useful information on selecting a dog breed, but stay flexible. A reliable organization may have different recommendations for you depending on your disability, personality, and location.
Set a budget
Since this fluffball is going to be your day to day best friend, confidante, and helper, you’re not going to want to pick one based simply on price. But it is still a good idea to know what you can afford, and what the price range is for your desired breed.
Service dogs generally run in price from $100 - $5,000 before training. After training, which can cost several thousand dollars, you should also factor in predicted medical fees, food, supplies, and transportation costs. This final number can be between $10,000 - $20,000 out of pocket.
If this is out of your price range, here are a few organizations to get you started in looking for scholarships or fundraising assistance.
Autism Service Dogs of America - This organization will “screen and evaluate each situation individually” to determine whether a service dog will benefit a child with autism.
Assistance Dog United Campaign - Assistance is provided in the form of vouchers, which are applied to the ADUC member provider program of the client’s choice.
Planet Dog Foundation - Besides service dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs, and medical alert dogs, this organization also has resources for therapy dogs, police dogs, and search and rescue dogs.
Paws With a Cause - This organization cites themselves as “ideal for those with disabilities affecting one or more limbs”. They provide dogs free of charge to qualified clients, and fundraise through individual donors to pay for the costs.
Learn how to spot an unreliable service dog provider
Generally this can be done using common sense. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
Does the website look legitimate? Are there clear explanations of the organization's goals? Are there reviews on the website/ Yelp?
Some organizations can be weeded out quickly by simply evaluating their online presence. A lack of reviews, shoddy website, lack of other references on the internet or information about their program are all warning signs about the quality of their work.
Does the organization respond to your questions adequately?
Providers should be willing to provide solid answers to any and all questions about the dog’s health, demeanor, and the resources they provide for clients. This includes providing medical and training records for the dog in questions, a visit to the facility or contact information with the trainer, as well as training support after placement (Service Dog Central, 2014).
Do you know anyone who can recommend a provider?
Referrals are one of the best ways to find resources for anything you might need. Ask your friends, family members, or any local organizations for recommended providers for service animals. Someone that you know and trust will likely provide a better recommendation that any online review.
Here are few websites and organizations, in addition to others listed above, that might prove useful for sourcing your new furry best friend and life assistant. Good luck in your search!
Resources for Veterans:
Assistance Dogs International - Establish standards of excellence in all areas of assistance dog acquisition, training and partnership”. This website provides a search tool for regional chapters around the world.
American Kennel Club - A list of therapy dog organizations certified by the AKC.
Service Dog Central - Forum for service dog related discussions
Psych Dog Partners - Information about getting a dog
Foundation for Service Dog Support - Resources for those interested in training dogs, certification for training teams, and canine safety training