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Distance Harness Info

Our Distance Harness is highly recommended by Wes Rau, top canine physical therapist and musher.



The Distance Harness works better for skijoring than the standard sled dog harness. The line angle between the dog and the skijorer (or biker, runner) is steeper than the line angle between a dog team and a sled. When a skijoring line is connected to a typical x-back harness, the steeper angle might cause a lifting force on the harness. The design of the Distance Harness creates a flatter line angle and the dog’s pull force is more evenly distributed.


Introduction of the Distance Harness to the market as a skijoring harness:

Similar harness design (harness reaches only half way down the dog’s back) has been used for years for skijoring in Scandinavia. Most competitive Scandinavian skijorers prefer this kind of harness design because it gives the dog more “freedom to move”. European race courses are often very hilly. The top racers are exceptional athletes, often better than their dogs. Often the dog ends up running alongside the skier (or even behind him, especially going downhill full speed or going uphill). That’s when this special harness design really becomes superior to other designs. The short type of skijoring harness was first introduced to the U.S. public at the 2001 IFSS World Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska, by racers from Scandinavia. After that the sales or our “short” Distance Harness really took off. After some more testing, Howling Dog started recommending the Distance Harness for use in bikejoring and scootering. This harness also soon became popular as a roading harness for hunting dogs.


Introduction of the Distance Harness to the market as a harness for long distance mushing:

Events that occurred during the 2003 Iditarod resulted in a “rethinking” of what constitutes a well- designed sled dog harness for long distance racing. During the race four times Iditarod champion Jeff King and his daughter Cali created quite a stir by using a totally different kind of harness than the standard x-back or h-back harness for their dogs. What they both were testing was our Distance Harness.

In the 2003 Iditarod Jeff King arrived in White Mountain with 12 dogs, his highest number ever. Further up the trail, his daughter Cali still had 14 dogs in harness, the largest team left in the race. King credits the low attrition to a lack of injuries to his dogs. He is certain the reduced rate of injury was due to the use of the Distance Harness which pulls from further up by the shoulders, rather than from the rear. Unlike other harnesses, it only reaches less than half way down the dog’s back, and eliminates the pressure a standard harness puts on the dog’s hips (a common “sore spot” for distance dogs). Because the harness puts less downward pressure on the dog’s hindquarters, it helps to eliminate ankle problems in the rear legs. In addition the harness design also reduces the occurrence of shoulder and wrist injuries. The Distance Harness’s point of attachment can rotate freely around the animal’s torso. Thus, once the team starts pulling, the harnesses of dogs on the right side of the gangline roll to the left, closer to the gangline, making dogs run straighter. The opposite occurs with dogs on the left side of the gangline. The harness with its floating tugline connection allows the dog to run without crabbing outward. Crabbing is often a cause for a front leg, wrist and shoulder injury. A wrist injury is the most common injury that takes dogs out of a long distance race. Dogs also tend to trot more with these harnesses on.

A quote from Jeff King at Eagle Island during the 2003 Iditarod:

“I am confident I have some dogs in this team that would not have made it here without them (the harnesses).”

Since 2003 Jeff used our harnesses in several more Iditarods.

The use of the Distance Harness during the 2003 Iditarod was a great success. The Distance Harness design has great potential in long distance mushing and has since attracted a lot of attention from the long distance community.



In the last few years, four time Iditarod Champion Jeff King has made three, maybe four major adjustments to the way mushers approach the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He redesigned a towline system that uses Distance Harnesses and no necklines, leaving the dogs lots of freedom to move about. Here is how Jeff King explains how he keeps his dogs hydrated when they’re running 12 to 16 hours a day during the Iditarod race. He credits his shift to the neckline-less towline system, and the use of Distance Harnesses. Traditional setups employ a tugline attached to the dog harness and a shorter line to snap the dog by the collar, keeping its head within 8 to 12 inches of the towline. Jeff realized that his dogs were taking advantage of the extra freedom by pulling to the side in mid-stride and “dipping” for snow on the run. Dipping snow is usually considered a no-no, because the behavior jerks the team to the side since the dog is pulling against a restrictive neckline. “Now, without necklines, my dogs are free to dip wherever, whenever they like,” he said. Always the analyst, King actually counted the number of times dogs dipped for snow while he ran a 16-dog team recently. A dog would take a mouthful of snow every 10 seconds. That’s more than 300 mouthfuls of snow per hour, and more than 4,000 in 12 hours of running. “Thousands of tablespoons of snow in my cooker are like several gallons of water,” he said, getting more enthusiastic as he spoke. “It’s like a drip irrigation system!” And that, he pointed out, was a totally unexpected benefit from a change intended solely to make it easier and safer for his dogs to maneuver while pulling.


HARNESS FITTING TIPS (by Yukon Quest Champion Aliy Zirkle):

These harnesses tend to fit like an older style (non-collared style harnesses). The “collar” portion of the harness should sit just above or on the shoulder. When fitting harnesses, it is important that the “collar” portion does not ride up under their neck – this could cause a rub just below their real collar. I was used to the Taiga Collared Harness fit: tight around the neck, and that is an incorrect fit. Another interesting note is that length of your dog (long back/ short back) doesn’t really come into play. The harnesses should stop a few inches beyond their withers. Remember that the girth strap (body strap) of the harness is adjustable. I try to keep this strap as tight as a collar – I can fit 3 fingers comfortably inside the harness. Most people will cut the extra webbing (on the body strap) off so that the dogs don’t have straps hitting them between their legs while running. Leave a generous few inches though, you might be able to fit this harness on a little bit larger dog and will need the extra material to fit. I came up with these sizing generalizations for my kennel: Xsmall (not many dogs in my kennel) – This is a very small dog in both weight and bone structure. Perhaps puppies. I have an adult female who weighs 38 pounds and she wears this size of harness. Small – This is still a small dog in size and bone structure. I have yearlings or thin boned adults that fit in this size. These dogs usually weigh about 40 pounds. Medium – I have over 50% of my kennel in this size. The dogs weigh between 42 and 48 pounds on average. They are still not the big boned dogs. As far as bone structure these dogs usually wear a medium bootie. Large – Everything in my kennel over 50 pounds is in a large. Right now, I have no dogs over 60 pounds. A dog larger than this would have to size up. I tend to size up if I am wondering about a certain dog.

Dogs MUST always go under the mainline when changing sides. If they step over the line there is an immediate tangle. We have set up the system so that the mainline is as high off of the ground as we can get it. We try to keep the mainline as lightweight as possible too, so that it never sags and dogs are not tempted to step over it. Also smaller dogs are run in the wheel position – they have an easier time diving under the mainline at corners.



We have found a new use for the Distance Harness. After reading about Arleigh Reynolds’s doggie exercise pool in Mushing Magazine, we decided to build our own. We really don’t need to swim as many dogs at once, and we wanted to have it where we could simulate the dogs swimming from their harness. Building the pool was easy part. I think figuring out the best way to get the dogs to swim, as if they were running in harness, was a little harder. We went through five swimming sessions, till we got the dogs swimming as we wanted them to. We did not want them pulling off their necks (the way Arleigh Reynolds does it). We have found if we hooked them by their necks they spend so much time splashing and getting frantic. The harness gives a dog more support than just a collar. Once we figured out how to set the harnesses in the middle of each section, the dogs automatically want to swim to the edge. So now we can swim five dogs at a time. They free run before swimming then they keep coming up to the pool as if they were asking if it was their turn. We have stop watches on the dogs so we know how much they are swimming. They are swimming a little over six minutes and then free running after that.