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Harnesses, Leashes and Vests (Oh My!)

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

Once you really get to playing at nosework it’s fun to mess around with equipment. Certainly, you can successfully perform scentwork in a flat collar using a 6 foot leash, but maybe, just MAYBE you can be better using other stuff. This handout explores some of that.

Would you gain a competitive edge by using a harness? Maybe! Here are some of the things I love about harnesses:

1.) They provide a contextual cue that we are about to begin nosework.

2.) They offer a great way to use oppositional reflex to add a little “oomph.”

3.) If you screw up and yank on your dog when he is in odor, it will bother him less in a harness than it would on collar.

4.) Reduced tangling and getting legs over the line.

5.) If used strategically, it can help you establish a way of communicating to dogs when to begin working at trial. In a trial setting, my dogs stay nice and calm until the harness comes out.

6.) The harness can give your dog permission to tune you out and be a bit more independent.

7.) The harness can act as a signal that it is time to STOP PEEING on things!

I am a big fan of harnesses in nosework.

When I am selecting a harness, I only look for a few things. I want harnesses that:

1.) Are easy to put on.

2.) Clip on the back of the dog, not the chest.

3.) Fit well.

4.) And aren’t so great that I would want to use them for hiking. I have a very different harness for hiking than I have for nosework. My dogs pee when they hike. When the nosework harness comes out, it’s time to stop with that nonsense.

Here are some harnesses that all fit my criteria:

All of my dogs compete in ComfortFlex harnesses. The harnesses are easy to take on and off. They are not hot or restrictive. They feel very different from my hiking harnesses so my dogs can easily tell them apart from our walking and pottying gear. I love them.

This would be a favorite of mine except I love it too much for hiking! The only downside for using it for nosework is that it takes a little longer to put on. It has 2 snaps instead of one and needs to be untwisted when you put it on. I love it for hiking.

This one is really easy to put on. It covers the dog a bit more but is a wonderful choice for nosework. The only reason I don’t use it is because it’s my choice for a hiking harness for Gator.

This is a single snap harness, but my dog has to step into one side. She hates having her legs moved around while I hover over her, so this makes it a poor choice for competition. I don’t want to irritate her just before I want her to work with speed and focus. I use this a lot for hiking instead.

As long as your harness of choice is easy to put on, is comfortable for your dog, is different from your walking harness, and clips in the rear instead of the front, you are going to be just fine.

Once you have decided on a harness, it’s time to think about leashes. My passionate word of advice: Buy some rope and make your own in a wide variety of lengths. For maybe $15, you can have a leash for every occasion. If you find a length you absolutely love, go and order one in leather. Teams, in my humble opinion, should have a 6 foot, and 8 foot, a 10 foot, and a 12 or 15 foot line in their training bag. If you have watched any of my videos, you have probably noticed that I compete an awful lot on a flexi. I have an entire article dedicated to that topic. Please read it and decide if a flexi belongs in your gear bag too.

What’s the difference in leashes and when would I use all of them?

Well, the 6 foot line will likely not get much use. I use them when I need a lot of control over a destructive dog, like here: I also use them to walk my dogs to the search areas. I might consider a leash that short if there was a small or cluttered area to search or if there were serious distractors that I thought I would have to manage, such as shrubbery (marking risk!) or animals.

My person favorite is the 8 foot line. With an 8 foot line, I am nice and close, but my dog still has some nice room to work. Here is a video of Ky and I working on an 8 footer: I have not seen other people working on 8 foot lines because I don’t think they are typically sold in that length. However, I adore mine and think it’s enough freedom with very little “extra” rope to manage.

I will often work my dog Gator on a 10 foot line. Because he is strong, I like to have a formidable leash on him. The leash is more difficult to handle than an 8 footer, but it works nicely for most searches: The 10 foot line is probably the most popular choice. It gives a dog freedom but is still manageable.

I am hesitant to show footage of me with my 12 foot line. The two times I have used it have ended in disaster. In fact, the first time my dog became so entangled that I just took it off. I guess I said something like, “Well this is stupid” as I peeled it off and the CO teased me about it later. The second time, we got wrapped in a chair and needed help getting free. I am struggling to imagine what would make me use it again! However, other people have used them with great success. I am just not among them. Here is one of our videos. Notice that I remove the line at 40 seconds. Long lines are for open spaces where the dogs are likely to want to cover serious ground. You need to be able to handle the line well.

My Ultimate Favorite leash is the flexi. I explain the ins and outs of choosing them at length in another hand out, but here is a video showing why I love them… I can just watch my dog and let the flexi do the work.

Last topic of the handout: Vests. When you go to your first trial, most people will be wearing them. Why? Because you can carry all the stuff you need in all of the pockets right where you can easily reach it. You can stuff leashes, dog rain coats, toys, food, keys, poop bags, and most importantly, treats in all of the spaces. I usually have extra treats and a back-up leash in my vest. It’s nice to have a different leash choice available to you in a competition search. If your dog were to get badly tangled, you can just switch out lines and get your tangled leash later.

Hunting and fishing vests are very popular. They come in all sorts of designs and colors. I love my dog training vest as well. This is the one I use: I also often use the beat-up camo hunting vest that my stepson outgrew. They work equally well! I have also trialed many, many times without a vest. When I do that, I either carry a bait bag or a fanny pack and go without extra leashes. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure to train like you will trial often enough that you are comfortable with your gear. If you can’t deliver treats efficiently, you will lose time and perhaps break your dog’s concentration on the search.

Happy Training!



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