Dog harnesses were originally designed for pulling loads such as dog sledges, for attaching equipment or simply for displaying attention grabbing signs.
Why then, in modern times, would a dog owner choose a harness instead of a collar for their dog?
Modern day dog harnesses are practically all based on harnesses used in the equestrian world. Draft animals have been pulling heavy carts for years. It’s worth looking at the different options available and discussing which one is better for your dog.
Traditionally, there were 3 different styles to choose from:
- Neck and girth harness
- Breast strap harness
- Collar and harness
- Neck and girth harnesses were brought to Europe from China over 2000 years ago. They were used by ancient civilizations for draft animals, and also used in battle by the cavalry forces of that era.
- Breast strap harnesses, also known as chest harnesses, dating back to Roman times, were introduced because of the “choking” effect of neck and girth harnesses. The physical pressure that these applied to the respiratory system prevented draft animals from exerting themselves fully, so chest harnesses allowed animals more freedom to breathe, allowing them to work more efficiently.
- Full collar harnesses were designed and most commonly used in Europe for specific animals to pull heavy loads. This type of harness allowed the horse to use its full weight, resulting in a more ergonomic design than the breast strap harness.
From ancient fighting dogs to modern rescue dogs
In ancient times, dog harnesses were developed mainly for dogs working in special deployment areas e.g. where strong-bodied dogs took an active part in combat, engaging in battle for both attack and defence. Dogs were also used for guard duties in war zones.
With the onset of World War 1, service dogs began to be used as rescue and messenger dogs. As in other areas of life, technological advances prompted by conflict led to developments in other walks of life in subsequent times of peace.
As an example, In 1849, during the American Gold Rush, dogs were used for pulling sledges in the same way as they’d pulled carts previously in battles, and after World War 1, the first guide dogs were used, using harnesses developed for wartime purposes, that still provide the freedom of movement for the dogs.
The early twentieth century began to see further development of dog equipment and harnesses.