Aliy Zirkle explains the benefits of Howling Dog Alaska’s Distance Harness

Aliy with her leaders Mismo and Dutch at the finish line of the 2019 Iditarod Sled Dog Race

Top Iditarod musher Aliy Zirkle has been using Howling Dog Alaska’s Distance Harness with great success on her dogs for many years now. Below, she describes the benefits of this harness for use in long-distance mushing.

Allows Individuality

The Distance Harness system allows each dog to work on the team as an individual. They do not have to fit into a system of “one size or style fits all”. A small dog with short steps can run paired with larger dogs, short-legged dogs can run alongside long gaited teammates and lopers can run with trotters. Individual gait preference does not affect a dog’s running partner. 

Aliy Zirkle of SP Kennel

Howling Dog Alaska has the Distance Harness available in a variety of sizes – from an XXS size to XXXL size. This harness style will accommodate the majority of dog breeds out there. No matter whether you have a large team of dogs or a team of two skijoring dogs, our simple Distance Harness will make it easier for your canines to work in unison. – Ivana, owner HDA

Location of the pulling point allows dogs to run without crabbing or crooked gaits

Location of Pulling Point

The Distance Harness is a light-weight, well-padded, half-harness design with a pulling point about halfway down the dog’s back. The dog’s pulling point can rotate around its torso, thus eliminating any downward pressure on the dog’s back or hips. The dog’s hind end is completely unencumbered. After a dog gets accustomed to running with no pressure on their rear end, they can relax and will find a comfortable natural gait. I’ve never seen a sled dog who is accustomed to a Distance Harness pull off to the side, run crooked or with a sideways “crabbing” gait.

Aliy Zirkle of SP Kennel

We have designed the Distance Harness so it moves around the dog’s body comfortably. A couple of “pivot” locations and a floating top connection are crucial to the overall harness performance. The harness will rotate around the torso as the dog changes directions without causing discomfort or without altering the dog’s gait. Due to the flexible top connection, for dogs on larger teams, the Distance Harness becomes a side-pull harness – a feature Aliy and other long-distance mushers prefer. – Ivana, owner HDA

A single point of attachment to the team

Single Attachment to Team

Each dog on our teams are attached to the mainline at only one pulling point. There is no need for a neckline. Our Distance Harness tug line is shorter than a traditional setup and maintains team cohesion. The fact that there is no neckline means there is no front end body restriction. A dog can move side to side and up and down without constraint. Therefore with the single attachment system, a dog has the freedom to choose its own path along a race trail: it can jump trail hazards, navigate sharp turns, and sidestep obstacles.

Aliy Zirkle of SP Kennel

Because the health of all canine athletes is a top concern for us at Howling Dog Alaska, we designed the Distance Harness to give freedom of movement to each dog to avoid obstacles, minimizing common injuries. Four-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King pioneered this Distance Harness “no neckline” set up several years back. Both he and Aliy agree on the benefit of running without necklines. – Ivana, owner HDA

Click here for additional Distance Harness info and to purchase.

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