Distance Harness design & history

Howling Dog Alaska is the original company that introduced the “short harness” design to the sled dog market. Many other companies since followed. It was during the 2001 IFSS World Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska when Howling Dog Alaska sponsored skijorers used the first Distance Harness models in the competition.

The reasons for us moving away from the traditional x-back design for skijoring (and now also canicross, scootering, and bikejoring) were simple physics and geometry. 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 will 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.

This picture illustrates the floating connection

Why is our Distance Harness superior to other harnesses of similar design currently on the market?

  1. The harness has been used by top mushers worldwide with great success for almost twenty years. These are not only single dog owners but also accomplished distance mushers such as Aliy Zirkle, Allen Moore, and Jeff King, with large dog teams.
  2. The neck opening, the breastplate, and the top of the harness are fully padded with closed-cell padding.
  3. Unlike other similar harnesses out there, our Distance Harness features a “floating” connection. This means that the point of attachment on the top of the back can slide from side to side as the dog changes direction, enabling the breastplate to stay centered. Similar harnesses by other manufacturers have the top connection sewn in-place and the harness is unable to rotate around the dog’s torso, resulting in the breastplate sliding into the armpit as the dog changes directions (often causing rubbing).
  4. There are two pivoting points on the harness. One is positioned on the chest and the other one is positioned behind the neck. These are simple D-rings. These pivoting points are also very important for the overall harness design. They enable the chest strap and the top of the back strap to move independently without affecting the fit of the neck opening.
  5. The Distance Harness is a simple, yet fully functioning harness. We prefer simplicity over a complicated design, which our customers appreciate.
  6. The fit of the Distance Harness is very forgiving. The harness will fit 99% of dogs out there.
Aliy Zirkle and her team

Let’s not forget the events that occurred during the 2003 Iditarod that resulted in a rethinking of what constitutes a well-designed sled dog harness for long-distance racing. During the race, Iditarod champion Jeff King and his daughter Cali created quite a stir by using an innovative new harness design, different from the standard x-back or h-back harness for their dogs. What they both were testing was our, then, brand new short harnesses – our Distance Harness prototypes.

In the 2003 Iditarod Jeff King astonishingly arrived in White Mountain with 12 dogs, his highest number ever. Further up the trail, his daughter Cali still had 14 healthy dogs in harness, the largest team left in the entire race. Jeff 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. Since the harness only reaches halfway down the dog’s back, it 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. Also, the harness design reduces the occurrence of shoulder and wrist injuries.

The Long 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, or 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.

The use of the Distance Harness during the 2003 Iditarod was a spectacular success. Since then the harness has attracted a lot of attention from the long-distance community. The Distance Harness has been a consistent harness of choice for Yukon Quest Champion Allen Moore, and for his wife, a top Iditarod competitor Aliy Zirkle for many years now.

Try our Distance Harness to gain the benefits for yourself.

Leave a Reply