Harness Selection 101

Here at Howling Dog Alaska, we pride ourselves on customer satisfaction. This means not only bringing you the best equipment, but also the best information. An educated consumer is a happy consumer. Here we are providing you with the information you need to make an informed decision as to which harness is best suited for your personal situation.

Experience makes the difference. Through many years of working with top racing sled dogs, professionals at Howling Dog Alaska have designed innovated harnesses that overcome the deficiencies seen in many other harnesses on the market. The following images are examples of poorly fitting / poorly designed harnesses followed by images of properly fitting harnesses. This article should guide you to a correct and comfortable harness selection.

1. This is an example of a harness with a strap positioned horizontally across the chest. This type of a harness will quite often press on the upper front leg / upper shoulder and it will ride up the dog’s neck obstructing the trachea. The verdict: BAD HARNESS CHOICE for pulling dogs. Use any of these harnesses instead.









2. This front clip harness (also called a “no pull” harness) is often used for hiking and simply walking the dog. Such harness puts pressure on the dog’s upper legs often causing rubbing and severely restricting the dog’s leg movement. The verdict: BAD HARNESS CHOICE for any dog. Use this harness instead.









3. The design of the harness below causes for the harness to ride up very high up the dog’s throat restricting breathing. You can also see the webbing rubbing in the armpits. The verdict: BAD HARNESS CHOICE for any dog, most importantly for pulling dogs. Use any of these harnesses instead.






4. The below is an example of a poorly fitted harness for bikejoring. The harness used in this photo is an x-back harness. This type of a harness tends to lift up and it will not support the dog’s body shape properly. An x-back harness also might twist to the side resulting in the breastplate sliding into the dog’s armpit causing discomfort and often rubbing. The verdict: BAD HARNESS CHOICE for bikejoring and scootering and for any other activity with a higher point of attachment. Use any of our shorter harnesses instead.









5. Many people make the mistake of fitting the necks on their x-back harnesses too large. This will result in the breastplate sliding into the armpit causing discomfort and rubbing. This is also the case with x-back harnesses with a single wide breastplate. The verdict: An x-back harness with a single wide breast plate or an x-back with a neck opening that is too large is a BAD HARNESS CHOICE for any sled dog. Use our professionally designed x-back harnesses instead.









6. Do not use regular x-back harnesses in any activity with a low point of attachment. The x-back harness is going to push on the dog’s rear end, restricting the dog’s lower back movement. The verdict: An x-back harness is a BAD HARNESS CHOICE for wheel dogs, for kick sledding, for tire training or for any other activity with a low point of attachment. Use this harness instead.








7. The below image is an example of a properly fitted harness with an even pull force distribution. Notice the pull force being evenly distributed from the top and from the bottom of the harness. The verdict: This is a VERY COMFORTABLE harness for any puling dog with the point of attachment higher or even with the dog’s back. See our Second Skin and our Tough Skin harnesses.






8. This type of x-back harness features a unique neck opening construction that actually pulls the lower part of the neck opening away from the dog’s throat while the dog is pulling. The verdict: This is a VERY COMFORTABLE x-back harness for any hard-working sled dog with  (in this case any broad chested sled dog). See this harness.







9. This is a close-up shot of the x-back harnesses mentioned above. The unique neck opening construction pulls the lower part of the neck opening away from the dog’s throat while the dog is pulling. The wide breast plate will keep the harness centered on the dog’s chest. The verdict: This is a VERY COMFORTABLE x-back harness with superior pull force distribution (this harness is suited for broad-chested dogs). See this harness.









10. Looking for a harness for activities with a lower point of attachment? The x-back style harness shown relieves the pressure off the dog’s lower back. Also, the back end of the harness is flexible and moves up an down as the dog runs without restricting the dog’s rear end. The verdict: This is an IDEAL HARNESS for wheel dogs, for kick sledding, for tire training or for dogs with lower back problems. See this harness.



TEAM HOWLING DOG (2014 -2015 racing season)

Jeff2014CameraJEFF KING (Alaska)

Watch out for Jeff this winter! In addition to signing up for the Iditarod, he is also signed up to run the Yukon Quest! It is going to be an exciting and busy winter for Jeff!

Jeff is often recognized as the “Winningest Musher in the World.” He holds four championship titles for the 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1993, 1996, 1998, and 2006. Jeff took first place in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest in 1989 in addition to earning close to thirty other first-place titles in races across Alaska and other parts of North America. Jeff was inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2006, at age 50, he became the oldest musher to win the Iditarod. Jeff King has twice received the prestigious Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award for exemplary care of his dog team. He has logged more than 150,000 miles on a dogsled over the past thirty five years.

Jeff moved to Alaska in 1975 in search of adventure. He quickly became interested in dog sledding and Alaskan huskies, devoting all his spare time and money to building his own team, while developing a construction business. He began racing in 1980. His competitive nature and athleticism had found a new outlet, and Jeff set his sights ever higher, entering his first Iditarod just one year later. In 1992 he decided to devote his full time and energy to training and racing, setting aside his construction business. He won his first Iditarod the following season.

Jeff enjoys living just outside of Alaska’s Denali National Park and sharing his life with his sled dogs. In the summer months, Husky Homestead welcomes visitors from around the world to watch his sled dogs in action, hear stories of adventure, learn about Alaskan Huskies, the tradition of dog mushing and the life and spirit of Alaska, the last frontier.

Visit Jeff’s Husky Homestead web site: http://www.huskyhomestead.com/


AliyZirkleFace2014AllenFaceALIY ZIRKLE & ALLEN MOORE (Alaska)

Howling Dog is very proud of Aliy’s and Allen’s last season’s performance; highlighted by Allen crossing the Yukon Quest finish line in first place! And Aliy and her team finished second in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Boy, what an exciting race that was!

Allen and Aliy, husband and wife, are the proud owners of SP (Skunk Place) Kennel in Two Rivers, Alaska. They run a relatively “small” kennel by competitive mushing standards (only about 40 dogs) and pretty much every dog gets to race! Aliy races the Red Team and Allen races the Black Team. The goals and strategies for each team vary from race to race, so the dogs may run on either team at any time. Aliy and Allen dedicated themselves to the individual dogs through excellent health, nutrition, training and care.

Both Aliy and Allen strive to be good-will ambassadors for the sport of sled dog racing, balancing winning performance with exceptional sportsmanship, community outreach and advocacy for the amazing Alaskan Husky. And we are proud of you, guys!

Visit SP Kennel blog for training and racing updates: http://www.spkenneldoglog.blogspot.co.nz/ 


HeidiHEIDI SUTTER (Alaska)

Heidi Sutter is the latest “addition” to Team Howling Dog. And we are sure she will make us proud!

Heidi lives in the wee village of Chistochina, located in the Cooper River Valley. Heidi, along with her husband Darrin Lee and daughter Emily, own and operate KMA Kennel. KMA Kennel is currently home to 25 sled dogs. Heidi has been racing dogs for 12 years.

Last year Heidi focused on mid-distance races, competing in the Copper Basin 300, Yukon Quest 300 and the Kobuk 440. This year Heidi will be running the 2015 Iditarod.

Besides being a musher and domestic goddess, Heidi is also a general education and special education teacher in Glennallen High School and at Slana School. Heidi specializes in working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders as well as emotional disturbance. KMA Kennel is super excited to be part of the Howling Dog Alaska team.

You can find out more about Heidi and her huskies at www.kmakennel.com


AmandaModelingAMANDA VOGEL (Minnesota)

Amanda Vogel is originally from Bay City, Michigan, and now lives in northern Minnesota, just south of the northwest Ontario border. Amanda was introduced to the sport of mushing in 2003, and after a few years of learning the basics from a recreational dog sledding club, she began building a kennel that would allow her to race professionally.

Today, Amanda is the owner and operator of Snomad Racing and is one of the top competitors in mid-distance sled dog racing in the lower 48. Her most recent achievements include being awarded Rookie of the Year, earning a 4th place finish, and passing another Iditarod qualifying race, all of which were accomplished while competing in the nearly 400 mile 2013 John Beargrease Marathon.

Snomad Racing also travels for exhibitions and speaking engagements, works on TV, film, and modeling projects, and puts winter and mushing products to extreme tests for sponsors committed to making the toughest gear and equipment on the market. When Amanda is not training and racing, she is found raising pups, exploring woods and waters, and laughing with good friends.

More information about Amanda and the Snomad Racing sled dogs can be found at www.snomadracing.com , www.facebook.com/snomadracing , www.twitter.com/snomadracing  and www.facebook.com/amanda.vogel.125 .


KatiDagenais2014KATI & MARTIN DAGENAIS (Quebec)

Kati and Martin own a relatively small kennel of super-fast dogs specializing in limited class racing.

Their past accomplishments include winning the ISDRA gold medal in the 8-dog class in 2008 and in 2009 a gold medal in the 6-dog class at the IFSS World Championships in Daaquam, Quebec . In 2012 Kati and Martin materialized a lifelong dream of going to Alaska for the first time and winning the Limited North American Championship in the 6-dog class. And all this was topped by Kati winning the gold medal in the 8-dog class during the 2013 IFSS World Championship in North Pole, Alaska!

Kati & Martin’s goal for his season is to travel to Germany for the 2015 IFSS World Championship and to meet again with their European mushing friends. And of course they hope to defend their title!

Visit the Dagenais Kennel page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dagenais.kennel


Rich2014RICH KISSELOFF (Illinois)

Rich enters the season coming off a successful skijor season last year.  Rich’s highlights included taking first place at the Midwest American Championships, the Noquemanon/Animoosh 12K Skijor race, and second place behind the reigning National Champion at the Barkie Birkie skijor race.  He also won and placed in several other races in the bikejor and scooter classes.  Rich’s main dogs Ovi and Pasha are now entering their prime years and he is excited to get the season started and hopefully continue where he left off.  Look for him and his dogs proudly wearing the Howling Dog Alaska logo!

In his spare time, besides training the dogs, Rich enjoys racing cyclocross and doing cross country ski races.  He also dedicates a lot of time with the Windy City Mushers promoting and helping new people get involved in the sport of “urban mushing” in and around the Chicagoland area.

Visit Windy City Mushers, a Facebook page Rich runs and supports: https://www.facebook.com/pages/WindyCityMushers/370560473046323


DallasFaceDALLAS JOHNSON (Minnesota)

Dallas is new to Team Howling Dog. As an accomplished cross country skier, he got involved in competitive skijoring a couple of years ago after he introduced a Eurohound to his home. Comet, a female bred in Howling Dog Kennel, turned out to be a perfect match for Dallas. They both are very fast, athletic and driven. Dallas has two successful mid-western skijoring seasons under his belt, including a few victories. The ultimate goal for Dallas for this season is to travel to Germany to take part in the 2015 IFSS World Championship. We sure hope his dream will come true!

Besides his passion for skiing and skijoring, Dallas is also an avid sailor.

Become a fan of Dallas and Comet and follow their success on Comet’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/comet.johnson.7

Aliy Zirkle’s Expert Advice on Distance Harness Configuration

For the last 10 years Allen and I have run Iditarod and Yukon Quest using Howling Dog Alaska’s Distance Harnesses and without the use of necklines. We truly believe that our harness and line system is safer and healthier for our dogs. This results in our dogs becoming less tired and less injured. The dogs can compete at a higher caliber. We believe our successful racing results over the last few years are indicative of healthier dogs.

Over the past few years we have made our harness system very public. One of the biggest quotes we say to folks unfamiliar with mushing (when it comes to the “no neckline” set up) is: “Our dogs have no leash attached to their neck pulling them down the trail. They simply do it out of free will.” Every musher should try this setup and see the tremendous health benefits in this system for dogs.

People are individuals – mushers certainly are – so we are bound to do things differently. It’s not to say someone is correct and someone else is wrong. Most mushers prefer the traditional harness/gangline setup. Our system obviously works for Allen and me. We have thought a lot about the system over the last 10 years and have refined it to what we believe works best for us and doesn’t negatively affect our competition.

Our harnesses are half the length of a traditional harness. The connection point to the tug line is at the middle of the dog. Our tug lines are only 15 inches in length (from the dog’s back to the mainline.) We spend a great deal of time teaching our dogs to know this system. Each of our racing dogs also has a permanent neck line around their collar. There is a loop in our main line to affix a neck line should the dog need one. With the ice and blizzard conditions as they were during the latter miles of Iditarod this year, we ran with neck lines. In that situation, it seemed more challenging to ask a dog to “find his own footing” when there was none to find.

Benefits that we see to our harness / “no neck line” System:

  • Dogs can avoid holes in the trail and choose the “best” route.
  • Dogs can pull away from hazards (trees, rocks, stumps).
  • Dogs can navigate sharp turns individually and are not pulled around corners head first.
  • Dogs’ heads are not pulled up and down when going over hills or down gullies.
  • Dogs can go at their own pace if they choose (a slower dog can “relax” in the team).
  • Dogs can independently dip snow off to the side of the trail without affecting other dogs.
  • Dogs do not freeze their tongues to neck line brass snaps.
  • Dogs do not risk choking by neck line.
  • Dogs have fewer hind end or hip injuries or soreness since the harness does not press on their rear.

Here are our gangline dimensions:

  • There are 7 feet in-between dog tug lines.
  • There is 42 inches from the bridle on the ATV or sled to the first tug line.
  • Our tug lines are short. It is only 15 inches from the “d” ring on the harness to the connection at the mainline.

The truth about COOLING VESTS

Cooling Vests

There is a new trend out there: COOLING VESTS (COOLING JACKETS). These are the reasons Howling Dog Alaska does not offer them:

  1. We offer proven and functioning equipment only.
  2. In our opinion cooling vests are just a sales gimmick.
  3. The effect of a cooling vest is minimal and short-lived.
  4. You can put any dog coat on, soak it and call it a cooling jacket.
  5. A cooling vest/cooling jacket won’t cool the dog off in a long run. Quite the opposite.
  6. The material (even if wet) will warm up to the dog’s body temperature quickly.
  7. The temperature under the fabric will rise drastically.
  8. Putting a dog jacket on – even if it is called a “cooling” jacket (or any layer of fabric) during warm part of the year will eventually make the dog hotter.
  9. We feel that “cooling” jackets/”cooling” vests are not beneficial for a dog. Just soak the dog’s fur or let him jump in the water to cool off!

EQUIPMENT TIP: Harness breast plate fundamentals

SiberiansTeamIn this article I am going to explain which harness breast plate designs are superior and why. This information is essential to the overall well-being of your dog(s).

I bet most of you own harnesses with “single wide” breast plate (this means that the breast plate is constructed from single piece of webbing or from two pieces of webbing, which are overlapping). Did you ever stop your team (or your single dog) while running, gone up front, turned around and looked at the dog(s) from the front view? If you did not, I would STRONGLY RECOMMEND doing so! You will be amazed just how many harnesses will be rubbing the dog in the armpit (the harness will turn to a side and the breast plate will end up in the armpit of the dog). See the illustrational photo of the dog team (notice the breast plate sliding in to the armpit on every dog in the team causing discomfort and possible harness rub). This happens mostly (but not always) while traveling at lower speeds, speeds the dog is not comfortable with, speeds which will make the dog “crab” (=run sideways). If you are just a recreational musher or the owner of single dog doing canicross, you most likely never even noticed the discomfort of your dog being caused by the harness rubbing in the armpit. But if you are a more “serious” musher who puts many miles on the team during the season, you are probably ending up with many under arm rubs. This is all due to POOR HARNESS SELECTION! Harness rub can be prevented! Every dog can run comfortably!

The construction of breast plates on Howling Dog Alaska Harnesses will keep the harnesses centered nicely on pretty much any dog. We originally designed our harnesses to be as comfortable as possible for the use on our own dogs. Those include our Light Weight Harness, our Hound Harness, our Wheel Dog Harness, our Second Skin Harness and others. The fact that our harnesses will stay centered so nicely is all due to the special construction of the breast plate. We do not carry any harnesses with single wide breast plate (this excludes the Distance Harness, which does not fall in to this category). Our expertise gives us an edge over other manufacturers, which might not even own a dog (hint, hint!). As always, it comes down to years of working with top racing sled dogs and to our understanding of functioning harness design.

Public Statement


October 8, 2013

I am writing this in response to most recent slanderous and libelous comments made by ManMat.cz and its affiliates.

I dropped ManMat.cz as one of our manufacturers due to the actions of Jaroslav Soumar (the owner of ManMat.cz). During our cooperation all equipment made by ManMat.cz for Howling Dog Alaska featured our Howling Dog Alaska tags. However Mr. Soumar (ManMat.cz) had been putting Howling Dog Alaska labels even on products which were not made directly for Howling Dog. ManMat.cz was selling those products all over the world for years without our knowledge, and without any compensation to us. There were (and still are) several web sites (distributors of ManMat.cz) that are showing gear with the Howling Dog Alaska logo on it! Howling Dog told Mr. Soumar many times to refrain from using the Howling Dog Alaska name, but he has refused.

We are currently trying to put a stop to this, since this is an infringement of the Howling Dog Alaska trademark. There is a legal action pending against ManMat.cz (Mr. Soumar) in the Czech Republic, since Mr. Soumar was using our name for personal gain without our permission. ManMat.cz affixed Howling Dog Alaska branded tags to products never sold, endorsed, and in some cases outright rejected as unworthy, by Howling Dog Alaska.

Now to answer a couple of questions some of you were asking:

1.            Is the trademark ManMat registered under my name in the US?

Yes it is. This is a public record. USPTO Trademark Registration no. 4 167,836

2.            Is Howling Dog using similar webbing patterns to those used by ManMat.cz?

Similar, but not identical pattern is used in three of Howling Dog Alaska’s products.

When Howling Dog Alaska began selling mushing products in 1999, the ManMat name and webbing pattern were known only to a small group of people within the Czech Republic. It was Howling Dog Alaska that sold products manufactured by ManMat throughout North America and I, Ivana Nolke, developed new, functioning products suited for the US market. When those products were imported into North America by Howling Dog Alaska for sale, there was a Howling Dog Alaska tag on every item. Howling Dog Alaska, not ManMat, spent money promoting those items. As Howling Dog Alaska’s research and development efforts and designs further increased the sales numbers, that pattern, alongside the Howling Dog Alaska tag, is what Howling Dog Alaska’s customers have come to recognize as the Howling Dog Alaska brand.

Howling Dog Alaska has always operated with a high degree of business ethics and will continue to do so, regardless of the slanderous and libelous comments made by others in the business.

Ivana Nolke

Owner, Howling Dog Alaska

EQUIPMENT TIP: A few facts about harness padding

BadFluffyPadding2Here is another piece of equipment advice for you that only comes after many years of experience working with top racing sled dogs. Let’s talk about fleece harness padding.

Harnesses made with fleece padding have been the most common harnesses on the market for many years. “Fluffy” fleece was the padding on the first x-back harness I ever owned. (The year was 1988.) This was before tougher/better padding material came along. Fleece (most importantly “fluffy” fleece) will not withstand the wear and tear other padding types will. In addition to that in the winter snow will quite often freeze to the padding, on occasion forming ice balls and be uncomfortable for the dog. During rainy, wet or humid conditions, fleece will absorb moisture. And during hot days, fleece will be too warm for the dog. Even though harnesses with fleece padding are the cheapest ones on the market (and quite often they are offered by new/inexperienced manufacturers), be wary. Us here at Howling Dog are staying away from fleece padding for the reasons stated above! We use closed cell padding (foam wrapped in a rip-stop shell) on the majority of our harnesses. This padding has been tested and used for many years on top racing sled dogs. And what works for top canine athletes will work for all the other dogs out there. In the long run you will be better off investing in a harness with good quality padding, rather than keep spending money on harnesses, which are inferior. Unlike 25 years ago, the selection of harnesses on the market is bigger, so take your time, investigate and choose a harness with proper padding (such as our Standard Harness or our Light Weight Harness).

EQUIPMENT TIP: The fact about fleece booties

FleeceBootieGrayHere is a piece of equipment advice for you that only comes after many years of experience working with sled dogs, and will save you money in the long run.

Booties made out of fleece have been the most popular booties on the market for many years. They were the first bootie I ever used on my own dogs in Alaska over 20 years ago. This was before tougher/better booties came along. I did not use booties on my race dogs on a regular basis, only when a foot injury (such as cracked pad) occurred. And let me tell you, I was always so frustrated after each run while taking booties off – that was presuming the bootie was still on the dog’s foot, quite often the bootie would fly off right away. Fleece (even heavyweight polyester fleece) will quite often get holes in it from the dog’s nails even after a short run. And as a result, the bootie would fill with snow, which formed ice balls and it would quite often make the foot injury even worse. And on occasion the bootie filled with snow would freeze to the dog’s foot, making it very painful for the dog when it was taken off. Even if you don’t get holes in your fleece booties right away, you will after couple more runs, guaranteed. And forget about using fleece booties on a hard surface! Even though fleece booties are quite often the cheapest ones on the market (and quite often they are offered by new/inexperienced manufacturers), be wary. In the long run you will be better off investing in a good quality durable bootie, rather than keep spending money on booties, which won’t last. Unlike 20 years ago, the selection of booties on the market is huge, so take your time, investigate and choose the proper bootie. Perhaps our Protector Bootie will be the one. 😉

EQUIPMENT TIP: What collars to stay away from

CollarWithPlasticThis is a piece of equipment advice which will significantly increase the safety of your dog.

There are so many collars out there, which feature a plastic buckle (and on occasion even a plastic slider). Those are the most common collars on the pet market. And if you look at your regular “Fido”, this is the type of a collar he will be most likely wearing. But there is a reason why you won’t see such collars on the dogs of professional mushers. The reason is: PLASTIC BREAKS! Yes, a plastic buckle is the weakest link on a collar. It is a huge safety hazard, as a dog who is attached by such collar that all of the sudden pulls/jerks, can break such buckle easily (especially in below freezing temperatures). Plastic buckle is also prone to chewing, will get banged up easily and it will on occasion lose its flexibility over time. Not to mention that it can open accidentally just by bumping into something.

Even though collars with plastic buckles are the most common ones on the pet market (and quite often they are used and recommended by inexperienced dog owners due to the fact that they are easy to put on and take off), be wary. Us here at Howling Dog are staying away from plastic collar hardware for the reasons stated above! We never used plastic buckles or any other plastic components on our collars and we never will. Check out our Standard Collar or our Padded Collar and see a reliable and professionally designed collar for yourself. And STAY AWAY FROM PLASTIC! 😉

Disclaimer: Our LED Collar features a plastic buckle for easy put-on, easy take-off. However, we do not recommend to use this collar as a main collar. A leash (a neckline) should not be clipped to the LED Collar. This collar is an addition to a regular collar.