My Passion For Harnesses

Hey DogNerds,

It's my opinion that "every dog needs a handle", but especially every big dog, so I wanted to expand my reasoning outside of a catch phrase. Choosing the right gear for your dog is very subjective and personal, and I trust you'll find the right setup for your fur babies, this article is simply food for thought.

TL/DR; In my experience harnesses prevent problems.  

I've parented 2 dogs in my life, Sal & Beaux, both of them Saint Bernards. While they have plenty of similarities, they each present unique challenges.

Sal, aka Wubbles Jr, Billy the Mule, etc.

As a result of unethical/irresponsible breeding Sal was struck with Wobblers at 18mo old. It's a cervical vertebrae malformation that caused him to collapse without warning, like the signal from his brain to his legs cut off - it was terrifying, and was getting worse by the day.

Treatment included a 6 hour surgery, 2.5 weeks of post-op paralysis, followed by months of physical rehab which was grueling for all involved. One of the most pressing challenges was how to minimize a re-occurrence - and this meant collars as a means of physical restraint were out, thus my experience with harnesses begins.

Adding to the recovery adventure Sal developed a moderate level of reactivity. On a few occasions he would charge towards a dog and I had 1 opportunity to grab onto him. If I missed things were going to become more complicated, and it's always the big dog's fault.

I also believe Sal had limited depth perception as when I'd try to teach him to catch a ball, it'd just bounce off his face. More concerning was occasionally going down stairs he'd miss-judge the steps and begin what could be an uncontrolled descent to the next landing. 

Lastly, on the day cancer defeated my baby, I took him to the lake - he wasn’t drinking, even when offering it directly in his mouth via syringe, but he drank water at the lake - desperate to keep him hydrated I let him go in up to his belly. A few minutes in his front left leg just gives out and he's deep enough to where his head goes under water. He kept trying to get up, but kept falling down - not hesitating, I run into the mid-January water and help him get to shore. 

A harness helped me with all of those things - we had a buddy system going down stairs, he'd patiently wait for me, I'd put 1 hand on his handle, 1 on the railing, and down we'd go - if he missed a step I could buy him enough time to regain his footing. When he'd try to run past me to go be silly I'd turn my hands into hooks and stop him so fast his front legs would come off the ground, he looked like a fighter jet coming to a stop on an aircraft carrier. Towards the later years when he was weaker, the helping-handle also allowed me to help him into/out of the car, and even up the stairs.


Beaux on the other hand is a bit of a knucklehead, I adopted him when he was 3 1/2, and one of the first adventures we went on there was a beautiful lazy river several inches of slow calm water - only at the pedestrian bridge was it much narrower and thus deeper & faster water. Naturally that's where genius meandered over to, and while nothing bad happened, I just knew he would be raising my blood pressure with some regularity.

Unfortunately it took another, more serious, brush with danger before I decided he's going to wear a harness for life too. On June 3rd 2021, Beaux & I were on a new adventure at a reservoir, he had already been in the water once, everything was fine. A half mile down the path he goes towards the water again, but this water doesn't seem right, it's dark - I tell him to stop, he's a Saint Bernard and keeps going, he hits the water and he's gone! I run to the edge and dude's doing an impression of a submarine - he surfaces and gets his elbows up on dry land, but it's a sheer edge, straight down 6-7'. How do you get a 140lb dog, wearing only a collar, back up? You don't... you go in, use your dad-strength to make sure he gets out, and then worry about yourself.

As scary as that was we're both OK, but I obsess over the could'a / would'a / should'as, the alternative outcomes, the thin line between fun & danger, and the stories you hear where things didn't turn out OK. I can't help but wonder how many of those tragedies could've been avoided if only there was a handle to grab onto.

Nobody will ever know, but what I can do is express my opinion and more importantly offer a solution, so that's what I've done. 

My next post addresses why I believe the DogNerd harness design will do a superior job at keeping your dog safe, read it here.

As always, please email me at if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading,


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