While federal law doesn’t mandate that Service Dogs wear any kind of gear or identification, most Service Dogs have some kind of vest, jacket or harness. Sometimes, the gear is for identification only and at other times, like in the case of a brace dog or a Service Dog who carries medical equipment, the gear is utilized during the dog’s work. There are too many types of Service Dog harnesses and vests to mention them all, but here are 5 of the most common items!
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Service Dog Gear: Cape Vests
Cape vests are very common and can be worn by any size or type of Service Dog. Service Dog capes consist of fabric that drapes across the dog’s shoulders and back, and they usually have straps that go around the dog’s chest and belly to hold the cape in place. Capes are oftentimes introduced to very young Service Dogs in Training, and while you may need different sizes throughout your partner’s life, they can be utilized in any situation. Even Service Dogs who work in a Brace or Mobility Support Harness oftentimes have a cape vest lying around somewhere!
This versatile piece of gear comes in all kinds of fabric choices for all seasons (mesh, cotton, nylon, corduroy, canvas, etc.), comes in every size imaginable and is relatively inexpensive. They’re super easy to add patches and embroidery to, and many have pockets, extra rings or other fun/useful features.
You can find Service Dog cape vests at:
Service Dog Supply
Service Dog Gear: Ruffwear Webmaster
The Ruffwear Webmaster harness looks very professional, fits all body types perfectly due to its extreme adjustability, and can be used for very light counter balance work or transitioning from a sitting position to standing. Larger dogs can use it for pulling wheelchairs, although you should carefully check the fit regularly to ensure the harness sits properly on your dog.
This harness comes in two colors, red and gray, and one of the only downsides is that it can be difficult to fit patches onto the harness. With some creativity, though, it can be done! There are two versions, the regular Webmaster and the Webmaster Pro. The Webmaster Pro has two slim fit pockets and plenty of space for patches, but it is more expensive.
Service Dog Gear: Cape Harness
The cape harness is similar to the cape vest, but it’s usually a little more sturdily built and may or may not have a handle. Many cape harnesses have D-rings at the sides, which makes the addition of a pull strap super easy. These harnesses are ergonomic and typically well-made, although they can sit a little funny on some breeds of dogs. There’s usually ample space to add patches, and these come in multiple sizes to fit the average sized working dog. There’s no limit to color choices, and if you look on Etsy, you can even find epic fabric choices like tie dye, bohemian or other non-traditional/non-solid colors.
You can find cape harnesses at:
Service Dog Gear: Pulling Harness
Pulling Harnesses are worn by Service Dogs who need to pull wheelchairs, wagons or move/open heavy things. While there are many different types of pulling harnesses, most Service Dogs wear a harness with Y-straps that come over the shoulders and between the front legs, and then the harness has a girth strap around the dog’s belly. Pulling harnesses are typically padded for comfort, and they should only be worn by dogs large enough to perform the physical task work.
You can find pulling harnesses at:
Bold Lead Designs
Circle E Leather
Service Dog Gear: Brace and Mobility Support Harnesses
Utilized by Service Dogs who need to assist their human partner with walking, balancing or ambulatory task work, brace and mobility support harnesses are designed to be extremely ergonomic for the dog and the handler, and typically have either a rigid handle or a sturdy pull strap attached. It is extremely important to utilize a properly fitted harness for you and your dog’s safety, and to only utilize a dog for brace or mobility support once they have finished growing and their joints have been checked by a vet for soundness.
You can find brace and mobility support harnesses at:
Bold Lead Designs
Betty Jean Pearson February 14, 2016
My fingers/thumbs are almost useless and I have extreme difficulty putting the harness on and off. The trainer had a special harness made with carabeaners, but I cannot push the silver part in when the harness is tight enough for Aspen to not get a leg out of the harness so it was loosened, but it is almost impossible for me to push the silver part in without extreme pain and it takes me forever. Help?
Kea Grace March 14, 2016
Good afternoon, Betty! What about velcro closures on the chest and girth straps? River Dog Gear makes excellent hand-made vests, and would probably love to customize one for you. Another option to consider might be hook and loop closures (so no snaps or fasteners), or a vest made of a stiffer material that only has a chest strap, so you can drop it over your dogs’ head and it lay correctly across the shoulders, without needing to fasten a girth strap.
Kelsey and Kona February 15, 2016
Freedom Designs doesn’t make vests anymore(as far as I know). Omni-Vest is a great substitute though.
Kea Grace March 14, 2016
Thanks for the heads up! We’ll update appropriately.
ob1gp February 16, 2016
Personally, I use a bold lead designs mobility harness and love it. As a Canadian I find there is little information and blogs with Canadian content, and rely on information provided by Americans. Canadians ARE required to have their service dogs in a vest or harness and Americans visiting Canada are also required to have their service dog identified in a vest or harness as they must follow Canadian law while in Canada.
It is important to note that in Ontario, NEW service dog legislation is being developed for PTSD and psychiatric service dogs. PSD’s will be required to pass a standard public access test when this legislation is completed. Please be aware it is coming. I know that it will be required in Ontario, but not sure if it will be required across Canada. This Standardized public access test has been brought forward by accredited Service Dog Trainers and possibly Veterans Affairs Canada.
Kea Grace March 14, 2016
Thanks for taking part in our community; we value your contributions, particularly the insights into how service dog life is different in Canada.
Druidess3 March 15, 2016
Another option for gear is a backpack. Many handlers have too much SD- and/or disability-related paraphernalia to fit in the pockets of a cape.
Kea Grace March 16, 2016
Very true! There are lots of great backpacks designed for all-day wear that are ergonomic and comfortable. Our favorite is the Ruffwear Palisades – the pack itself can be removed quickly and easily, leaving the base harness on your dog. It’s also quite spacious with lots of great features.