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No Escape Harnesses

Credit to: Aylin Da


One important piece of gear when working with (or owning) fearful dogs is a safety/no escape/"escape-proof" harness (no harness will ever be 100% escape-proof).


It's not something that's really necessary for your average dog but incredibly helpful and important for fearful dogs. Usually these are foreign rescue dogs but can be from various backgrounds.


When I first got my current dog, he could not go off leash, I did not (exclusively) walk him on a collar. He's a Romanian rescue dog that did not get to know a lot of things before arriving at the shelter I was volunteering at at the time. To him, bikes were scary, other people were scary, children were scary, strollers were scary, walking poles were scary, and so on. Many other foreign rescue dogs and their owners have a similar experience.

I do not consider my dog a (very) fearful dog. If he ever did escape, I would however describe him as a fearful dog (but that is a post for another day). 

I used to use a no escape harness for him for several months and still do in certain situations (e.g. a couple of days leading up to and after New Year's Eve).


A regular harness only has one strap behind the front legs and dogs can easily back out of them. A harness with a second belly strap will help keep these dogs safe in the beginning stages. For some, that's a couple of weeks, some a couple of months, some never "graduate" to a different kind of harness or collar only.


There are different types and brands of no escape harnesses - padding or not, connection between both belly straps or not, different number of leash attachments etc. It can get confusing if you're new to them, just like different types of muzzles can be confusing when you're new to muzzling. I've listed four common types/brands and their differences below though to give you a rough idea:


1) Ruffwear Web Master - this is the one you'll probably most commonly see, two buckles, first and second strap are not connected underneath; there are also various off-brand versions of this harness, which will work just as well. See notes for a list of different ones.¹

2) Sientas - popular in Germany and with a lot of rescue organizations. I do like these for rescue mutts because they seem to accommodate their proportions the best.² No padding for the most basic version but padding can be added when ordering. First and second strap are connected underneath, four buckles.

3) AnnyX - another popular brand in Germany, padded, first and second strap are connected underneath, four buckles.

4) Grossenbacher, most similar to Ruffwear Flagline - my personal favorite, very lightweight, four buckles, first and second strap are connected underneath.


Issues with 1) and 2):

1) First and second strap are not connected. This causes the second belly strap to slide further back than it's supposed to. This is an issue for two reasons. One, it's sitting behind the ribcage and pressing into the dog's intestines (or genitals, definitely more of an issue for male dogs), especially if the dog is trying to back out of the harness and adding additional pressure to the second strap. Two, if the strap is sitting more diagonally, it's impairing overall security of the harness because the strap won't be as tight as it would be when sitting correctly. This could lead to the dog being able to back out of this harness after all.

Ruffwear's Brush Guard (or alternatively their Core Cooler) is an easy fix for this.


2) When opting for the unpadded version, this could cause rubbing and hot spots. Obviously padding would fix this.


How to properly fit a no escape harness:


1. Measure around neck

2. Measure around chest behind front legs

3. Measure around the end of ribcage

4. Measure back length


Once you have your harness, it needs to be adjusted properly as well. 

Second belly strap should roughly sit on the last two ribs (see first image) and will need to be tighter than the deepest/widest part of your dog's chest behind the front legs (see second image). That way, the harness can't be pulled off (similar to how a snug collar when securing a muzzle - or martingale/slip collar - works).

You don't want the harness to press into your dog's intestines or genitals (see third image).


For extra security, you do want to use two leashes, one attached to the harness and your body and one attached to collar and held in your hand. Carabiners can break or snap, leashes can tear. Should this happen and you only have one leash attached to the harness, even the best fit no escape harness won't do you any good.


First image: one leash attached to harness only - this will work but if leash or hardware break, you will have a loose dog

Second image: two attachment points, both harness, collar not available - better than 1) but if for some reason the harness snaps or the dog manages to back out of it after all, you have no backup

Third image: two attachment points, harness and collar - this way you have a backup both if something breaks and if your dog manages to back out of the harness for whatever reason after all (generally if it's an ill fit or not adjusted right)


You can use various types of collars but these are the ones I would recommend for backup security purposes:


1) Martingale


2) Slip or limited slip


3) Regular flat collar


Do keep in mind that all of these, when at their tightest in the case of 1) and 2), need to be tighter than the widest part of your dog's head to be effective as a backup security measure.


How it prevents them from backing out of the harness:

As explained above, the second belly strap is tighter than your dog's deepest/widest part of the chest behind the legs. Most commonly, with a regular harness, you will hold the leash in your hand, your dog will back up and often make a bowing motion with their head down. Now the harness can easily slip over the head and legs. The dog is no longer wearing a harness and is able to run off.

This won't happen with a no escape harness. If your dog is overweight, the second strap might not be any tighter though, simply due to your dog's shape - body conditioning score (BCS) of 6/7 (depending on the dog) or above. In this case, I highly recommend using a collar as a backup (and ideally connecting it via neckline) as well.


And speaking of shape and proportions, these harnesses - while adjustable - won't fit every dog the same. Some dogs have longer backs, some dogs have a less noticeable tuck than others and so on.


Harness in Action (Video)

Disclaimer: Please note this video was originally meant for evaluation purposes with minimal intervention. This is not how I recommend handling a situation like this. You will see the video cuts off at the end because I did not want the dog to go into overdrive and react even more intensely. 

Not shown in the video (due to me stopping the recording to focus on the dog and managing the situation) is me grabbing the dog's harness and applying slight pressure. This helps both keep the dog from literally spinning out of control and to calm the dog down/interrupt the behavior ("conditioned harness pressure").


Ideal setup for an extremely fearful dog:

- No escape harness

- Collar

- 2 leashes (one attached to harness, one attached to collar - one attached to your body, one in your hand)

- GPS tracker (optional but highly recommended)

- Attaching harness to collar via neckline/short leash/carabiner etc. for extra security (optional)

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