For those of us who own toy breeds, the frightening sounds of coughing, shallow breathing or in the extreme, listening to your tiny Maltese honk like a barnyard goose may be all too familiar. Most often these symptoms result from an irritated, or in more severe cases, a collapsed trachea. Although these symptoms are unnerving to those new dog owners who are not familiar with this ailment, it is a fairly common one. Estimates range that between 20-40% of toy breed dogs will develop some sort of tracheal disorder. The highest risk breeds are among our tiniest canine companions: Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, Italian Greyhounds, Maltese, and Toy Poodles.
If your little dog occasionally exhibits these symptoms, you may notice that a tug on your dog’s collar, while out for a walk, may suddenly bring them on. It is important to understand that tracheal disorders are congenital. A tug on a collar rarely, if ever will cause a collapsed trachea. However it can certainly exacerbate an already existing problem or turn a predisposition into the problem. Tugging on a collar can easily cause the irritation that leads to coughing, which in turn, further irritates the trachea.
So, whether you are trying to curb the energy and exuberance of your new puppy friend, take control of your dog in unsafe situations, or just take your pup out to answer nature’s call, harnesses are the perfect choice for toy breed dogs. Designed to allow your dog to push with the chest rather than the throat, a properly fitted harness removes pressure from your tiny dog’s sensitive trachea. Even for small dogs without tracheal concerns, harnesses are best because they distribute pressure more evenly around the dog’s body, and are therefore much more comfortable. For “Houdini’ hounds, harnesses provide an escape proof alternative to the classic collar that can sometimes allow your dog to pull its head back through it. Toy breed dog collars should be worn to look wonderful and to hold tags only, not for leash attachment.
Once you have made the decision to shop for a harness, there are a myriad of harnesses to choose from. Unfortunately, for the first-time harness buyer, it’s like trying to buy athletic underwear – for someone else! I have talked to numerous little dog owners who can pull a harness that didn’t work out of the back of the closet. Too often, what starts off with the best intentions, ends up being an exercise in frustration. But, like anything you want to feel good about and have for a while, acquiring the right harness takes some planning.
At Moondoggie, Inc. we offer the following advice to our toy breed customers:
TAKE 3 MEASUREMENTS – around your dog’s neck, along the length of your dog’s back (topline) from where the collar lays to the base of your dog’s tail, and around the biggest part of your dog (girth) which is usually just behind the front legs. ADD 2 inches to the girth measurement.
THINK COMFORT – Avoid harnesses that have pressure spots where they can rub and irritate your dog’s skin. Nylon and some unfinished leathers have a tendency to do that. Choose soft fabrics that “breathe”. 100% cotton, or soft, porous, semi-stretch, neoprene blends are great because they are machine washable and dry quickly. If leather is what you want, try rounded or “tubular” leather, and although it may be a bit more expensive, purchase a buttery soft leather dog harness. It will last forever, continue to soften with age, and look fabulous!
LOVE WHAT YOU CHOOSE – If you love the harness you’ve chosen, you’ll be motivated to help your dog learn to love it too. Like dog collars and other forms of dog clothing, dog harnesses come in a variety of themes – preppie, rocker, classic, biker, princess, surfer, athletic, camouflage, floral, patriotic, modern, vintage, even psychedelic! They also come in a standard adjustable style, a vest style, and a flexi style (meaning the head goes through the neck opening with the strap going up and around the dog’s belly with a quick release mechanism on the side). For those of us who love to dress our little dogs, there’s no need to strap a harness over a beautiful outfit. Now, even the most adorable dog dresses, dog tee shirts and even little dog polo shirts are designed with sturdy harnesses built right into them!
HAVE FUN – Dogs are creatures of habit. As you have probably already experienced, new things are approached with caution and often resistance. Introducing a harness into your dog’s already contented life may require some creativity and more than a little patience. Be prepared and keep your sense of humor when attempting to harness your dog for the first time. Beware of the classic canine defensive move, when first approached with a harness, which is the rollover. Sometimes it happens before you even get close. More often it occurs just when you think it was a breeze and you can snap that buckle, and in a flash your pup rolls over and turns into dead weight. When you try to put your pup back on all fours, he suddenly develops “jelly legs”! Another maneuver to expect is the “I just want to see what you’re doing” twirl. It is next to impossible to put a harness on a dog while it is trying to watch what your hands are doing! (It is pretty funny to watch someone try to, though.)
To avoid these challenges, we recommend that you lift and place your dog on a bench or table where you have more control over the action and your dog has less room to maneuver. Talking to your dog in your “good dog” voice also helps. But most of all make each time you put on your dog’s harness a prelude to a ride in the car, or a walk to the park, a cookie treat, or something really fun. If you make the association between the harness and the subsequent positive activity really clear, it won’t take more than a few times before your dog is so happy about wearing the harness, getting him to stop wiggling with excitement will be your only challenge!
Harnesses are essential for the health and safety of your toy breed pup. Well worth the initial shenanigans that may be required to coax your baby into one, they can be fun and fashionable too! Once you start harness shopping, we would like to offer one final word of caution. Your dog may not be the only one that gets “hooked”!