The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 4, September 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue...

Editorial: Building Bridges
F.I.D.O.: Marit Holm
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part III
Greenland Dog / Inuit Dog, The Same Dog
Differences in Mushing: Greenland and Arctic Canada, Part I
Fan Mail
Behavior Notebook: The Human Role
Book Review: Frozen Horizons
Product Review: Wheel Dog Harness
Tip for the Trail: Pack a Pruning Saw
 IMHO: The System
Annual Index for Volume 7

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Product Review...

                                                        Photo: Hamilton

ManMat Wheel Dog Harness

reviewed by Mark Hamilton

Lots of us believe it's all about the angles. Put a couple of big dogs at the wheel dog position in a gang line, and the angle of the tug line from sled's bridle to the dogs’ harness attachment point is pretty steep. The steep angle of those tuglines draws down against the dogs' hips and spines, and we're left to wonder about the possible physical effects on all the tomorrows to come for our dogs.

You can ameliorate this situation to a degree by simply lengthening the tugs and mainline, but this comes at a cost. Longer lines mean that your string of dogs also gets longer. That can be a problem for mushers running in woodlands. This strategy is also limited in benefit as reductions in angle per unit of added length decrease as the tugs get longer. Big gains in angle reduction come early on. If your tug lengths are around a 100 cm. (40 in.) in length, they will not show as significant a reduction in angle from lengthening them by 30 cm. (12 in.) as they would if they had been only 60 cm (24 in.) initially.

Howling Dog in Salcha, Alaska offers a better solution to this problem, and it's one that doesn't result in your lead dogs being in another time zone. Their ManMat Wheel Dog Harness extends back beyond the dog. The rearmost section of the harness could be thought of as being like traces since they are isolated from the fore section by slip rings. Unlike a draft harness there is no spreader bar  (singletree) in the back (something I always found troublesome to deal with within my team). The tug lines no longer attach on top of the dog's hips. That point moves down significantly, around 10 cm (4 in.) on our dogs. The dogs pull from their chests and shoulders as in a draft harness. You should be aware that the added length of these harnesses will likely require that you either shorten of the tug lines or move the neckline forward.

We bought ManMat Wheel Dog Harnesses at the start of last season for our two tallest dogs. One exchange for a different size was required and this was accomplished without difficulty. The great thing about these well-crafted harnesses is that even though sold as "standard" sizes, once the right size was found, these redesigned x-back harnesses fit extremely well everywhere over the dog. A harness fitting guide is available online at the Howling Dog website and you can also receive guidance from them over the telephone.

The routine we settled into with our dogs was to let them run from the staging area to the trailhead before we pulled the harnesses down below their tails. We learned that with our dogs, if we tried to have the harnesses below their tails when we initially set out, we'd have to stop a couple of times in the first half kilometer or so to reset the harness. However, once total exuberance had been converted into determination to pull there were no further problems keeping the extended part of the harness in its proper location. We just found it easier to wait until that time before setting the harness into its proper position.

Do we like our ManMat Wheel Dog Harnesses? I can answer that by stating we're purchasing more of these harnesses for the upcoming season. We're outfitting all our wheel dogs with them, not just the tallest dogs. Anyone running tall dogs might consider using these harnesses regardless of the actual position those dogs are running in their team.

ManMat Wheel Dog Harnesses are available direct from Howling Dog or from any of their distributors. They cost $25.95/harness (USD) with a discount on purchases of 10 or more. Snail mail goes to: Howling Dog J Pet & Mushing Supplies, 5845 Old Valdez Trail, Salcha, AK 99714, USA. Tel: 1-907-488-5341. Fax: 1-907-488-5708 On the web they can be found at:

Is there a useful product you'd like to tell everyone about? Email your experience to or snail-mail it to Mark Hamilton, 55 Town Line Road, Harwinton, CT 06791, USA.

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