Gear Review: The tactical dog days of August

IMG_4394_Moment

Using the rear dee as a lead attachment keeps pressure off the dog’s neck and keeps the harness in place. (Photo: Team HB)

Going to the dogs

The presence of K9 officers is increasingly common at public events and in everyday policing. Whether for evidence detection or as an element of restraint or force, K9s are both useful to department functions as well as popular ambassadors between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Also on the rise is ownership by civilians of dogs with specialized training for protective work. Many families who are trained up with firearms consider the dog as complement to their overall home protection plan. A specially trained dog may be viewed as a primary line of defense by individuals and families living in restrictive jurisdictions.

IMG_4372

Chester is pretty happy in his HTC collar and lead! (Photo: Team HB)

Gear for the tactical woofer

More K9 helpers means more demand for dog gear. Chester the Boxer and I tested three items, two from Virginia-based High Threat Concealment (HTC) and one from California’s Advance Dynamic, on miles of runs, walks, and some play time.

HTC’s Tactical K9 collar ($55 or $60 depending on size) is available in two widths, 1.0 and 1.75 inches. Color choices are coyote tan or black. The material is mil-spec webbing, which is doubled for the thinner model. The wider collar, which was the subject of this test, has an Austrialpin two-prong metal buckle, just like some of the company’s belts for humans. Adjustment is via an in-line aluminum slot buckle. A heavy, 1-inch metal D-ring provides a place to latch onto. The collar is weighty at 0.3 pounds.

IMG_4383

Lots of hook material means you could load your K9 down. I like this harness for its cooling properties. (Photo: Team HB)

The Tactical K9 leash (starts at $30 before options) is constructed of matching 1-inch webbing. Lengths start at 4 feet, with choices up to 15 feet offered. A standard swivel hookspring-trigger snap is standard and included in this test with a 6-foot leash. The handle is a simple loop sewn into the end. Stitching is stout, doubled, and in an X pattern at both the handle and snap.

Options abound with the leash, including a Kong cable frog attachment, which affords a virtually unbreakable connection with the animal, plus a feature that allows the length to be adjusted in 12-inch increments.

Curious to this civilian reviewer was the embossed assembly instruction-side of the buckle being on the outside, and the plain side being against the dog. The HTC contact said it’s standard that instructions are on the outside on most military gear. Fair enough. It’s only visible upon close inspection.

Advance Dynamic offers their EDO K9 tactical harness ($149) that both complements the HTC gear and provides cooling and storage benefits. Neck and belly straps are adjustable with sliding slot buckles. Attachments secure with plastic male/female two-prong buckles. The harness is constructed of nylon webbing, breathable nylon, and mesh, with several points and MOLLE-style lengths of loop material. It comes in OD green, black, coyote brown, and multicam.

IMG_4376

A view of the instructions-exposed buckle and very heavy duty dee ring. (Photo: Team HB)

Storage for documents or small items is available in a flat, zippered compartment on the dorsal side, or use it as intended, filled with provided EDO pads, previously soaked in water for cooling. The zipper is sturdy and the zipper tab is enhanced by a short, braided paracord handle. Fore and aft of the compartment, atop the dog’s shoulder blades and in the mid-back are two large polymer loops for leash or handle attachments. It weighs approximately 0.25 pounds. Two sizes fit dogs 50-75 or 75-100 pounds.

Performance

The wide collar on 65-pound Chester enhances control when the leash is attached. Its width offers substantial leverage. I would be concerned about chafing if he were putting pressure on the collar for extended hours. The wide collar offers substantial protection of the neck and throat due to its thickness and moderate stiffness. On medium-size dogs, its weight could contribute to fatigue on extended runs or missions.

HTC’s leash is supremely strong. From experience handling horses, I’m confident the snap would break long before the nylon — a problem solved by the Kong cable frog. In any case, it’s questionable whether a dog would survive an action severe enough to break a metal snap. The loop handle is secure as can be, but also be fatiguing on hands over time, or with a dog that pulls, as compared to rolled-shape handles.

The Advance Dynamic harness has the advantage of cooling properties. By soaking the EDO pads and inserting them between the mesh panels, convective cooling is provided through contact with the dog and, assuming the animal stays in motion, by air movement. On dozens of hot-weather 5k runs, I’ve observed a bit less fatigue on Chester’s part when the harness is wet. It dries quickly, a problem he remedies with a dip in an irrigation ditch, a handy resource in our neighborhood.

IMG_9265

I haven’t had occasion to use the pickup handle on the Advance Dynamic harness yet, but it’s there if needed. (Photo: Team HB)

Using the rear leash attachment on the harness consistently works better than the front, though it looks a bit unorthodox. With the leash attached only to the front dee ring, the harness tends to peel backward. On the back dee ring, there is still control but the harness stays in place.

Summary

The HTC K9 products are supremely strong and ready for serious action. The collar offers excellent protection for the animal and control for the handler. Likewise, the leash is made for extreme duty, with the exception of the swivel snap. A bull snap would be an equally economical but stronger method of securing the leash.

Advance Dynamic’s K9 harness is a good choice for training and long duty days. It can keep the dog cooler and is minimally fatiguing due to its light weight. The plastic buckles and dees are acceptable for any civilian and most duty use. However, plastic is subject to becoming brittle from UV exposure, and is breakable under severe stress — but the degree of stress it’s built for should be taken in context of the animal and its job.

Considering the mountains of gear on the market for duty and self-protection, it’s refreshing to see some attention being given to the needs of four-legged partners.