What is a tactical dog harness? And, is it only for top-tier military dogs parachuting out of airplanes? No doubt we’ve all seen an army dog vest or a K9 tactical harness on a police dog and thought it looked pretty cool. But whether it’s a tactical service dog vest or simply a specialized harness, an army harness for dogs is pretty multi-functional. In fact, it’s not a bad choice for those who enjoy hiking or even long walks with particularly energetic dogs.
Even if your dog is not a highly trained canine operator, it may still benefit from a good military dog vest. Hunting dogs or pets can carry their own water and food on the move. Service dogs can haul their own medical equipment. And all of them can look pretty cool while doing it.
So let’s delve into what to look for in the best tactical dog harness and whether this harness is right for your dog.
What Is A Tactical Dog Harness?
The basic tactical dog harness fulfills the same function as a standard walking harness. Still, several key differences make it the harness of choice for the military and police K9 units. These differences come down to durability and versatility.
How Does a Tactical Harness Differ From Other Harnesses?
A good tactical harness is typically made from 900D or above nylon, which is extremely tough, waterproof, and acts as lightweight body armor.
Even the stitching is far more durable than the average dog harness. These harnesses are made to last through tough terrain and all weather conditions.
Further, these harnesses are built to be highly versatile and adaptable. They often have velcro platforms where you can stick ID badges and vanity patches or even Metal D-rings that can be switched out for viper metal clips for dogs that parachute or abseil. They are also specialized for activities such as man trailing, stealth, or for various kinds of working service dogs.
But the key difference between a tactical harness vest and a standard harness is that they come with a PALS and MOLLE carrying system.
MOLLE stands for modular lightweight loadbearing equipment, and PALS is the acronym for Pouch Attachment Ladder System.
These army dog harnesses come with tightly stitched strips of nylon stacked above each other in a ladder formation. This is the PALS. You can use these for your MOLLE attachments. These are specialized carrying components or pouches that attach securely to the PALS so that they do not bounce and jostle. This is the standard way to attach extra equipment to a rucksack in the army.
For canine tactical vests, you can add lightweight items to your dog’s harness, including water bottles, treats, or a GPS tracker.
Canine tactical vests can also be specialized for tracking or even made bulletproof with kevlar attachments.
A tactical harness is also never a strap harness, as it needs a vest area to fulfill its functions.
Similarities Between A Tactical Harness and other Harnesses
A tactical harness can be similar to other harnesses in many aspects. A tactical harness is usually a dual ring harness, meaning it has a D-ring clip on the back and on the front pad, just like a good no-pull harness. It also has a carrier handle at the top that you can grab if you need more control over your dog.
Like the PawSafe no-pull harness, the tactical harness generally has a padded breast area that helps to distribute a dog’s pulling force across its chest area. This protects the neck from possible whip lash or long-term trachea damage.
History of the Tactical Dog Harness
Dog tactical harnesses have evolved with the use of dogs in warfare. Of course, man’s best friend has been our companion in battles for millennia. They have served to smuggle items through battle lines, carry messages and medical supplies, track, scout, and patrol. And the army gear they wore has always adapted to their service.
The first written accounts we have of dogs in war date to 600 BC, when Alyattes, the King of Lydia, used them against the Cimmerians to break into the enemy lines and sow chaos. Other early accounts include using dogs in the front lines against Egyptians. Since Egyptians saw dogs as sacred, they could not use their “formidable engines” that catapulted rocks against the enemy and risk harming the canines.
Of course, civilizations around the world used dogs in battle, and we don’t always know how often dogs were protected with armor. The Torvmosehund, the ancestor of the modern Norwegian Elkhound, was bred as the Viking war dog. Some stories suggest that the Vikings did occasionally use dogs in battle.
The Greeks and Romans were naturally known for using early mastiff types, the molossers, in war. Emperor Marcus Aurelius dressed the Canus Mollosus in mail armor and spiked collars.
We have at least one instance of heavy metal chain mail armor similar to what medieval knights wore. However, this was likely too heavy to be used often. Dogs generally wore a variation of leather plating covering their back and torso. One interesting example is an authenticated piece said to belong to a Japanese samurai’s dog during the Edo era. It is made from plated leather armor, silk, and hemp.
The conquistadors also protected their dogs in battle. They also seemed to rely on more lightweight cotton armor with a spiked dog collar.
Modern tactical dog harnesses are typically made from synthetic nylon. The aim is to make them as heavy-duty as possible. Dogs such as Cairo, the famous military canine that took part in capturing Osama bin Laden, most likely wore a bulletproof kevlar vest.
Other army vests can offer different degrees of combat protection, starting with basic stab-proofing.
But the main appeal of today’s tactical vest is that it is so durable and versatile that even a companion or civilian dog can benefit from it. So let’s consider whether a tactical harness is a good choice for you and your dog.
Should I Get My Dog a Tactical Harness?
Whether you should get your dog a tactical harness depends on what kind of activities you do with your dog. Three reasons to get a tactical harness are:
- For hunting and outdoor activities: these harnesses are heavy-duty and allow the dog to carry their own water and equipment.
- For service dogs: if you have any kind of service dog, it is helpful if they carry items such as a first-aid kit or medicines. This could be for search and rescue dogs. However, it is useful for other service dogs, such as diabetic alert dogs or allergy detection dogs, to carry medications with them for their owners.
- For military, police, or sporting dogs: naturally, tactical gear was first invented for these dogs. It is designed to give them maximum protection and to give the handler maximum control over their dogs in high-stress or difficult situations.
Other Benefits of Tactical Dog Harnesses
Carrying Essential Items
The MOLLE carrying system allows you to attach several items for your dog to carry. This could include:
- Water bottles
- Poop bags
- Food and treats
- Collapsible water bowls
- GPS trackers
- Medicine or a first aid kit
All of these are also handy for a service dog or even just if you enjoy going on long walks. Keep in mind that it’s essential to consider your dog’s size and health before you add too much weight to its harness. Smaller, sick, or old dogs will not be able to carry as much weight.
Carrying Items In their Harness Is A Great Challenge For Working Breeds
Most pet dog breeds are actually working breeds. Whether it’s the popular Husky, German Shepherd, Border Collie, or even a terrier such as the Jack Russell, these breeds thrive on having a job to do. If they aren’t given a job, they can often develop unwanted behaviors out of frustration.
Thus, using the MOLLE/PALS or hook and loop carrying system on a tactical harness helps challenge a working dog by satisfying its work drive. You may be surprised how seriously a German Shepherd or Rottweiler can take the job of carrying their own water bottles on a walk.
Additionally, the extra weight helps exhaust their energy levels, giving you a generally more manageable dog. So this is a good choice if you like taking your energetic dog for a run but need something extra to tire them out.
The third reason to consider a tactical harness for your dog is its durability. If you enjoy camping and hiking over rough terrain with your dog, you need a harness that goes the distance. A good tactical harness can withstand long hours of daily use in all kinds of weather without tearing, fraying, or having the stitching come undone.
Breathable mesh designs also help keep a dog cool while exercising and are essential to avoid heat stroke in hot environments.
However, suppose you and your dog are not excessively active and only take a walk around the block. In that case, you can explore other harness options, such as the step-in.
You can see this article to compare harness types for your dog.
Easy To Modify
A great aspect of these harnesses is that you can modify them with velcro morale patches, IDs, and other useful additions such as reflective strips to help with visibility in dim lighting.
What to Look For When Choosing a Tactical Dog Vest Harness
When deciding on a tactical harness for your dog, it’s helpful to know what to look for. So let’s look at some key aspects that make the best tactical dog harness.
Fabric & Stitching
Your tactical dog harness needs to be exceptionally tough. Look for a harness with breathable nylon webbing to ensure your dog does not overheat in warm environments. But check the denier count of the nylon. The higher the denier, the stronger the harness. So a good harness should have a 900D or above for maximum strength.
A good nylon mesh also helps keep the harness breathable and the dog cool, while padding on the chest, side, and back aids comfort and gives extra protection.
Also, make sure that your harness allows your dog to move freely.
Reinforced bar tack stitching on joints, straps, and attachments are essential to keep straps and attachments from breaking off.
PALS and MOLLE straps are what really make a tactical harness special. It means you can attach packs and pouches to the harness so your dog can carry various items, such as water, treats, or other essential gear. It also works for velcro patch holders where you can attach morale patches and ID.
These usually involve hook & loop panels that you can attach various patches or pouches to, as needed.
Buckles and Handles
A good tactical harness should use lightweight metal alloy or aluminum buckles. Ideally, these should be load tested. Plastic clips can break too easily. Also, avoid heavy metal buckles. These are fine for large dogs but can be too heavy for smaller breeds.
The harness should also have a carrying handle above the dog’s shoulders. You can grab this to give yourself more control over your dog when you need it or even to lift your dog over tricky terrain or in and out of a car.
You should be able to adjust all components to comfortably fit your dog’s particular size and shape. However, make sure you measure your dog to buy the correct size.
A good tactical harness should give you at least a couple of options for where to clip your leash. A standard clip should be on the back or shoulder area for a typical walking experience. However, if your dog is over-eager, a D-ring in the front should give you more control, allowing a “no-pull” option.
By clipping the leash onto the front ring, a pulling or yanking dog should cause themselves to pivot and face you. This helps you naturally curb pulling without resorting to punishments or being yanked off your feet.
A good tactical harness is not just for military and police dogs. It’s an excellent option for any service, hunting, and working dog. It even does well for active companions that may go hiking, camping, or even long runs and walks.
These exceptionally tough and durable harnesses should last years of wear and tear in harsh environments. They also allow plenty of customization with MOLLE systems for attaching patches, add-ons, and pouches for carrying extra items.
Forster, E. S. (1941). Dogs in Ancient Warfare. Greece & Rome, 10(30), 114–117. http://www.jstor.org/stable/641375
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.