We get a lot of questions about what vest will be right for any one handler and their K9? That's akin to asking someone what clothes will be best for your workday? Well, let's unpack that a little bit. What type of work do you do? The needs of someone who sits behind a desk hacking out code is going to be a lot different than someone who is working construction as a framer. In either case, we can put clothes on your body that will cover your bits and pieces, but they will hardly help you excel at your job. The same certainly holds true for your working dog as well. In order to know what you need, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
1) Ballistic or Non-Ballistic: Often times when the uninitiated think about LE or Military vests for dogs, they instantly go to ballistics, or bullet-proof vests. These certainly have their place and serve a truly valuable purpose, however with that come some factors that need to be considered. For example, weight. Ballistic vests often weight from 5lb-8lbs depending on manufacturer and protection level. In hot environments, this can cause a dog to overheat over extended periods of time which can lead to lethargy or more dire situations including death if a handler fails to see the warning signs. Ballistic vests also have more coverage for protection purposes so this may lead to a loss of dexterity or range of motion. Where K9 ballistic vests become invaluable would be for when you must send a dog into a threatening situation, a barricaded subject, or for an incarcerated subject when contraband may be used to injure the dog. Non-ballistic vests are meant to serve more as a Swiss army knife for the dog. Many vests allow for single, double, or even triple handle orientations that will allow a handler to pick up, assist, or navigate a dog through various obstacles, such as over fences, down crawl spaces or tunnels, etc. Often molle is incorporated into the vest to mount various accessories like lighting, saddle bags, med kits, etc. So define your intention for the vest and begin there. Often times, handlers will have two vests for both purposes.
2) Single or Multi-Purpose: The second most important factor to consider is how your K9 is going to operate in the vest and what's the ultimate purpose. If you have a single purpose dog doing odor work, then a tracking/trailing harness may be just the ticket. These often have a single handle for control purposes (Sentinel tracking harness), a strong metal or fabric loop for attaching your lead, and a streamlined silhouette that allows for maximum freedom and agility, while minimizing material that may overheat the animal. For a multi-purpose dog where the scenarios and environments are constantly in flux, having a vest that will allow for hoisting, carrying, non-metal attachment points for a more stealth approach may be the ticket. Tactical vests like the Operator or Dagger have more body to the vest that will hold up better under tension and over extreme terrain both urban and off-grid.
3) Visibility: Again, much like the construction worker mentioned above there can be a need for high visibility for safety reasons. If your K9 is involved with SAR (Search and Rescue) work, then a high viz, ANSE Orange vest would be a smart
choice. This allows you as the handler to have better visuals of your working dog, while also helping to draw attention to your K9 against dense, dark, or obscure terrain which is often the case in SAR situations. On the other had, if your K9 is working in a more tactical capacity, then a subdued color that fits your terrain would be a more appropriate choice. While black is an extremely popular color choice, consider your environment to see if it's a good fit. If where you operate gets tons of direct sun exposure and humid temperatures , you'll want to ensure your MPC doesn't get smoked by heat exhaustion. Lighter colors like coyote, multi-cam, or even a ranger green may help eliminate some of the heat absorption that black can cause.
Most manufacturers will offer different models for different situations. At Recon K9 we have many options available to ensure we provide you with the best solution for the job at hand. If we don't have it, then let us know your needs and we'll listen with open ears.