When you're in the market to get a tactical harness or vest for your working dog there are a lot of options out there. Here are 4 areas to consider when evaluating which vest is best for your K9 partner.
1. Integrity of Craftsmanship- Just as in life, you’ll find a lot of posers out there that are pretending to be one thing, when in reality they are nothing more than a cheap shell. You’ve seen it before, the vein exploding arms, tatted sleeves, hat turned backwards, with some impressive facial hair acting as if he is a master K9 trainer with a pedigree of experience from several deployments with his MWD. In reality, he had a German Shepherd Dog when he was 11, and put on a bite suit for the first time at 28 and now he’s an expert on the anatomy and psychology of bite dynamics and conditioned response. Not so…Joe. The same holds true for the kit that your looking to buy for your working dog. Take a quick glance on eBay, or browse through Alibaba and look at all the “awesome” K9 tactical vests out there. They can look pretty similar, however they are certainly not made with the same integrity and attention to detail. The stitching, thread/cord thickness, textile quality, and most importantly your anchor points, handles, loops, etc. are critical for the safe handling of your K9. Do your research and ask questions.
In general, at Recon K9 we use a bare minimum safety factor of 7x with 100lbs being our benchmark dog weight (excessive, we know). This means that for any attachment point, be it a handle, a D-Ring, nylon webbing, it needs to withstand at least 7 (safety factor) x 100 (lbs benchmark), or 700lbs of pressure without popping stitches, or seeing visible damage to the product or seams. For our Operator and Dagger K9 tactical vests, those anchor points rate over 2,000lbs of pressure (we’re over achievers to say the least). If you’re about to rappel down the side of a 300ft rock face, do you go with the cheapest climbing harness or do you go with Petzl or Black Diamond, brands that have built their reputation on quality? Don’t risk having your dog break their vest potentially causing a live bite, or risking a catastrophic fall. Spend the dough, and be in the know.
2. Pinch/Wear Points- When fitting the dog, grab the dog by the available handles and lift them 5 to 7 inches off the ground. If the dog begins to “taco”, or fold up in the middle, then check to see if that bottom material is gouging the dog in the stomach. Ensure that any belly bands, or nylon webbing straps that go along the ribs of the dog aren’t rubbing the dog. Not only will this cause unnecessary pressure on the ribs, but it can cause hair breakage and skin rashes that could result in hot spots. Other critical areas to evaluate are the chest plate and if the vest includes a Swiss Seat or tail strap, how that cradles the dog. For the chest
area, make sure the vest has the ability to float back and forth so you can adjust for the barrel or girth of the dog’s chest and sternum. This is where all the force is being applied while tracking/trailing and when engaging in bite work. Your leash may be attached to the neck or the back of the vest, however that momentum is being driven into the chest. Ensure this area fits perfectly snug, yet flexible enough to go forward to backwards several inches before fixing it in place. The tail strap is another area for consideration. Dogs have a lot of nerve endings near their anus and the scrotum for male dogs. Some vests come with a tail strap or swiss seat that goes around the tail and then anchors back to the vest. If not careful, and not properly padded, this can cause undue pressure around the testicles and on the back of the hind legs near the anus that can create nerve damage in some K9s. At Recon K9, we took a page
from human climbing harnesses and made the swiss seat more independent, allowing the dog to rest on their hamstrings more than relying on those narrow nylon straps to tie back to the vest. This allows more maneuverability, relief from nerve impingement, and a more comfortable ride for the working dog.
3. Maneuverability- The great thing about ballistic K9 vests is that they have the potential to save your dog from being killed by a bullet. The bad thing about ballistic K9 vests are that they are often so heavy, so ill-fitting, that they slow your dog’s ability to be quick and nimble, making them an easier target. Perhaps the greatest tool your dog has is its ability to outrun, out jump, and out maneuver the bad guy. So if you encumber that, you are doing your dog a major injustice. Whether you’re evaluating a trailing harness, a tactical multi-purpose vest, or a ballistic K9 vest, make sure the leg circumference is such
that your dog has complete rotation and no material is rubbing against their shoulders. Make sure the undercut of the vest is such that they can still hinge at the back so as not to limit their ability to jump. Speed and the element of surprise is one of your best tools, make sure you have a vest that supports that and doesn’t hinder it.
4. Ancillary Attachments- Vests are meant to be a second skin for your working dog, adding lift points and control handles to allow you the handler to extend your command and control of the animal. They were never intended to be billboards, or glorified cargo pockets for all the coolest lights, and trinkets you can add to the dog. These only create visual and noise signatures that ultimately jeopardize your effectiveness. There are only a few critical pieces of equipment that could be considered necessary, those being a surveillance camera, like a TSE, a beacon with IR strobe and potentially visible light, and perhaps a hoisting strap or daisy chain. These are items that make sense to add to the dog. In special circumstances, there are other mission specific tools, like the magnetic retrieval system, the Sky Snapper, but by and large you want to keep your fur missile sleek and unencumbered. Recon K9 is working on a new vest called the DermalTac that takes this philosophy to the next level. The base vest is extremely lightweight and nimble, however it allows you to add those other components in a very quick and dynamic fashion.
Dogs are pretty damn perfect just the way God made them. So as a manufacturer, we need to ensure that what we put on top of that dog only accentuates their natural gifts and talents and hopefully extends their effectiveness in the field. To do this properly, you need to fully understand how you intend to use your animal, what their primary purpose is, and exactly what you need to get you both there. Get the right tools and don’t skimp for tacti-cool when you really need dynamic results that you and your K9 can bet your lives on.