Choosing the right Vest for your Working Dog

"Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
- Winston Churchill
Choosing the right tool for any job is paramount to a successful outcome. Just as you would never deploy a teacup poodle to take down a barricaded subject, nor
should you choose to use an eBay tacti-cool vest to repel down a second story structure for a top-down window entry. While budgetary constraints must always be a factor in choosing the right canine gear for your deployments, you also need to consider the utilitarian "purpose of the purchase". What is your primary objective in outfitting your working dog? Simply to gain more control? Fast Roping? Tracking long distances? Floatation? Ballistic Protection? All of the above?
At Recon K9, we spend countless hours each year with law enforcement, federal agencies, as well as Tier 1 military teams to best understand how our products are being used, what is missing from the "must have" wants list, and how to ensure their durability. As such, we have created a line-up of products that fall into different categories that make a big difference to handlers for different reasons. Let's break those down below. Keep in mind, we're talking about Recon K9 products here directly, however the general categories of product types can apply to all manufacturers of K9 tactical equipment. 
Tactical MPC Vests-
These are the Swiss Army knives of canine tactical vests. These are full body vests that often encompass the neck, over the withers of the dog, and in front of their "junk" typically. They should be cut in such a way so as to not impede shoulder or hind leg rotation so that the canine can still climb stairs, jump fences, and run at top speed unencumbered. These vest should have secure anchor points to aid in hoisting, fast roping, repelling, etc. It's critical that you determine how these anchor points are sewn in as that can be a failure point. Also, what's the material of your anchor points, metal D-Rings or soft nylon loops? Keep in mind that metal D & V-rings create a noise signature when your snap hook or carabiner slide around it. At Recon K9 we use nylon, mil-spec rated webbing that goes the entire length of the Recon K9 Dagger Vestvest, so it's one continuous piece. The cording we use to secure those straps is also mil-spec rated and won't come undone...period. Note that your tactical vest is a daily wear vest and should not be confused with a ballistic or bulletproof vest. By the nature of ballistics, they are going to be heavier, more restrictive, and cut fuller than many tactical vests for the sole purpose of keeping your dog protected. You typically would not want to have a dog wear ballistics all day due to weight and heat fatigue. Take a close look at the hardware that is used to secure your vest together, is it a plastic fast tec style piece of hardware, i.e. side release, or is it metal and weight rated? For legitimate working dogs wearing a vest for bite work, or any aerial based applications, DO NOT USE PLASTIC. We currently use AustriAlpin Cobra buckles. While we do like these widely accepted buckles, they do rattle, so we cover them with neoprene silencer straps to eliminate the shake, rattle and roll effect. Next, what else does the vest include? Does it come with leg straps? Expansion panels? A way to carry the dog, be it up stairs, or due to an injury? How many handles does it have for the handler to grab and what's the orientation and material? For Recon K9, the answer is Yes, Yes, and Yes. However not every handler needs or expects those items, so it's a personal choice. While our vests do command a certain price, we ensure that you have everything you need to complete the ensemble so that you can get to work, regardless of what terrain or obstacles you face.
Recon K9 Offerings in MPC Tactical Vests: The Dagger & The Operator 
Tracking/Trailing Harnesses & Vests-
Just as the name suggests, these harnesses are primarily used for tracking, trailing, and general control of your working dog. The advantages to these vests and harnesses are that they are typically lighter than a multi-purpose canine vest, and are cut slimmer with less material. These can be traditional leather, Cordura type materials, or basic nylon webbing. You would not typically do rope work with these types of vests, as they are more suitable for linear tracking and trailing type applications. One thing to evaluate on many of these over the head harnesses, where there is a strap that goes around the dog's neck is the angle of that strap. Lesser models will have a straight across strap, that when pressure is applied to the harness from a back-tie, it will apply pressure to the dogs' trachea causing the dog to gasp and choke out. At Recon K9, we downcast our chest strap at a 20 degree angle to help eliminate that pressure, while also incorporating a removable padded chest plate that helps off-set where that stress is applied. Unlike with many of the tactical full bodied vests that are often used for more stealth applications, the
tracking harnesses can be bright with Hi-Viz markings to support Search & Rescue (SAR) operations.  Recon K9 also included a tactical toggle on all our vests and harnesses that allow the handler to add a beacon, IR, or other strobe to their vests for visibility and accountability purposes.
Recon K9 Offerings for Tracking/Trailing Harnesses:
Canine Floatation Devices-
Just like with their human counterparts, working dogs often find themselves in or around the wet stuff. As such, it's important that you provide your K9 with the proper tools, or in this case a floatation device to help ensure their success when going into the "drink". There are two primary reasons for a handler to consider getting a CFD while engaging their K9's in water based missions, 1) Safety & 2) Performance. First, water can be disorienting for most dogs, regardless of how many training sessions they have encountered in water. It requires a good amount of cardio exertion which depletes your dog's ability to remain on task. By providing your dog that extra layer of buoyancy it prevents their heads from dipping below the surface and taking in a bunch of water that can cause choking, panic, and with enough salt water some serious gastrointestinal issues. Secondly is performance. Yes, there are many dogs where their stamina and physical conditioning can keep them treading water for some time, but why do you want to burn energy doing that? Save your dogs energy by helping give them security with a snug, well-fit CFD allowing them focus on the task at hand. Further, as a handler this allows you a better opportunity to grab the dog to hoist into a boat, or onto dry land through the use of an integrated handle. There are two types of canine floatation vest, inflatable and solid state (closed-cell foam). Inflatable vests, be them oral or auto inflate are good in that they can remain very form fitting until you need to deploy them. In close quarters, I could see this as a benefit. A handler could easily float a dog with a minimal amount of breaths through an oral inflation tube. The second, and in our opinion more practical application is using solid state or closed cell foam. This eliminates any concern around puncturing a bladder or having one burst due to over-inflation. These can be applied directly over the Dagger or Operator, even when using a camera system. They are easy to dawn on and off, while providing a floating center handle for quick canine manipulation. Even if your K9 doesn't engage in regular water based missions, consider a CFD to aid in training, and their overall conditioning program. Water is a great way to rehab injured limbs, build stamina, and create better environmental acceptance. These vests are also wonderful for SAR applications as well.
Recon K9 CFD Offering: The Recon Canine Floatation Device