From rappelling harnesses for dogs to behavior and safety tips – Here’s all you need to know about rappelling and climbing with a dog.
Rappelling by myself was difficult enough to learn. It involved many scruffs, the occasional fall, and a few sprains over the years. Fortunately, I didn’t hurt myself too bad while learning how to climb and to rappel, but I can only imagine how difficult it must have been if I also had my dog with me. Full disclosure: my dog (Dana) and I don’t rappel often, she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do. But we did attempt it a few times and achieved moderate to great success.
There are a few things that I wish I knew before I attempted to rappel with my best four-legged friend by my side, which is why I decided to write this post for all of you who are thinking about doing the same. Rappelling with a dog is a hugely rewarding and exciting experience if you ask me, but it’s also riskier and a bit more stressful depending on your (and your dog’s) experience level.
The dog rappelling harness – your most important piece of gear.
Rappelling with a dog is relatively straightforward: strap your pet into a high-quality dog rappelling harness and tandem rappel with it just like you would with an actual person. A heavy gear bag could work en-lieu of a dog harness, by clipping the dog into the same point on your harness as your device. However, I always went with a rappelling harness designed specifically for dogs, as that is definitely a more secure option in my humble opinion.
For rappelling, you can use a dog climbing harness, and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. There are a few that stand out, however, particularly the Ruffwear DoubleBack Harness for Dogs, and the FrontPet Heavy Duty Dog Lifting and Pulling Harness. I’m going to tell you a bit about both, and you can decide which one is best for you and your dog’s needs.
1. Ruffwear Doubleback, strength-rated dog rappelling harness.
The Ruffwear Doubleback is widely known in dog climbing and rappelling circles as the absolute best dog rappelling harness. Some would argue that Ruffwear is the only brand they’d choose for this kind of activity, and since the product was designed specifically to lift or lower a dog by rope, it’s easy to understand why. You could use more conventional harnesses in order to rappel with your dog, but people usually opt for safety and just invest in this proven and reliable solution.
When I say invest, I mean it. The Ruffwear Doubleback will set you back $125 right now, which is considerably more expensive than any conventional rappelling harness that I’ve tried. Many dog owners buy these harnesses because their pets suffer from a spinal injury, are ill, or are in need some extra support. Or maybe because they want to be able to carry them when they get tired. As you can see for yourself, this harness comes with a handle at the top, which makes carrying your dog around a walk in the park.
But back to the matter at hand, rappelling, the product is sturdy enough to support a weight of 2,000 lbf/8.9 kN. That’s more than enough for even the larger dogs out there. The harness has its primary tie-in point located at the center-back area, which allows for easy attachment. There are also several loops along the length of the harness for improved stability.
Other highlights include 7 points of adjustment, as well as anodized aluminum buckles. When it comes to comfort, the belly area is padded for extra support, while the leg loops provide equal load distribution. Just in case your dog needs some extra mobility, the leg loops can be easily tucked away.
There are four different sizes available for the Ruffwear Doubleback harness for dogs, namely X-Small, Small, Medium, and Large. For reference purposes, the medium variant measures in at 13.6 x 11.6 x 0.2 inches, and it weighs 1 pound.
2. FrontPet Heavy Duty Dog Lifting and Pulling Harness.
So maybe that dog harness above is a bit out of your pricing range. That’s ok because I’m giving you an alternative for nearly half the price, and I don’t think that this one is necessary lower quality. The FrontPet heavy duty dog lifting and pulling harness will set you back just $45, and it promises to deliver unrivaled safety and comfort. Full disclosure: I haven’t tried out this harness just yet because I’ve been satisfied with the Doubleback. I don’t take Dana rappelling too often either, so I haven’t felt the need to buy a new one.
However, I just had to include this product on my list because I just think it offers incredible value. This is also a double back harness, and it was also designed as a dog climbing and belay harness, which makes it ideal for rappelling. It has an adjustable frame, leg loops, and padded belly support, and it was put together using quality materials that have undergone strict safety testing. FrontPet says that the lace-back buckles and rope tie-in points were tested rigorously in order to ensure your pet’s safety.
Since it has a customizable fit, this dog harness will be adequate for body measurements ranging from 26.5 to 31.5 inches. There are two sizes available, namely Medium and Large (at the time of writing), and the product only comes in black, which should look just fine on pretty much any dog. There’s also a carrying handle at the top, which enhances practicality even more.
Overall, I can’t find any flaws with this harness, and I definitely can’t say that it lacks any features when compared to Ruffwear’s offering. At the end of the day, you decide how much you want to invest in a doggie rappelling harness. If I had to buy my first harness now, I’d probably go with the one that fits my dog best. I think both of these were designed with the utmost durability in mind, and I don’t think that any would snap under pressure.
Know your dog.
Dana is a Doberman, and she’s not afraid of heights, but it’s very important to know beforehand if your companion gets agitated or is generally terrified of heights. If that’s the case, I definitely don’t recommend putting your dog through this potentially traumatizing experience. Test out the field first, take your dog with you on a hiking trip, admire the view from the top together, and get a feel of what it thinks about heights.
Some dog breeds are better suited for rappelling than others, but not really as far as personality is concerned, but mostly in terms of overall fitness and toughness. Smaller breeds of dogs, although easier to rappel with from a weight perspective, might not possess the stamina required to see the trip through, but it all depends on how difficult your rappelling trip is anyway. For smaller hikes, climbs, and rappels, small dogs will probably cope just fine, and they’ll definitely enjoy being up there with you.
It’s always a good idea to start small and enjoy the modest victories before taking your dog on a proper rappelling trip. Always be prepared to end things quickly if your dog becomes agitated for whatever reason, and don’t push it too hard if it’s just not into it as much as you are. A well-raised and happy dog will trust you completely and will basically do anything with you, so if you think your dog fits the bill, you should definitely go ahead and give it a go.
General advice on how to rappel with a dog.
Like I said before, rappelling with a dog is not particularly complicated, nor does it have to be dangerous if you do everything right. However, when all’s said and done, pets can be unpredictable, even the ones that we think we know the best. It’s very important to be mindful of your pet while rappelling and keep a close eye on its reactions and “tells.” While a human is able to communicate easily if something’s wrong, your pet will have a more difficult time getting the message across, particularly if fear or anxiety kicks in.
Therefore, keep an eye on the dog’s body language during the descent. Watch the tail: if it’s wiggling, all is probably well, but if your dog tucks its tail between its legs, it’s likely that it is becoming frightened. Moreover, even if everything appears to be going according to plan, be prepared for unexpected hazards! A nearby bird flying a bit too close can potentially startle you both, and a stray rock falling from above can really put a wrench in your plans.
Of course, these things can happen even if you’re rappelling by yourself, but given the presence of your “passenger,” I’d recommend extra caution. That’s not to say that rappelling with your dog should be a stressful experience. Keep in mind that dogs pick up on your body language, and some of them are actually influenced by your mood and emotions. Reassure your pet as much as you can during the descent, and if you are truly enjoying yourself, your bond with it will ensure that it’s having a good time too.
Teaching a dog how to climb and rappel.
If you’ve decided to teach your dog how to rappel and climb with you for the first time, I think that I can help you out with some pointers. You won’t need a hire a professional trainer in order to achieve success, as long as you take things slow and enjoy the experience together. Dog climbing can be incredibly rewarding for both you and your pet, as long as you follow these simple steps.
- Don’t hesitate to leverage play – Different dogs have different attention spans, and some of them are more receptive to learning new tricks than others. If your dog is naturally attentive and loves to experience new things alongside you, then you can consider yourself very lucky. However, some dogs require frequent time-outs, so do remember to incorporate short but meaningful break/play sessions whenever you deem it necessary. Moreover, tasty treats can be incredibly useful on the trail, as they break boredom and anxiety. Bring some for you too while you’re at it. After all, the whole point is to do things together!
- Stay close at all times – If you and your dog have a close relationship, make sure to stay close by at all times in order to reassure and comfort it as much as possible. When you are rappelling, you can hold your dog on your lap or let it hang loosely by your feet. Depending on the level of trust that you two share, one choice might be better than the other. If you opt to hold your dog in your lap, your overall movement and flexibility will be limited. However, if the dog hangs below you, it will hit the ground first as you finish the rappel, and this can cause some balancing issues if the dog moves too much or gets a bit overly-excited when it reaches the ground.
- Survey the land beforehand – While you might wear a bunch of equipment designed to protect you from hazards, your dog might not have much else going on apart from a harness. Dogs are incredibly resilient creatures, and they’re able to adapt quickly to hazardous situations. However, slippery rocks are particularly dangerous for them, as they are simply not equipped to handle wet surfaces. Furthermore, unlike cats, dogs don’t always land on their feet, so a fall can quickly turn into a tragedy. Keep a close eye on the terrain, and generally avoid waterfall rappelling with your dog, or even rappelling during the rainy season.
Hopefully, this article has helped you get a better grip on what it actually means to rappel with a dog, what are the risks involved, and how you should go about it. I’ll say it again: even though it’s a bit more dangerous than rappelling alone, it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience for either of you.
My advice is to try it once and see how it goes. If you and your dog enjoyed it, then you’ll probably do it again many more times. If something goes wrong, however, it’s probably best to let your companion cheer you on from below or above, with a friend holding it’s leash to be on the safe side.
If you have any suggestions, critiques, or any wisdom to share from your own experiences, feel free to get in touch!
Until then, stay safe and enjoy the view!