Animals & Money: The perfect harness to help that old dog up the stairs

A while back I wrote about the growing market for special products to help senior dogs. Our pets are living longer and just like people they're spending more of their lives dealing with senior ailments. Pet suppliers are just now catching onto this trend and giving people the tools they need to help older dogs stay more active and comfortable.

Back in May I was still on a quest to find the most important piece of equipment for a senior dog -- or at least a senior dog who lives with stairs. That's a harness. As dogs get older, especially certain breeds and mixed breeds like shepherd or lab, they often lose muscle and nerves in their back end. (And these dogs, my vet tells me, don't suffer a lot of pain because they've lost some feeling.) Others have it worse with arthritis or hip dysplasia.

Whichever condition your dog has, odds are he's going to need help getting up the stairs.

Since May I've tried all the different kinds of harnesses. I'm sure each dog has his own preferences and special conditions, but here's what I found:
Ruffwear, which made its harness for hiking, makes the best harness around for helping your dog up the stairs. You won't find the Web Master Harness in many of the typical sources for senior dogs, though, because it's designed to help your dog over obstacles on hikes. The harness has fleece covered straps that go under the belly and a sturdy handle on the back. Even though the harness supports the front instead of the back, it's still a much more practical choice than any of the other mobility aides I tried. The $50 harness was by far the best option we've tried.

The $35 Bottoms-Up Leash appears to be the market leader. You'll find it in lots of places. I just didn't have any luck with it. The Bottoms-Up seems like it would be practical. It loops around the back legs. But my dog Jolly (who even tolerates wearing boots to protect his paws from salty sidewalks) wouldn't cooperate with it.

I really like the idea of the store and the concept of its $80 Mobility Brace, which has a harness which connects to and helps support loops around the back legs. But when my Jolly got into it, he kept falling over. Not only was it not helping him, it seemed to throw off his balance. Worse, the company don't give you a full refund. It has a policy that warns you that if return it with dog hair it will take money off. My dog wore it only once, I picked his hairs out of the fabric and Velcro with tweezers, and it still took a lot of money off.

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