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When my husband and I adopted a 45-pound husky-shepherd (we think?) mix from our local shelter, I was excited about gaining a four-legged running buddy who could accompany me into the mountains around our home in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I also thought an eager pup, who we named Wheeler after New Mexico’s highest peak, would keep me accountable for my early morning runs before work, especially during the dark and cold winter months.
My first run with Wheeler, using a standard hand-held leash on loan from the animal shelter, was uncomfortable. I couldn’t swing my arms normally, which resulted in the rest of my form falling apart. I was also worried that we’d encounter a deer and he’d wriggle right out of his collar in hot pursuit. Thinking that a hands-free leash might allow for more natural movement and a harness might offer more control (and less strain on Wheeler’s neck), I started looking into different options. Turns out there are a lot, and for the most part, they’re all really nice, high-quality products. Here are five of my favorites.
Best for keeping it simple:
Tuff Mutt Hands Free Bungee Leash ($29)
- Pros: The leash—which is 48 inches long but can stretch to 60 inches—is attached to the waist belt with a simple clip that slides as the dog moves, so the dog can make a circle around you without moving the waist band. No chafing, no shirt bunching, no readjusting necessary! Handholds near the top and bottom of the leash are helpful when you need to reign in the pup at a traffic light, and reflective stitching on both sides of the leash and waist band glows when light hits it at night.
- Cons: This leash uses hardware that’s a tad heavier than other brands’ models. As a result, there’s a slight pull where the leash attaches to the waistband and a little more jingling as you run.
- Pair it with: The Tuff Mutt Adventure Dog Harness ($35) has large, easy-to-use buckles and reflective stitching on the straps, which are adjustable to accommodate any shape and size of dog.
Best for carrying a lot of stuff:
Ruffwear’s Trail Runner System ($70)
- Pros: The Trail Runner System consists of a slightly padded waist belt and a thin leash that stretches up to six feet. The leash attachment slides through the top loop of the leash to allow your dog to run from side to side in front of you without affecting the placement of the belt . The pocket on the belt is a handy place to store treats, keys, poop bags, and a phone. The belt has a built-in water bottle holder and comes with a 21-ounce water bottle.
- Cons: There’s no elastic in this belt, so you really have to cinch it down if you don’t want it to move. If you’re not running with water, the water bottle holder adds unnecessary bulk. And although the leash provides tension, it isn’t as substantial as some of the others tested here, so perhaps it’s best for smaller dogs or dogs that don’t pull too much. I’ve also wished it had a handle down near the collar clip so that I could have a little more control at times.
- Pair it with: Once it’s fitted correctly, Ruffwear’s Front Range Harness ($40) is so easy on, easy off that you’ll end up using it all the time, not just for running.
Best for no back pain:
Kurgo’s K9 Extension Running Belt ($37)
- Pros: The elastic waistband stretches comfortably around the waist for a secure but comfortable fit that doesn’t dig into your lower pack if your pup starts to pull. Leash clips to the left and right of the buckle work well if your pup prefers to run on a specific side, or if you’re running with two pups. (Note that this belt does not come with a leash, but it can accommodate most leashes.) The parallelogram shape of the zippered pouch is tricky for larger phone sizes but does work well for treats and poop bags.
- Cons: This belt comes with a 12-ounce water bottle, which isn’t quite enough water for a person and dog to share on a hot run. But it’s enough that the holder adds some bulk to the harness if you run sans water.
- Pair it with: The Kurgo Journey Air Dog Harness ($53) features lightweight buckles and a breathable, slightly-padded chest plate. It also has a back handle that’s useful for assisting your pup over a fallen tree on the trail or into the car after an exhausting run.
Best for running in the dark:
Stunt Puppy’s Go Dog Glo Stunt Runner Leash ($48)
- Pros: Shine a light on this set up at night, and you and your pup will definitely be seen from a distance—the entire leash and waistband are covered in reflective stitching. The waistband is adjustable to accommodate runners of all sizes or as many layers as you want to pile on. The lower part of the leash is static and can be adjusted in length while the upper, bungee part of the leash absorbs tension from eager pups. The hardware on this leash is so light that it’s hardly noticeable during a run.
- Cons: Although Stunt Puppy says the “floating D-ring on the waist belt keeps your dog in the sweet spot without tugging on the waist belt,” my experience was that the dog actually determines the position of the D ring, which results in the wait belt spinning and tugging, depending on the dog’s direction and momentum.
- Pair it with: The entire chest portion of the super-lightweight Go Dog Glo Harness ($45) is reflective, as is the stitching on the straps. The martingale-style leash attachment on the top of the harness tightens—just a bit—if a dog pulls, signaling to the dog that it’s time to settle down.
Best for a budget:
Black Rhino Hands-free Leash ($20)
- Pros: Don’t let the low-price points fool you, Black Rhino products are as solid as any others reviewed here. The two-part leash features an adjustable belt and a separate, adjustable leash that can be clipped on. In between the leash’s two neoprene-padded handles (one at either end), is a thick bungee section that absorbs tension from a pulling pup.
- Cons: Weighing in at 1.25 pounds, this leash-harness set up is substantially heavier than any other reviewed here (the others weigh about a pound or less).
- Pair it with: The padded Black Rhino Comfort Harness ($23) is covered in lightweight mesh breathable fabric that allows moisture to evaporate quickly. It comes in a variety of bright colors that are fun for daytime use, and reflective details are helpful for runs in the dark.
These great products—especially the reflective ones—might help keep your pup safe on the run, but don’t forget to keep him or her safe on the drive to the run. I started researching crates for the car and quickly settled on:
Gunner Kennels G1 ($350–$700, depending on size). Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also the only pet travel crate that’s earned a five-star Crash Test rating. In other words, it’s the only crate out that that will keep a 60-pound dog from becoming 2,700-pounds of projectile if you get into an accident at 35 mph. Definitely worth it if you want to keep your favorite running buddy safe.