8 Reasons Why We Love The Help ‘Em Up Harness

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When we first moved aboard Mary Christine two years ago, it was an immediate challenge to safely get our biggest dog on and off the boat. For the first few months we lived at the dock which was relatively easy to help him in and out. We knew, however, that dock life wouldn’t last long and sooner or later we were going to have to figure out how to get all 75 lbs of him down into the dinghy and again back up from the dinghy while floating around at anchor.

Gunner was 12 at the time and we could already tell he was having trouble jumping as well as he used to in his younger years. Getting up onto the bed was harder for him and we knew it would only get worse as time went on. Luckily, I remembered a special harness my Grandmother had found years before while researching slings and lifting tools for her sweet little dachshund, Sophie, who’s back end had been paralyzed.

Blue Dog Designs makes a special patented hip lift harness called Help ‘Em Up with a front end handle and removable back end handle with two different styles for males and females. I determined from their sizing chart that Gunner would need a large and even though Betsy was still pretty young and agile, I ordered her a medium. I knew Betsy didn’t really need to wear a harness all the time, and she definitely didn’t have any mobility issues, but we decided that having some extra ‘hand-holds’ on her while under way would be very helpful.

The very minute we received them in the mail, Gunner began wearing the front half of the harness 24/7. We unclip the back half when not in use to prevent any chafe or discomfort while he is sleeping and moving around throughout the day.

These harnesses are definitely not cheap, running an average price of around $100 each but they are absolutely worth their weight in gold!! This harness is the single most necessary item I could ever recommend for anyone with large dog on a boat, or for any dog with mobility issues. Though Blue Dog Designs sponsored us with a small discount to write an honest review, I don’t receive any compensation for recommending this product.  I am so forever grateful for what it has done for us that I feel it’s my duty to spread the word to anyone that may also want to give their dog a little ‘help up’!

Here are 8 reasons why we love the Help ’em up Harness:

1. THEY’RE BREATHABLE

We live in the tropics where the hot sun is always beating down on us. I needed a solution for Gunner and Betsy that would cover the smallest amount of surface area on their bodies, yet still have all the proper supports. This design has neoprene pads lined with air flow material, allowing our babies to wear the full harness yet not be too hot.

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2. ALL MATERIALS ARE MARINE GRADE

Living on a boat in the marine air makes everything susceptible to corrosion. I was a bit concerned on how long the harness would last in this environment but after two years of hard use, there is no sign of deterioration. The stainless steel is marine grade and all the stitching is very durable. The straps and fasteners are high quality. You get what you pay for, and when you live on a boat this is very important!

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3. CAREFULLY DESIGNED SUPPORT POINTS

The adjustable nylon straps allow for a perfect fit. The edging on the pads are made with micro fleece and the pads themselves are made of neoprene. The straps are covered with neoprene sleeves to protect against chafe. The pelvic pad under the hip lift is adjustable and very soft. The support points are designed to distribute the weight perfectly and with gentle pads in all the right places, eliminating stress on joints in a comfortable and non-invasive way.

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4. OKAY FOR LONG-TERM USE

Although it’s best to remove the hip lift part of the harness at night or whenever possible to avoid chafe or discomfort, it is totally safe to leave it on as well. Our dogs like to curl up in a ball to get cozy and the straps do pull a bit differently when they are laying down but they never seem to be uncomfortable.

“What makes this dog harness truly unique is it’s designed to stay on your dog for extended periods of time. Unlike towels, slings or leashes that need to be rigged with each use, or ramps that have to be moved or adjusted, our harness is right at hand, whenever you need it. We believe if support isn’t there when your dog needs it, it’s just too late.” -Blue Dog Designs

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5. SAFETY IS KEY

Just like kids, pets are fast, wiggly, and they are often just out of reach. With the Help ‘Em Up Harness, they think they are out of reach but you have an extra handle to grab at the last second keeping them safe! Extra handles are important on a boat because we’re always in motion. The dogs have pretty good balance but there’s always a chance of an unexpected wave to send them flying. This harness is perfect for a little extra piece of mind.

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6. TRICKY LIFTING

Whether it’s getting the dogs over the lifelines to go swimming or to get on and off a dock, two handles are better than one! We’ve used the harnesses in some precarious places.

Also on a safety note, if our dogs were to fall overboard, we would be able to safely lift them back on board with this harness. It wouldn’t slip off like a traditional harness might, injuring them in the process. Gunner has slipped off the dock twice in the last two years and luckily he was wearing his harness so we had something to grab onto getting him out of the water. Bad things can happen and it’s always best to be prepared.

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One of the most important reasons it’s imperative that we have one of these for Gunner is to get him on and off the boat. It’s what everyone wants to know . Lifting a 75 lb dog on and off of a sailboat is ‘tricky’ to say the least.

Betsy doesn’t have any trouble jumping straight from the dinghy up on the deck of our boat all by herself, however she is almost 9 years old and sooner or later that big jump will be difficult for her. When that time comes, this is how we will Help Her Up:

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Gunner thinks he can make the jump still, but in reality there is no way that could ever happen anymore. At 14 years old, his back legs just don’t work. The key is that he actually wants to get up on the boat (or down into the dinghy) which helps tremendously. He initiates the process with a little forward momentum and gets his front legs up on the tube of the dinghy.

I can’t quite reach the main handle on the front half of his harness so I just grab the side of it instead. For this maneuver, it’s fine, though not ideal for all lifts. Peter lifts the rear handle and scoops him up on deck. The back end isn’t any more difficult than the front end, thanks to this harness. I swear it’s magic how weightless they feel when you use the hip lift!

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7. LESS PHYSICAL STRESS – for us and the dogs!

The dogs don’t hurt themselves trying to jump on their own, but most importantly we don’t throw our backs out trying to lift the dogs. Before Gunner started wearing the Help ‘Em Up harness, I would bend over, slip my arm under his belly, and hoist him up on the bed. It became a painful process for me trying to get all 75 lbs of him up off the floor. At the time we still had a Toyota 4-Runner and getting him into the back of the truck was just as hard on my lower back.

With the hip lift, I can remain upright as I give him a little boost. I can’t even find the right words to describe how much of a difference it makes, but it’s a night and day difference for sure.

8. RANGE OF MOTION

No doubt, we have an active lifestyle. Our dogs are active and they go everywhere with us. Though Gunner’s mobility issues from old age have recently limited his activity level, he still likes going on adventures. Even small ones.

Our first two years have been filled with many trips to the beach to go swimming or exploration missions on a new island. It’s wonderful that our dogs can wear the Help ‘Em Up harness during all of their regular activities without it getting in the way or being a nuisance at all. They both have very tolerant personalities but if it were uncomfortable in the slightest, they would both be trying to chew it off. I’ve always noticed a complete range of motion while they have the harnesses on which is reassuring to me that I’m not forcing them to wear something they don’t like.

In fact, the harness does much more than protect their regular range of motion. It actually increases the range of motion for Gunner! Within the last few months he has gotten to a point where he cannot walk more than a few steps without his back legs giving out and folding under him. The degenerative neurological damage that has affected him has made it so that he can only walk normally if I am carrying his back legs with the hip lift when we go for a walk. He tires quickly but as soon as I give a little lift, his front end speeds up as if he knows he isn’t being held back anymore. He can practically run faster than I can if I’m holding the hip lift. Without the harness, my heart breaks watching him try to go explore the nearby bushes and grass.

It was just a few months ago he could run wild down the beach on his own…

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It’s so hard for me to describe the miracles that these harnesses have created for us. We’ve been able to safely and comfortably bring our dogs wherever we go as we travel around the Caribbean Where The Coconuts Grow!

Be sure to check out Help ‘Em Up by Blue Dog Designs, or contact me for more questions!

22 comments

  1. I loved reading this post and I loved the pictures…well, okaye, I love reading all your posts and love looking at all your pictures. This one just resonated more since my heart dog had mobility issues and I know how happy it made me to be able to help her. Continued prayers for Gunnar.

  2. Katie says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I have two spaniels, one medium sized, Dave and little Bill who is a wriggler extraordinaire! Currently they have full dog life jackets that are too big, heavy, hot and uncomfortable, plus we only really want them for the handles. Fingers crossed Blue Dog Designs ship to to England.

    • Pamela says:

      Hi Katie,we live in the UK and got our help-em-up Harness from orthopets Europe online . It has been and continues to be a godsend for Our lovely 13 year old 36 kilo Mongrel, Denzil who had a cruciate ligament go and arthritis in all legs. and now lacks confidence hopping down steps in our living room,with this on we reasurre him by standing beside him and lightly holding the handles I am 5 foot and small framed but find this really takes the strain for lifting him in and out the car and up and down deep steps he cannot qiute manage in our garden. He also has hydrotherapy and its great in the pool room for holding him up ,when he is tired after a swimming session for his therapist to dry his tummy and underneath as its is made with neoprene. Orthopets Europe were helpful with our question about measuring him ( as he is a funny shape mongrel) the device had to be measured seperately back and front (it comes apart handily so you can use front or back or both together) the delivery time was quick too. best of luck getting one for your lovely furbabies . Cheers , Pamela .

  3. Mary Mishler says:

    Thanks so much for your post! We are headed back to our sailboat in Mexico and was concerned how our almost 12 year old Border Collie would do given the recent onset of arthritis. She has been an amazing boat dog and I can’t imagine not having her with us on the boat. This post with its perfect timing gives us hope ! Thanks ??

  4. Jeanne says:

    Great article, Wonderful Pictures! Love, love, love! Please give Gunner and Betsy big hugs and lots of kisses for me. They are living the life. I miss you all. Love, Bean

  5. Byn Always says:

    Thanks for sharing! We’ll be taking two of our dogs with us when we move onto the boat next month. I was just trying to research harnesses and the like this week, so this is great timing! Gorgeous puppies, by the way ;)

  6. Thanks for this perfectly timed post! I purchased a Help Em Up harness for my 12 year old lab after reading about it on your blog. We use it to help him get down the ramp from cockpit to salon (since he started refusing to go down on his own a few months ago). We specifically planned this weekend to practice using the harness to get Louie in and out of the dinghy (he used to jump). And ta da…there shows up this post with great pictures to show us how! Thank you!

  7. Kendra Marra says:

    Thank you for such a detailed review. I have a question completely off topic.. How do you handle your dogs potty needs while on board? I’m not too far off from living full time on my boyfriends sailboat.

    • Hi Kendra,
      We’ve trained our dogs to go potty on a piece of fake grass that is attached to green paracord on our lifelines. We use a bucket of salt water to rinse the pee down, then rinse it with fresh water so they don’t track salt water into the boat. Feel free to go to our ‘contact’ page to send us an email with any other questions :) I’m happy to help!

  8. To our Friends at Where the Coconuts Grow!: Jody, Peter, Gunner & Betsy: WOW: Thank you so much for sharing your story, your review and incredible photos of you all and the Help ‘Em Up Harness in action with your readers! We thought the harness would be of help as well to all the Boaters who take their canine sailors along and need to get them back in the boat – especially when lifting their hind-quarters. Most of our customers use the harness with their aging dogs and its nice to see it has other uses too! Thank you! So fun to see your pups running and swimming with it on. We really appreciate the 8 points you featured and wanted to pass along to your readers that Yes, we ship all over the world! We are happy to help in any way. We invented our harness for our 12-year old lab mix Blue years ago (who suffered from cushings) and are very touched that her legacy lives on by helping other dogs and their owners all around. Safe travels Jody to you and Peter, and all our best to your fur kids! Thank you for all you do. Cheers, and as we say around Blue Dog headquarters: “Long live dogs!” Best regards, Lindsey & Cary, Blue Dog Designs, makers of the Help ‘Em Up Harness.

  9. Betsi Hill says:

    Hi Jody ~ the timeliness of this post for us is great – we are looking for new harnesses for our furries – a 40# kelpie and a 14# shitzu. Thanks for the review! Just curious how you handle sailing with the dogs into various ports. No problem for us in the Bahamas but when we leave the Bahamas and head for the Dominican Republic, then how do you handle the check-in with customs and not have to deal with quarantine for your pups? Thanks!

    • Hi Betsi! I’m so glad you’ll be able to try them!
      When we left the Bahamas we did not stop in Turks and Caicos. That place is a nightmare for importing dogs and we wanted to skip it all together. When you get to the DR it’s a piece of cake! I believe they just wanted to see your international health certificate (which you already have from your entrance to the Bahamas). No fees, no hassle.

      Beyond that is Puerto Rico. We are US citizens so it was no issue at all. They didn’t ask about pets at all. Heading East, we were already checked into the US before we arrived at USVI so that was no issue either.
      BVI is next and that’s where it’s a hassle. I highly recommend taking your dog into Imperial Animal Hospital near Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. Dr. Boden is very knowledgeable about the requirements – what you need and what you don’t based on the condition of your pets. He will give you all the info you need and help get the paperwork processed if you choose to take your dogs to BVI or any other British or Dutch country down island. For those countries you will need a USDA certified health certificate with a Titer test and a bunch of other vaccines. The actual import permits are not difficult, its just the cost and time required for getting the titer. Plan to give yourself a few weeks for this.

      The French countries and Grenada are the only places down island that do not care at all if you have pets – no requirements necessary at all.

      If you have any other questions I’m happy to help answer! Just send us an email through the contact form on our website :)
      All the best,
      Jody

      • Betsi Hill says:

        Jody thanks so much!! Also on a side note – I really gained a lot of insight on your post regarding insurance – I have contacted Pegasus and will be filling out the web form for a quote. Lots of great info!!

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