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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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!
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…
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!