A grey standard poodle lays on the floor of spectator seating benches of an empty arena. He is wearing a black Bridgeport mobility harness.

There are a variety of options when it comes to service dog gear. It is usually easy to spot working animals with identifiable capes and patches that say “Service Dog”, “Service Dog in Training” or similar forms of identification.

What’s the difference between gear, and what do service dogs need?

That answer lies in the same pile that so many questions are lumped into: it depends on each scenario.

The very basic, legal answer for qualified teams approved by the province of Alberta is: nothing. If a dog is certified and the team has their government issued certification identification, the dog does not need to be visually labelled. The government authorities request that something is used to identify the dog as a working animal. This serves to reduce problems for the team, as well as provide a visual indicator for businesses and members of the public to know how to act. Other than the preference that the dog be easily identified as a working animal, there are no other guidelines or requirements for service dog gear.

The photo depicts a black giant schnauzer standing. She has a simple red cape indicating that she is a service dog.A straight forward visual cue can prevent problems from the start. A cape is the most common visual ID. It is a piece of fabric the dog wears over its back and straps under the belly. The cape generally serves no purpose other than to give a visual cue that the dog is a working animal. This can be a simple single layer design, pockets may be added, or custom designs and patterns can be made to personalize it to the team.

A more basic option for some people may be a leash wrap. This is a simple piece of fabric that can be embroidered or silk screened with the desired message that simply wraps around the leash. Limited options are available for these at pet stores. They are usually made by handcrafters or made by special request.


A grey standard poodle lays in the aisle of the spectator area of an empty arena. He is wearing a black Bridgeport mobility harness.Harnesses are another option handlers use. These are commonly seen on service dogs in a variety of colors, patterns and styles. Sometimes they are used for visual preference, but some have more purpose. These harnesses can be accessorized with pull and guide handles for the handlers to hold onto. They can be used to help pull wheelchairs, pull a handler up from a seated position, to guide a handler who has dissociated or as a tactile stimulus to keep a handler focused or grounded. Reinforced handles can also be used for balance and counter-balance mobility work.

Harnesses typically come in two main variations: H-front (or straight-front) and y-front. Some dogs may be more aversive to one type of harness but tolerate the other well. Straight front harnesses are prone to riding too high, restricting movement of the dog’s shoulders and impeding its natural gait. They can be difficult to fit in a way that it doesn’t restrict movement since it has a strap that goes across the chest and adjustments are minimal. Y-front harness are usually more adjustable and can be fit better to a dog’s specific shape and size. They also allow full range of movement in the dog’s shoulders and offer more comfort for prolonged down-stays.

Photo shows a yellow Labrador retriever next to his handler with his tongue out in a happy looking grin. He is wearing a tan colored straight-front harness.The importance of a proper harness fit cannot be stressed enough if the dog is performing mobility work. An improperly fitted harness can result in weight distribution to the wrong places and can have detrimental consequences to the health of the dog. It is important to work with a professional and your veterinarian to ensure the dog is capable of mobility work and that the gear used is appropriate to ensure the health and safety of both the handler and the dog. Many hand crafters have made stunning and lovely harnesses. Despite best intentions, however, they do not always have the skill required to ensure proper fit and weight distribution, which can result in harm.

A note on personalized gear

It is very temping for handlers to get patterned and personalized gear for their dogs. It can, after all, be a fun way to express one’s self. It’s important to remember that while these brightly colored options grab the attention of the public, sometimes the intended message is lost. When there is too much to see, details often get lost and people will only see that there is a dog wearing a harness. They often do not see the working cues. In the world of advertising, for example, short messages often have a larger impact because it is easier to remember and drives the point home immediately. It’s for this reason that we feel that less is more. A basic cape or harness with simple messages have been our preferred approach. It may not be as much fun, but unfortunately, the fun-looking gear often encourages unwanted attention.

This information posted here is for the province of Alberta in Canada. Please make sure to check the regulations in your province or territory, as they may be different than those outlined here