It’s early evening in October, and I’m in the front yard with my Westie, Sally. She’s one year old and still facilitating between puppyhood and adolescence. Ever since I brought her home at four months, she has this annoying habit of yelling (barking) at humans and canines seconds after exiting the front door. She wants to make sure everyone knows this swath of grass is her space – cross the line, and there will be retribution. As we walk around the yard, we both spot a neighbor walking her Labrador. Sally and the chocolate Lab are the same age, and undeniably, the Lab is well behaved; much calmer, and dare I say, sweeter, than Sally.
Observing the neighbor’s body language – languid walk, a smile, and small wave, she seems inclined to greet us and engage in conversation. I’m unenthusiastic because even though Sally has gone to obedience classes, she doesn’t always display composure. ( So passers-by don’t witness Sally’s bluntness and temper, I’ve often tried to pretend not to see them and distract my Westie by pointing to birds. However, it feels rude.) Hesitantly, across the yard, we go to exchange greetings and sniffs. We have all met before, and so far, this second back-and-forth between humans and canines seems to be going well. But I know I can’t settle into a state of easy conversation – Sally is a terrier after all and one of the hardest Westies I’ve raised. She’s kept me on my toes since day one. And then it happens – just like that, regular dog/human communication ceases. Suddenly, the Labrador spooks Sally, and the game is afoot. Yelps splinter the air, and even though I’m holding firmly onto the leash, Sally performs a contorted Houdini act by the likes I’ve never seen before. Within seconds she’s out of her collar and running circles around the neighbor’s dog. Panic rises from my stomach until it reaches my throat and I yell her name and to STOP. I screech again in a stern voice, the neighbor freezes. Sally freezes. It feels as if the world freezes. Thankfully, she halts, and I quickly pull her up into my arms.
I live next to a semi-busy road and don’t have a fence. Sally isn’t a Westie that can go off-leash. Her hunting instincts are strong, and she will run like the wind at first sniff of, well, anything. With my heart beating fast, I say a quick goodbye and rush into the house. When I look back on that evening what always made me feel like a bad Westie owner (and I’ve owned one since I was 10) was that the neighbor said perhaps she shouldn’t have stopped to say hello. I told her the dustup wasn’t her fault and her Labrador simply had a calmer spirit than my terrier. Raising Sally will take up many posts here – that I’m sure. Sometimes we get a West Highland White Terrier in our lives with a firecracker spirit. Sally is one of them, and I knew it early on. That’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant for anyone else take her outside with a leash. Before exiting the front door, I make her sit, with a leash attached, and WAIT – I use my palm like a high five as the wait signal. Then I step outside onto the porch and survey the situation. Only when I say OK is she allowed to step out. She is now two, and this method has calmed much of her guarding instinct in the yard. The problem with letting a friend or family member take her outside is that they don’t always remember this obedience principle. It’s vital for a Westie with a keen hunting instinct to come from a semi-calm place before going outside. Also, it shows that humans exit the door first, not Westies.
But I digress. This particular evening of Sally’s dextrous, magician-like squirm out of her collar had me thinking about purchasing a harness. One minute she was in said collar, the next she’d maneuvered out, and it wasn’t loose. My previous Westie was much calmer than Sally, and at age ten she was diagnosed with diabetes. Thus, the preceding years I’d been used to caring for an ultra-calm Westie that didn’t even need a collar for bathroom breaks. But now I had a completely different specimen on my hands: a firecracker of a Westie. I have no shame in saying it’s taken nearly two years for us to see eye-to-eye, but more on that another time. We are both still a work in progress.
As many digital journeys begin, I turned to Google. Down the rabbit hole I flew, clicking and viewing harnesses on a myriad of sites. I knew I didn’t want your typical canine harness made of simply straps. With Sally’s keen sense of smell, she tends to pull on the leash and needed a harness with ample support around the back, lower torso, and chest. I soon discovered there are minimal strap harnesses and then on the opposite spectrum, ones that covered too much of the body. (Although I noted to keep these larges ones in the back of my mind for travel; many have handles sewn onto the top of the harness.) Oddly enough, there isn’t an abundance of canine harnesses somewhere in the middle: more fabric and support than traditional strap harnesses, but not the style that’s so over-the-top it looks like a bullet-proof vest and covers too much of the back. I do much of my Westie and human clothing shopping online. I’m usually ace at finding something fast, but hunting down a new harness proved more challenging. (I plan to write about my experiment last year where I shopped in a pet store vs. online and spent more money on products I didn’t need in a physical store.)
After two days searching online, I finally found one that checked off all the boxes. This harness appeared to have ample support, without covering too much of the body or appearing overly bulky. Zooming in on photos, I noticed both a Velcro and also snap clasp. Into the shopping cart the harness went, and within two days it conveniently landed on my doorstep. Previous years, I depended on various websites for many of my diabetic Westie’s supplies. From sourcing 6mm needs to ordering obscure supplements, and glucose reading strips, had the convenience of these sites not existed, I wouldn’t have been able to care for her in such a hands-on approach. I’m much indebted to the Internet in helping me over the years in caring for my Westies.
Out of the box, I immediately loved this new harness; and furthermore, it looked even better in person than online. With online shopping it’s often the other way around: A product looks absolutely amazing and well made in photos, but not in person. This time it was the opposite and thank goodness for that- I didn’t have time to order and return different styles. Sally was one year old and weighed in around 12.5 pounds and the medium size fit perfectly. I’m not a fan of Velcro; however, Velcro on the Voyager harness is thick and has an excellent grip. What I like even more, is the double security. Above the Velcro strap is another two small straps which clasp together and this is where you attach the leash through two d-rings. Even if the Velcro would come apart (after a year of using this harness in different colors, it’s never opened), it remains closed because of the top plastic clasp. It’s an easy step-in harness (front legs) that allows your Westie to tackle the world within seconds. Early, bleary-eyed mornings have never left me fumbling with the Voyager. Only make sure it’s positioned correctly on the floor before putting your Westie’s two front paws into the holes.
Voyager harness body is a dense, breathable fabric. It looks and feels like an industrial, thick matte nylon polyester. The backside is a durable fabric with no print, and the exposed topside is mesh. This fabrication is not your typical mesh used on wedding dresses or evening wear- it’s similar to an industrial honeycomb design. What I like is the fabric forms well with Sally’s body, but doesn’t seem to contain a high amount of stretch or Lycra. You know how sometimes jeans fit well and then at the end of the day they are baggy? That’s from too much stretch material. When I remove the Voyager harness at night, it never sags or resembles a stretched out pair of jeans. I like to let Sally’s skin breathe at night and don’t keep her in it 24/7. Black, industrial strength matte nylon trim the edges of the Voyager harness. I like that after a year of using these harnesses, none of the edges frayed- in fact, the colors Sally wears all still look brand new.
Rectangular reflector patches adorn each front side by the upper forearms.
Voyager Harness On the Westie
Sally wears her Voyager harness well. She wears it every day. The only time a collar goes on is when it rains, and I put her in a jacket. I’ve only had one incident that bothered me. At 12 months old, I took her to walk the grounds of a resort nearby. I went inside a building, and my brother held her onto the leash. Much barking ensued as she thought she would follow me inside. When I came back, she’d done another Houdini number, and her front left leg had come out of the designated hole. However, it only occurred a day after receiving the harness, and I hadn’t made the Velcro closure tight enough. Lesson learned. Even though she removed a leg from the harness, I was happy it still kept her secure.
I do notice the harness ruffles a small patch of fur on Sally’s back after a days wear. I strip Sally, and her top coat is coming in harsh, now and then a few of those hairs point in a different direction after removing the harness. It’s a minor inconvenience that’s easy to fix – I keep a slicker brush by the front door and merely brush her back every evening after she comes in from her last outside break before bed.
Often, the two d-rings clink together when she’s in the house running around. (She makes a race track ring around two rooms. Lots of running.) It’s an annoying sound if you are trying to concentrate and read. If I don’t know where she is, the d-rings are music to the ears – I can easily sleuth her.
Style-wise, I personally think she looks sharp and cute in it. She wears the harness, it doesn’t wear her. Obviously, as Westie owners, a good harness is for function and safety, but it’s an added bonus when they look stylish in them.
Here is Sally playing in her Voyager:
The Voyager is one of the best everyday Westie harnesses I’ve come across. I like the security of the chest design and its overall simplicity- step your Westie in velcro, snap, and you are set to go. It’s not an overly complicated design with straps to untangle or multiple clasps. Last year, the first color I ordered was pink. Shortly after the new harness arrived, I took her on a long road trip. She was still in the throes of adolescence and frankly scary on a leash if you weren’t used to Westies like this. (For the road trip, I also purchased a heavy duty harness for rest stops, etc. I’ll write more about that harness another time. It’s a great choice of travel harness for busy areas such as rest stops.) In the winter, I ordered a deep purple. I’ve collected several colors and often rotate them. I like all of the color choices available – they go from x-small to x-large. Sally is now 13.8 pounds and still fits into a size medium. Westies all vary in size and bone structure. Sally tends to be on the petite side.
Can you wash the harness? The simple answer is yes. Initially, I was reluctant as I didn’t want the velcro to soften or become damaged in the washer. After many wet, dewy mornings this summer, I noticed an odor on the harness. After going through a cycle in the washing machine, I let it dry outside in the sun; smell vanished, and Velcro was in excellent condition. I think it’s perfectly okay to wash them from time to time. However, I wouldn’t recommend making it a weekly chore. I do think over time the velcro may wear down with too many washes. And for extra precautions, you can place the harness in a garment bag before tossing into the washer.
Best of all, Sally has never broken free from her Voyager harness. (Knock wood she never does.) Now that her demeanor has somewhat calmed down, we socialize more with neighbors and their dogs walking by the yard; and best of all, I feel secure knowing she won’t Houdini her way out of the harness if fisticuffs arrive. (Fisticuffs of the canine variety.)
If you are inclined to try a new harness for your Westie, definitely check out the Voyager. And I can testify Sally has never overheated in this harness – it’s perfect for all weather and can be worn year-round. She’s never seemed the least bit uncomfortable or hot in a summer heatwave. Oh, and as camo prints are making a comeback, Voyager puts there own twist on the trend.