Service Dog Equipment
Updated: Feb 8
There are so many different types of service dog equipment, but what’s the right one? Does it matter if you use a cape vs a vest? What’s a leash wrap? Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer a lot of your questions in this article. (And, remember, falsely presenting your dog as a service dog is a crime, so please only use service dog-specific equipment for real need.)
Note: Any equipment or companies linked are for example and your convenience, not necessarily endorsed by Doggy Stars.
A cape is one of the most common pieces of service dog equipment with a single strap around the front of the chest and one strap under the chest or belly (they can also come without the top strap so that they can attach directly to a harness). Generally made of a single layer of fabric (mesh, nylon, canvas, etc.), capes can be made to various lengths and to fit all sizes of dogs, from the smallest to the largest.
Often, capes are used so that there is a lot of space for various patches (e.g. “Service Dog,” “Do Not Pet,” etc.). They are also super-customizable and can come in just about any pattern or colors that are wanted.
A cape is generally fairly lightweight, is highly-customizable, and is generally fairly cheap. This makes them good for most any weather and for those who want really customized, personal, cheap gear for their service dog.
A vest is generally thicker than a cape, with one strap around the chest and one strap under the chest. They often come with either a handle and/or with D-rings that make it easy to add a handle or bags to the back or sides of the vest. Vests still tend to be fairly customizable with color, but they are generally more expensive than a cape and can fit strangely on some dogs.
Vests are best for those who want space for patches, some customizability, and the possibility of a handle and/or bags for their dog to carry things.
Harnesses can have a different shape than either the cape or the vest. They generally have a ‘y’ that rests on the chest, either made from straps or from cloth, and another strip that connects that ‘y’ to a strip that goes behind the front legs. They can be very minimal or can include a larger section very similar to a vest. Harnesses are generally made of nylon or leather, though there is still some variation and customization that can be done, especially if the harness has a large section along the back.
For dogs that have pulling, brace, or mobility tasks, an ergonomic, padded y-harness is the most commonly-used type of equipment. However, these kinds of tasks are currently becoming less supported by the training and veterinarian communities due to concerns for the dog’s health, especially if the dog is under a certain size.
A guide handle is a rigid handle that extends at a low angle across the dog’s back. Generally used for guide dogs that lead the blind, this handle is not appropriate for other mobility tasks.
These are semi-rigid or rigid handles that are clipped or built-in to the harness/vest. These handles are generally used when a dog has tasks that are mobility or balance-related, such as helping steady someone. These should never be used to pick up a dog or on dogs that are not physically mature.
These are a type of handle that are not rigid and can be very customized. They are often made of a braided cord and then attached to a harness/vest. These are best used for tasks that require forward momentum, such as leading their person to an exit.
A leash wrap is some cloth that slides onto a leash with words or pictures, such as “Service Dog” or “Do Not Pet.” While they are generally less noticeable than a vest, they are the cheapest option for when you just want something to signify that the dog is a service dog. You can get all kinds of colors and phrases, making these highly-customizable.
Patches can say just about anything and in any color(s). Many patches can even be customized to exactly what you want the patch to say. These are generally used on vests and capes to signify something to the public, such as “do not pet” or “working.”
Saddle bags are bags that will generally clip to a vest, though they are sometimes built into a harness. They can come in a variety of sizes from small pouches to larger bags that rest on either side of your dog.
Doggy Stars generally recommends against saddle bags simply because it is too easy to overpack and put too much weight on a dog’s back. Dogs are not made to carry weight across their backs, so any extras that the service dog carries must be carefully considered. The weight a dog can take varies with age, breed, and training. If you are going to put bags on your dog’s vest, please make sure to slowly increase the weight, training their muscles to take the extra weight a little at a time instead of all at once.