Rappelling with your Dog

Want to take your puppy everywhere you go? Me too. Diva and I have rappelled together many times, in all seasons. She’s even been ziplining! Through a process of trial and error, we’ve developed the following technique:

What you’ll need:

  1. Strength-rated harness for dogs (we use the Ruffwear Doubleback dog harness)
  2. Belay device with safety backup (we use a grigri, although you could use an ATC + autoblock)
  3. PAS (any webbing chain, or even a long sling knotted in the middle would do. DO NOT use a daisy chain – READ THIS to find out why daisy chains are only appropriate for aid climbing.)
  4. Two locking carabiners
  5. Rope (long enough to reach wherever you want to go)
  6. Your harness 
  7. Your 4-legged best friend!
My 4-legged best friend.

What to do:

  1. Fit your dog’s harness properly. Dogs come in many shapes and sizes, so make sure you take the time to adjust the harness so that it fits properly! The chest plate should cover your dog’s sternum when weighted, so when your dog is sitting/standing, the chest-plate sits at or slightly below the sternum. The leg loops should be snug, but not too tight, around the back legs (similar to how you fit your own human harness). Double back all the buckles, and test it out yourself by lifting your dog in the harness to make sure everything looks comfy! If you need to, you can use more webbing or a quickdraw to clip the leg loops up to the main attachment point so that your dog’s weight is more evenly distributed when they’re in the air.  Watch Ruffwear’s fitting video.
  2. Set up your rappel. If you can, rig the system so that you do not have to transfer from one line to another at any point. Tie a knot at the end of your rope. 20170630_120544
  3. Attach your puppy. Girth hitch your PAS around your harness the way you would normally, and clip your dog into the loop farthest from you using a locking carabiner.
  4. Attach your belay device. Hook up your belay device to the rope, then clip it to the middle loop of your PAS. This extends the rappel to get it out of your way, and puts your dog right next to you so you can manage them mid-rappel if needed. My dog is 30lbs, so I basically have her seated on my thighs as I rappel down. If your dog is larger, you can experiment with your belay device placement to have them sit higher or lower compared to you. Just make sure your dog isn’t sitting too close to the device, because their fur/ears/tail can get caught up and sucked in (We learned that the hard way.) You might even want to clip additional loops of the chain into the belay device to put you or your dog higher up – experiment!
    ** If you are using an autoblock, I recommend seating or hanging your dog on the opposite side so they don’t get caught up in it.
  5. Head over the edge. This is the most difficult part of the rappel for your dog. As you lean out over the edge, you will probably need to pick up your dog and set them down into their harness so they are hanging. This is why it is crucial that you use a system where you can move your brake hand around, either by tying off the brake line (grigri) or after letting go of the brake line (ATC + autoblock).
  6. Rappel. Once you are both over the edge, your job is considerably easier. Rappel as you would normally!
Heading to the Lost at Sea ledge in Lion’s Head, ON

If you can, I recommend practicing by having someone lower you and your dog over an edge. This can help you understand how your dog will react and how you can best position your dog for your rappel.

I don’t pretend to be an expert at this, so if you use a different method feel free to share it with me! I am always open to trying new things to make the process easier on me and my dog.

Have fun and be safe out there!


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