Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dog Boots don't exist for a 80lb. steel spring

Review of Bark'n Boots Grip Trex

These boots display great quality materials (Vibram sole, neoprene/cordura uppers), smooth stitching and great craftsmanship. They are far better than anything else available such as Walkaboot, Ultra-Paws, Neopaws, etc). This whole shoe looks as good as any made for human children. HOWEVER, they did not fit or stay on, at least for my dog, who is like a tightly wound spring and creates a lot of traction forces when he runs and darts about.

The general design of these boots is still the same as the old version (which you may see on the clearance rack at some shops) in that the shoes only come up to the wrist, and unlike a human wrist or ankle, the width of the dog's wrist is about the same as the paw's width. That means this boot's single wrist strap holds about as well as a handcuff would on a cigar. My dog lost the first boot in less than 5 minutes after we started walking a wooded trail and continued to lose more at regular intervals.

Another problem with the fit was that the boots would flip upside down on the dog's feet so that he was standing on the uppers instead of the sole. For the boots that were not totally lost, I had to keep resetting them on his feet every 5-10 minutes. What allows the boot to twist around like this is that the inside of the boot is shaped like a cone, which allows the boot to rotate around on the foot. If the upper material was cut flatter and had more of a wetsuit stretch, it might resist that spinning better.

Relating to the boots' ability to stay on is its "side-loading" design like a slipper, as opposed to "top loading" like a human boot. Because of this and the poor holding power of just the single Velcro strap, the boot just comes off the way a tube sock would if it were pulled down to just the ball of your foot and given a few shakes. If the boot were top loading, though, the L-shape angle of ankle to foot seam would help hold the boot on, plus there could be additional lacing up the ankle as there is on a human hi-top shoe.

Another problem with the low cut is that at the back of the boot, where ankle becomes paw, the shoe suffers from "plumber butt." That is, at the L bend between ankle and foot, the shoe material hangs open in the same way that the back of your own pants opens along your rear belt loop when you bend over. This gap at the back of the shoe allows debris such as weed seeds, foxtails, pebbles, sand and other itchy poky things to fall inside the shoe where they will irritate the dogs feet worse than having no shoes at all. This could be alleviated if the upper were cut to angle up the leg a bit more before being wrapped with a second strap. A second strap could prevent things from falling inside the shoe and assist in securing the boot on the foot.

I contacted Ruff Wear about the problems of this low-top design and they said they would be coming out with another model boot that will secure higher on the ankle in Spring or Summer 2008.

After observing the performance of the Velcro in the field, I found that with a dog that runs through all kinds of grass and brush, the "sticky" side of the Velcro quickly becomes clogged with debris, reducing its effectiveness at staying fastened. I think that the straps on these boots got clogged enough to weaken the connection enough that just brushing against things on the trail and the dog's flexing caused them to release, and make the boot just suddenly open and fall off. Perhaps old-fashioned laces would be better, or else quick-adjust buckles like are used on backpack straps. Velcro in this application seems to only be good for securing dangling slack strap.

I feel part of the reason the boots stayed on so poorly was because they were not fitting properly. If you intend to buy these boots, you need to have a look at the "alternate size chart" that is buried in the FAQ on Ruff Wear's website. It is slightly different than the more common size chart that you typically see displayed near these products and it may help you pick the right size.

Also buried in their FAQ is notice that most dogs' rear feet are smaller than their front feet. Because of this, their rear feet may take a smaller size than their front feet. So, if you want to get the right fit, try on some boots at an REI store first, or order boots 2 at a time from (they sell individual boots now for $15 each). Otherwise, if you just buy a set of 4 boots all the same size, as they are sold at retail, you may end up with half being too big.

Because of all these problems, I had to be dealing with boots every 5-10 minutes on the hike, instead of enjoying ourselves on it. These boots are so expensive to replace, the fact that they do not stay on as designed currently is a big problem. That said, I still would much rather have a set of boots that worked than $60 or even $100.

These did not work for me. If your dog just prances gently along, or is old and moves slowly, they might work for you.