Designing an Adventure Harness for camping and hiking with small dogs

Pipsqueak and Bosco go adventuring along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona

We recently bought our first camper and have been taking our dogs, Pipsqueak and Bosco, with us on camping trips. They’re still getting used to the camper, but they LOVE going on walks in the woods with us!

We used their everyday harnesses for these walks but the paths are so dusty that the harnesses (and dogs) got a lot of dirt and grim embedded in them. So while relaxing around the table during a game of Gin Rummy we brainstormed how I could make a harness more compatible with outdoorsy activities. After all, the original Comfort Vest Harness is meant for city walking!

prototype of the Adventure Harness with cargo pocket and clear vinyl ID pocket
An early prototype of a Comfort Vest Harness – Adventure Edition

The features of the Adventure Harness that I’m most excited about

  • durable, waterproof fabric that’s easy to wipe off so it feels cleaner and less grimy
  • a little cargo pocket to hold some emergency poop bags
  • a pocket to hold an ID card, where the dog’s name, our contact information, and our camping location details are written in case they get separated from us

When we were packing up to leave during the last trip, we actually someone drive up and ask if we had lost an old dog. Apparently they found one in the woods and were driving around trying to locate the owner. It was incredibly thoughtful of them to do this, and I hope they were able to connect the poor dog with his mom and dad!

This experience drove home the importance of having clear ID right with the dog because even if he or she is microchipped, getting the dog to a vet to read the chip is really inconvenient if you’re in a remote location. And even if the collar tag has the owner’s phone number, there isn’t always cell service when camping.

I’m excited to get a couple of prototypes made for our dogs to see how they hold up on our next adventure! And if all goes well, I’ll be offering them for custom orders for parents of little dogs who like to go adventuring as well.

6 cute summer harness ideas for your small dog

When the weather warms, you want to help your small dog stay cool, while being safely held in their harness. For summer, I choose fabrics that are lighter in weight and feature brighter and lighter colors. And instead of using a double layer of fabric for the main body of the harness like in the cooler weather versions, there’s just one layer of fabric making it breath easier.

I recently finished a batch of these custom summer harness — with matching bow ties! — for a lucky little Morkie named Maks, who models one below.

Maks in his Oxford Dogma summer harness and collar with matching silent ID tag

 

“I really like the blue check fabric with the red plaid. It’s cuter than cute! I love the way you trimmed the neck with it…it’s a cute touch. Again, can’t thank you enough!!! Will be ordering more soon.”
— Missy, dog mom to Maks

 

custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in red and blue plaid with matching bow tie
custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in orange and white gingham with matching bow tie
custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in blue plaid with matching bow tie
custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in blue and yellow plaid with matching bow tie
custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in blue and white seersucker with matching bow tie
custom Comfort Vest Harness for a small dog in green and navy gingham with melon pink accent

If you’d like a custom made harness sized for your small dog (under 20 lbs), you can request a custom order in my Etsy shop. Matching bow ties are also available for $10 each. Happy summer!

Classy summer fabrics for small dogs

I did a little materials shopping over the last few weeks that got me in the mood for some summer style creations.

new fabrics summer 2017

The Madras on top was intriguing to me because most of the other Madras plaid fabrics I’ve sewn with have been more pinks & purples in color. This one has a more masculine feel while still being breezy for summer. Pairing it with the light blue gingham fabric would be a fun and tasteful combination.

spring and summer 2017 fabrics for handcrafted dog accessories

I’d love to use the navy and green gingham with a coral pink and medium tan. Together they make a preppy summer set that reminds me of beachside relaxing. I think it has a Southern twist to it as well — a classy combo that Reese Witherspoon might like for her dog, Pepper!

spring and summer 2017 fabrics for handcrafted dog accessories

When I found these bright gold and orange gingham pieces I pictured the orange on my little blonde Pipsqueak, and the gold on my chocolate brown Bosco. You can’t go wrong with navy and white gingham, so I had to grab that one. And the tan and striped fabrics were a couple I had on my shelf that pair nicely with any of this set.

Can’t wait to get started on some of these projects!

Interested in a custom order?

If you see a fabric that would look great on your dog as a collar, harness, or bow tie let’s chat — you can contact me about a custom order with details about your dog’s sizing and what you’re interested in. Size adjustments to existing products are available, and there’s no additional cost for in-stock materials.

Upgrading your Custom Pet Portrait with the digital artwork file

This post is a part of Custom Pet Portrait series, where I share an in-depth look and answer questions. The rest of the posts are linked at the end of this post.


In this Custom Pet Portraits blog series, I’ve shared some portraits of super cute dogs, answered frequently asked questions about ordering a portrait, and explained how I create them so that they capture the unique personality of each pet.

In this post, I want to show some of the other things that you could do with your pet’s portrait if you purchase the digital artwork file as well.

custom pet portrait product roundup

Digital artwork files explained

First, you may be thinking, “What is this ‘digital artwork file’?” Basically it’s the computer image I create of your pet. When you place your order, it automatically includes an 8×10 art print shipped to you. The digital artwork file is the file I create so that art print can be made.

I explain more about this file type in the previous post about my process. But to recap, it’s a type of file that can be scaled up or down without losing quality, making it versatile and applicable to lots of different uses besides the art print.

This digital artwork file is created for every order whether or not you’d like to upgrade your order to include it for yourself. So really there’s no pressure for you to buy it right away because I’ll always have it in my files.

The price to upgrade

If you’d like to purchase this digital artwork file, the cost is $35 per pet. Or, if you’ve opted to have multiple pets illustrated on the same page, it’s just $35 for the group as one image.

This upgrade allows you to use the illustration however you’d like. However, it doesn’t give you exclusive rights. As the creator, Oxford Dogma also retains the rights to use the artwork in marketing communications and printed pet products.

So what could you do with the digital file of your pet’s portrait?

An art print makes a thoughtful personalized gift for a pet lover, but there are a lot of other ways the illustration can be used.

Home accessories:

  • kitchen towel (I received a couple of kitchen towels recently with dog artwork on them and they add a special, personal touch to my kitchen)
  • napkins (Thinking of having a birthday party for your dog? This would be perfect!)
  • food or water bowl for your dog (No question whose bowl it is.)
  • mug
  • pillow (Your dog owns the couch anyway, right?)

Stationery:

  • notepad (Jotting notes gets a lot more fun with your pet’s illustration on each page)
  • greeting cards

Clothing and accessories:

custom pet portrait desktop wallpaper

And some things don’t cost any extra aside from the upgrade price:

  • desktop wallpaper
  • social media profile image (Does your dog have an Instagram account? You could use the illustration for the profile image!)

How to order your own Custom Pet Portrait

Do you know someone who’d love to receive a custom-illustrated art print of their pet? (Or is that someone you??) Send me a note with the form on my contact page and I’ll follow up with next steps.

And if you have any questions, please let me know! You can email me at amy@oxforddogma.com or fill out my contact form.

Want to read more about the Custom Pet Portrait? The other posts in this series can be found here:

A look at the Custom Pet Portrait creation process

sketching process for custom pet portrait of Archie the Chi mix


This post is a part of Custom Pet Portrait series, where I share an in-depth look and answer questions. The rest of the posts are linked at the end of this post.


Each Oxford Dogma Pet Portrait is custom made to order, meaning I have a process that I use to fulfill the order but each one is treated individually, with care. And I know it’s totally worth the care that goes into them when I get a response like this:

“I am obsessed with these. You nailed their expressions perfectly. I am amazed at how much personality you can see in these!”

—Danette, dog mom to Watson and Angie

Step 1: Gather the source images

Because I really want each illustration to reflect the unique personality of each pet, the project begins with you answering questions about your pet and sending me photos for visual reference. The photos show me things like the way your pet sits or stands, their facial expressions, coat and coloring, and even a special accessory or toy.

Step 2: Getting to know your pet

I start by spending some time looking over each photo and making notes about the key things the pet parent wants to incorporate. For example, some of the requests that people have made include:

  • the look their dog gives people when they walk by
  • their dog’s favorite chew toy
  • a signature collar
  • strawberries, to reference the way a dog likes to watch her parents garden

I also make note of key characteristics that the breed might have. My portraits are a clean and simple style, so picking up on iconic features allows me to simplify while still communicating the important traits.

Step 3: Sketching it out

Then I begin making pencil sketches of the pet. Even though the final artwork is a digital illustration, the sketching step helps me gain a deeper understanding of the lines of the pet and their physical character.

After I have enough sketches to draw from (usually 3-5), I snap pictures of the sketches and bring them into Adobe Illustrator.

Step 4: Digitizing the illustration

Here’s where I turn it into a clean, vector illustration. (Vector just means that it’s infinitely scalable without losing quality. As opposed to “raster” which is what you’d get if you had a .jpg or .png, and if you stretch them up in size they look grainy and uneven.) I love the powerful drawing tools in Illustrator and the flexibility of resizing the image without worry.

While drawing the illustration on the computer, I personalize it with colors picked up from the photos and add in the additional elements such as a collar or pillow. Since I have so much experience using this software (more than twenty years!) I’m able to express those little details that help make each portrait unique to the particular pet. For one dog, she had a collar with a particularly detailed pattern on it, and my familiarity with the software made it a piece of cake to create.

Step 5: Taking a final look

Once I’m happy with the illustration, I create a framed mockup image of it so you can see how it might actually look hung on a wall with a mat and frame. It can be really hard to mentally make that jump from computer screen to final printed product, so this step helps you see it in context rather than just a plain image on your screen.

This framed mockup is sent to the customer before creating the final art print. Because of my graphic design background, I tend to see a project like this as the intersection between art and design. So I like to give customers the opportunity to have a look at the artwork before making the final art print. Pet parents know their fur babies so well, and I would hate to accidentally miss one of those key characteristics they see in them! Typically there’s either no change needed, or something minor like a change to a color or an adjustment to a feature on the pet.

Step 6: The art print

Currently I use Society6 for printing the 8×10 art print. Their quality is fantastic and they use archival inks and papers. I place the order for the print and it’s delivered straight to whatever U.S. mailing address you provide.

Update: I’m excited to say that I’m now able to print these in-house! You’ll still get the archival inks and paper, but some time will be shaved off. And I’ll be able to sign each one, so you’ll get a print signed by the artist which adds to the art quality of them.

And if you choose to purchase the digital artwork file as a part of your order, you can use your choice of printing service to order accessories with your pet’s image.

The process I use to get to the final portrait has been very effective — the response is overwhelmingly positive, which is immensely satisfying as a creator! I’m so happy that people love their portraits. And one thing I wasn’t expecting when I added this item to my shop is how much people like giving them as gifts to family, friends, and clients. Being able to help them say “I know how much you love your pet!” is really special.

“This is SO cute! You really captured her perfectly. I love the blanket, the bully stick, the collar…it’s so Izzy!”

— Shaina, dog aunt to Izzy

Ordering your own Custom Pet Portrait

Do you know someone who’d love to receive a custom-illustrated art print of their pet? (Or is that someone you??) Send me a note with the form on my contact page and I’ll follow up with next steps.

And if you have any questions, please let me know! You can email me at amy@oxforddogma.com or fill out my contact form.


Want to read more about the Custom Pet Portrait? The other posts in this series can be found here:

A smart and stylish harness for your small dog

A comfy dog is a happy dog

Pipsqueak in her new custom harnesses by Oxford Dogma

For dog moms and dads, the safety and comfort of our little fur kids is super important. Making them happy makes us happy! When I asked a friend what she loves most about her little Alaskan Klee Kai, she said:

“She doesn’t care what we do as long as she’s with us.”

I think that pretty much sums it up! When they’re with us, they’re happy. So I wanted to create a way for them to be with us in a safe, comfortable way.

I designed this back-clip harness for all the dog parents like me who struggled to find a way to hook a leash to their small dog (about 20 pounds or less) that doesn’t hurt, cause discomfort, or slip off.

Little dogs have big needs

When hooking a leash to the collar on a little dog, their necks and windpipes can be damaged. Or they can wiggle out. The harness vest is a healthy and safe alternative to the collar for times when you need to control your dog — such as on a walk. A collar is still useful for attaching ID tags, and expressing your dog’s individual style.

With a loop on the back near the shoulders, a leash clips safely on the little dog’s back, keeping the strain off the neck.

Miska in custom comfort vest harness with leash
Miska the Pomeranian wears her custom comfort vest harness with leash attached at back.

Designing a harness that’s safe and easy

For small dogs, harnesses are great, healthy alternative to hooking a leash to a collar. But people tend to have a love/hate relationship with them. I asked a friend to tell me about her favorite pet products:

“Her harness because it allows me to control her without yanking her neck (even though there are a few things that bug me about it)”

When I asked my community what they wish they could change about their dog’s harness, the same drawbacks came up over and over:

  • Questions about how to put it on or how to use it — “Hard to get on and confusing! I wish they could be put on from the top down, instead of the dog having to step in it.
  • Feels like it’s either crushing them or too loose — “I’m never sure if it fits right. Is it supposed to wrap around their chest? Behind the legs? Below the rib cage? Also, making sure it fits tight enough so they don’t wiggle out, without being constricting or uncomfortable.” + “…it feels like I’m crushing her ribs trying to close the clasp but anything less than that is too big
  • They slip out of it — “Bailey also can slip out of her harness easily, which is scary. If she puts enough force in the right direction or backs up quickly, I’m left with an empty harness in my hands.” + “I really like the harness I use now but occasionally if my Basenji backs up real fast, I am left holding an empty harness and leash.
  • It rubs under the front legs — “I always worry about how badly it rubs against her armpits in the front.

I struggled with all of these things with our dog, too.

prototyping the new dog harness design

After experimenting with some different concepts, I arrived at a vest style harness that’s simple to use:

  • You put it on from the top down, so your dog doesn’t have to step into it
  • Each harness is made especially to your dog’s measurements, and you can also make minor sizing adjustments with velcro straps
  • It wraps snugly but doesn’t constrict or crush — you control how tight it gets
  • The vest shape, with wide velcro straps and long (but not too long) length, means your dog won’t slip out

Is this the right harness for you?

Some harness styles are meant to change a dog’s pulling behavior (these tend to be the designs that pull and rub under the front legs). This particular harness is not a training device for strong pullers. I experimented with a design that had a front loop to help discourage pulling, but it just twisted the harness around too much. I learned that this is why those low-slung harnesses that rub under the front legs are shaped the way they are!

the Comfort Vest Harness doesn't train small dogs to stop pulling on the leash but it holds tight if they do
Bosco, our 16-lb Dachshund, is a strong puller. The harness is secure, but it doesn’t train him to stop his pulling.

In addition, many harnesses are made of rugged nylon webbing, suitable for all-weather wear and outdoorsy dogs that tend to get dirty. The Comfort Vest Harness that I designed is intended more for city dogs, who spend most of their time in parks and on sidewalks. Although it is machine washable for easy care.

Kiara the Pomeranian wearing a Custom Comfort Vest Harness
Kiara the Pomeranian, wearing a Custom Comfort Vest Harness

Made-to-measure

During the process of test-fitting the Comfort Vest Harness to a variety of small dogs, it became clear that the best way to ensure a good if that people and pups are happy with is through custom orders. Each harness is tailored to the measurements, color preferences, and fabric weight needs of the loving pet parent.

Charlie wearing a small harness
Charlie the Chihuahua wears a “fitting harness”, a special version of the harness made from plain fabric specifically for testing fit during the designing phase.

The Comfort Vest Harness will be available soon in my shop. If you’d like to get updates about it, sign up below:

Subscribe for harness updates emailed directly to you

To get emails about the new Comfort Vest Harness, along with more Oxford Dogma news and updates, sign up here.

Indispensable Bag Dispenser makes walk time with your dog easier

using the Oxford Dogma poop bag dispenser

Always be prepared with this refined and stylish clip-on poop bag holder

Have you ever been out with your dog and…surprise! You need a poop bag. But you forgot to grab them on the way out the door, or the dispenser at the park ran out of bags. It’s happened to me and made me feel so guilty! Plus, in my city it’s against the law not to pick up after your dog.

That’s why I love this bag dispenser. It clips onto my leash so if I forget everything else on the way out the door with my pups, at least I can be a good neighbor.

Having it helps me feel more relaxed at walk time — that is until Pipsqueak loses her mind barking at other dogs we meet along the way.

Upgrade your standard poop bag experience

For selective dog parents who have a keen eye for design and prefer a more pleasant, refined experience (even if it involves cleaning up after your dog — or maybe especially then!), this poop bag holder is a great fit. It’s handcrafted in small batches from natural, reclaimed materials like cotton and wool.

The classic, timeless design is inspired by Dopp kits (also known as travel kits) that have been a staple since the early 1900s. I admire the practical utility — it has a bit of a rugged feel — combined with the structured shape and details. The Oxford Dogma Bag Dispenser design is basically this kit shrunk down to a compact size.

When you head out the door with your dog, it’s not always easy to remember the poop bags. Sometimes it’s enough just to get your keys, phone, and bag all gathered up! The Bag Dispenser is great because it’s always clipped to your leash so you don’t have to remember. And you won’t feel guilty if your dog leaves a surprise near the bushes.

bag dispenser roundup

Pick up after your dog with ease and style

After we adopted our first dog, Pipsqueak, we bought a poop bag holder at the pet store, which was not functional or attractive. The roll constantly fell out, it was red with blue paw prints (not a match for my personal style), and the synthetic material was not pleasant to touch.

Then, before I developed the Oxford Dogma Bag Dispenser, we would tie a bag onto Pipsqueak’s leash. But it was awkward and unattractive, plus we actually had to remember to tie one on for each walk.

My design intentions for this little problem-solver were to:

  • carry a roll of poop bags that don’t fall out
  • clip securely to a leash or other ring
  • create a pouch that’s compact and easy to carry with you
  • avoid dog-themed prints and focus on something timeless and stylish
  • be easy to use

Initially, I wanted to create a pouch that held a phone, ID, a roll of bags, and treats. But this got too heavy and cumbersome to clip onto the leash. The design was reworked until I arrived at a solution that met my goals:

  • a zipper closure that secures the bags inside so they don’t go rolling across the ground
  • a metal swivel snap hook that feel sturdy but not bulky, and looks more sophisticated than a plastic hook
  • shaping (inspired by the Dopp kit) that essentially follows the shape of the roll of bags, with enough wiggle room for ease of use (and room for a backup roll once you’re down to the last few bags)
  • use of classic fabrics made of cotton and wool, with tasteful and timeless patterns like plaid, gingham, houndstooth, herringbone, and tweed, plus solids
  • pull tabs on either end of the zipper, making it easier to open and close, and a slot in the side to tear the bags off one at a time

gingham and plaid poo bag dispensers collection made from reclaimed materials

Head out the door with the basics covered

To feel more prepared when you head out with your pup — whether it’s a Saturday morning at the local coffee shop, daily walks in the park, or a city stroll — a Bag Dispenser keeps you covered.

Check out the poop bag holders available in a variety of colors in the Bag Dispenser collection, featuring classic fabrics with a preppy style. And if your leash doesn’t have a ring to clip it onto, you can slip a key ring onto the handle, or choose one of the leashes available from Oxford Dogma. My Etsy shop >

Is your favorite one sold out?

Just let me know! I may have more of that fabric in my workshop, or something similar, and I can make a Bag Dispenser especially for you. Simply fill out the form on my contact page and I’ll be in touch.

small batch of poo bag dispensers

Dog collar design development

pink paisley reclaimed silk tie collar | oxforddogma.com

Often times when people see my handmade dog accessories they ask if I make collars. So my latest product in development is… a collar!

Since I’m a fan of classic design, I wanted my collar to have classic metal tongue-style buckles, with metal grommet size holes. And for the strap fabric, I’m testing out a sturdy canvas or twill accented with reclaimed silk ties.

After Pipsqueak has worn it for awhile I’ll get started making a variety of sizes and colors.

If you’d like to get an email when they’re available in my shop, just fill out the form below and I’ll be in touch.

Hello, snaps

working with snaps on new jacket design

I like the clean look of metal snaps, and their utilitarian aesthetic. But they’re not something I’ve yet used in my projects. Well, maybe one or two times on personal projects, with poor tools and unsatisfactory results.

For a new jacket design I’m working on, I’d like to use a few snaps in place of buttons. A lot of people are interested in the Tailored Dog Jacket, but the price doesn’t fit their budget. So my goal is to create a design that takes less time to make (for more on this, see what goes into making the Tailored Jacket), allowing me to offer it at a lower price. I think it’ll be a more casual take on the Tailored Jacket — still using reclaimed wool, but less formal in approach.

Designing the Pocket Critter interactive dog toy

Field testing the Pocket Critter interactive dog toy | oxforddogma.com

When we got the DNA test results for our dog, Pipsqueak, we learned she’s part Jack Russell Terrier. And terriers like to participate in earthdog trials, where they use their keen sense of smell to hunt down little rodents (typically a rat in the trials). This fascinated me to no end, but our dog is shy and likes to stick close to home. So when she snatched up a little stuffed javelina toy that had tumbled onto the floor one day, we were delighted. To her, it looked like a little rodent — her terrier instincts were kicking in! We coined it her “little piggy” and it was the first toy we could get her to play with.

Fast forward several months, when we learned from her trainer that dogs like to be challenged by hunting for their treats or food. After hearing this, I ran to my workshop and attached a crude pocket to Pipsqueak’s little piggy. We stuffed some treats inside and waited in anticipation to see if she’d figure out they were in there, and if she’d figure out how to get them out.

pocket stitched to javelina plush | oxforddogma.com
The pocket is dirty, but it’s holding up great.

She did! It was so fun to watch her investigating, and from then on whenever we wanted to give her a treat or stimulate her appetite we’d put some food (her regular kibble) in the pocket and set the toy somewhere for her to find. “Little piggy” was now “pocket piggy”.

My design challenge was set: how could I create a soft toy that would keep dogs entertained and challenged, engaging them in a mental activity with a treat for a reward?

Design goals

My design goals for this new toy included:

  • a pocket that holds little treats or pieces of food to mentally challenge dogs
  • adding a floppy tail for grabbing (Pipsqueak likes to do drive-by toy grabs and sometimes these little appendages help her pick up the toy)
  • no plastic pieces, like eyes, that could get chewed off and harm a dog
  • roughly rodent-like (but cuter)

Inspiration

The inspiration for the Pocket Critter interactive dog toy comes from three main sources:

  • the rat that’s used in earthdog trials
  • the way dogs like to be mentally challenged and hunt for treats
  • the crude pocket I stitched onto the original plush toy

The design process

The design didn’t come easy. I’d only made one other stuffed toy before, the stuffed pig project from Martha Stewart. I actually modified that project to have a long pocket along one side, but the fabric was too thin and it got chewed up.

pig toy sewn with integrated pocket | oxforddogma.com
I learned that a single layer of flannel was much too thin for the pocket.

I scoured Abby’s great tutorials on whileshenaps.com and did all kinds of experimenting with different designs. The trickiest part was integrating the pocket into the design, and sizing it so Pipsqueak could actually reach the treats without just chewing through the pocket itself.

My final design was kind of a 180° turn from what I initially thought it would look like. Instead of being more true-to-life in shape, I sketched out a flat front-facing version that I fell in love with. The addition of big ears and a stuffed tail really help give it character.

field testing the pocket critter toy with Pipsqueak | oxforddogma.comAfter field testing the toy with Pipsqueak, I was happy with the design and ready to start making a bunch of them for a pop-up shop. (Spoiler alert: they were my best seller at the event.)

In my next post, I’ll be giving a look into the making of the cute and huggable Pocket Critter toy.

Does your dog have a favorite soft toy?

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