Disappointment is the mother of invention. After failing to win the "Animal Innovations" contest grand prize, a nifty action camera that mounts on a dog's back to record their adventures, I was miffed. Though I was happy with a runner-up place for one of my dog agility instructables, I really wanted that dog camera. After awhile, I thought, "Heck, I'm a maker. I'll fabricate my own dog camera." Here is the result, consisting primarily of a dog harness, an action camera, and a bike mount. It was remarkably fast to build.
It cost me next to nothing, as I already had nearly all the materials. I like to do skatejoring and skijoring with my dogs, so I have harnesses for each of them. I found the Kurgo Journey Harness on sale at one of the big chain pet stores. It has the advantage of a large padded piece along the top, which provides a site for attachment of the camera mount. I have had the action camera for a few years. It's a Polaroid; and much cheaper than a GoPro. The bicycle mount came with it. I had the bucket and plumber's tape in the garage. I took a trip to the hardware store only for the nuts and bolts.
Bicycle mounting bracket for action camera
Plumber's tape: a thin metal strip with holes in it
8x32x3/4" bolts, nuts & washers
Reamer or drill
Step 1: Make Bracket From Plumber's Tape
Plumber's tape has got to be the most useful material for those of us with limited metalworking skills and no welder. It is flexible, easy to cut, and often fits just where you need it. The bike mount for the camera is made to be affixed to the handle bars. My idea was to clamp it onto the top of the dog harness. However, the bottom bracket is rounded and has the adjustment knobs, which would be quite uncomfortable for the dog. All I needed to do was make a bottom bracket that was flat. First I took apart the bottom bracket. I measured up the plumbers tape to the top bracket, lined up the holes and cut off the appropriate amount with tin snips. I used needlenose pliers to bend over a bit of each end of the tape to eliminate the sharp edges.
I bolted the bracket directly to the top of the dog harness using the plumber's tape for a bottom bracket and attached the camera. This set-up worked fine for a first attempt, but it was a bit bouncy and wobbly from front to back. Hence, I decided to add a stiffener to stabilize the camera.
Step 2: Make the Stiffener
I puzzled for awhile about what would make the best stiffener for the camera. I realized that a 1-gallon plastic bucket had about the same curvature as the back of a medium-sized dog, such as the 35-lb standard schnauzer for whom I was designing this camera mount. I traced out the top of the harness on the side of the bucket, then added the plumber's tape bottom bracket to modify the outline and mark the holes.
I cut out the pattern, leaving plenty of material around it, with a jig saw. I cut it on the outline more precisely with a pair of scissors. Once out of the bucket, the material is relatively flexible and easy to cut. Rather than drilling, I gouged out the holes with the reamer on my Swiss army knife.
Step 3: Putting It All Together
I used 8x32x3/4" machine screws to bolt the mounting bracket to the harness, sandwiching the stiffener between the top bracket and the top of the harness. I chose these screws because the nuts fit perfectly into recesses in the upper bracket. After a long walk with the dog, the screws worked loose. I will be putting another set of nuts on top of the existing ones to hold them down. After some preliminary tests, I thought that the stiffener could use some reinforcement. I punched two holes near the front of it and tied it to the front of the harness pad. This extra bit helped stabilize the camera further.
Step 4: Results
The footage is fairly good, considering it is nearly impossible to attach a rigid structure to something as flexible as a dog. The dog's ears and part of her head are in the image much of the time, except when she has her head down, sniffing the ground. I find that charming, and to eliminate it would require more height to the mount and more instability. The harness needs to be very snug, at least tighter than you would probably use just for walking or joring. Of course, it shouldn't be so tight as to cause the dog pain. The camera is always going to bounce when the dog runs. That's unavoidable.