Guide Dog Equipment and Upkeep


Did you know there are three parts to a harness?

 

At the top of the picture is the harness handle, followed by on the left is the body of the harness and in the bottom right there is the small belly strap.

There is the harness handle:Β 

 

There is the body of the harness:

There is the belly strap:

Other common pieces of equipment for guide dog teams are the leash (of course), the collar (different collars are used but many from GDB use martingale collars), and many guide dog teams often use gentle leaders as well. (No, they aren’t muzzles). A martingale collar is where it has a few chain links (not prongs), so that if you need to do a correction, you can, but the rest of the collar is fabric so it is comfortable for the dog. A gentle leader is a piece that goes across the dog’s nose and behind their neck and is very useful to a blind handler to feeling where the dog’s head is moving so that they can make necessary corrections if needed, but also many guide dogs are on their “tip top behavior” when wearing this.
A few months ago, I started to notice a few different things about Makiko’s equipment:

1) It was looking pretty beat up/used. I noticed it needed to be cleaned and spruced up a little bit. Why does this matter? Makiko and I are constantly in many different professional environments for work, but every single guide dog team is also an ambassador for their school and also the guide dog community as a whole. Makiko is an extension of me. I care about my appearance and care about hers, but I also care about the equipment’s appearance.

2) I also have been noticing over the past year or so that there has been more of a gap between Makiko’s body and the harness. At a recent guide dog event, I heard a few other handlers say that they have also had this problem.

3) Makiko’s collar was getting pretty worn out and pretty quickly after adjusting it to be tighter, it would go back to being loose. So, our field rep also sent us a new martingale collar.

So here is what I decided to do about it:

My boyfriend and I stopped at Home Depot when we were out running errands. We got “Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.” This stuff did WONDERS. We had purchased some leather polisher a few months ago but read on “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a group I admin on Facebook, that really it should be washed first with something that works well with leather. It took me all of 15 minutes with this leather cleaner and a shop towel to really get her harness looking better. (Why didn’t I do this a few years ago?)

When our field rep, Michelle, was out a few months ago, I showed her the concern I had with the gap in the harness. We discussed a few different reasons it could be there, such as the leather just slightly changing shape. She suggested that she send us a body piece that is one size smaller and see how it fits. She sent this to us awhile ago but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it until just now. Since we were working on her equipment, we figured that it would be a good time to do it. So far, we are pleased. Why does this gap matter? Most importantly, having less of a gap can increase the amount of feedback the guide dog handler can get from the harness. It could also potentially make her a little more comfortable (although I don’t think she was really uncomfortable at all in the first place).

The harness body on the left is the one that Makiko has worn for 4 years. It has a pretty distinct shape and has been thoroughly worn. The harness body on the right appears to be brand new. It looks “squished” because it hasn’t been worn and the leather is quite stiff.Β 
In this picture, you can see the gap between her body and her chest strap, right above her shoulder. This is with the old harness body.Β 
This is a picture of her with the new harness body. You can see barely any gap. It does need to be worn in a little bit but looks significantly better fitting.Β 
My view looking down at Makiko in harness. (Note: There is no leash because we are simply just trying on the harness)

She also gave us a new martingale collar to try out. I didn’t take a picture of it because it looks exactly the same as the old one but if you’d like to see it, let me know.

So now we will put it all to the test tomorrow as we go to work and about our day and see how she seems to feel it in and how it feels to me as we work. I’ll bring the other piece along just in case something does go wrong or bothers her.

Did you know that a full harness can cost as much as $500 for this specific type from GDB? That’s pretty wild, huh? Thanks to the generous donations of donors to GDB, we don’t have to pay when we have equipment problems like this. If we lose it once, we do get it replaced at no charge to us but if we lose it again, we do have to pay for it. I know weird things happen, but to me it’d be pretty hard to lose something like this. πŸ™‚

GDB is so incredible in supporting the guide dog team throughout the whole process and I have been nothing but pleased. They are very innovative and receptive and want to find what makes the most sense and works the best for each guide dog team. They also recognize that what works best and is necessary might change over time and they are totally cool with working through each team as they go through any changes.

Day 7 at GDB


Well, today was our hardest day yet. It was full of emotions and I’ll explain why.

Wednesday was Dad’s birthday so I was a little on edge that day but managed to get through it. I have kind of suppressed a lot of my grieving because I want to really concentrate on Makiko these two weeks. Well, I think it might have caught up to me a little bit because today I was more emotional but I couldn’t directly relate it to Dad.

Morning routine was normal.. food, water, relieve. It was our last time relieving together as a group. Breakfast at 7:30, I had scrambled eggs. Then we all got our stuff together for the day and headed to Portland. On the way to board the bus we had, of course, another dog distraction. Each day it gets a little more intense. This time one of the instructors stood about 100 feet away from another instructor and they had a dog run back and forth between the two. Makiko did great. I was very proud of her. I worked my normal route and then the instructor changed it up again so I wouldn’t know what to expect and neither would Makiko and so we practiced a little more. Since I am partially sighted and will eventually lose what little I have left, they put a blindfold on me to practice doing everything that way for when that does happen. I didn’t mind not being able to see as much as I didn’t like that thing on my face. We also wanted to practice this because at night I don’t have any vision at all. However, I think I’ll be more comfortable then than with a blindfold. With the blindfold, I did really well. I only had one issue and that was as we were crossing a street I felt the train tracks and that through me off so I missed Makiko’s cue for the upcurb. Ah well we reworked it and got it right the second time. After that route we went to work escalators. That is an interesting task — getting on an escalator with your dog. We did Juno practice first, so without Makiko and only me holding onto the harness and leash with my instructor holding onto the other end. When we finally used Makiko it went really well. She’s such a good girl! Then we came back to our dorm/campus and we had french onion soup and a delicious salad. Oh man that was a fabulous lunch. Then we had a lecture soon after, I think. During that lecture I got really sick. I got a horrific migraine, sound was miserable, I fell asleep (partially because of the migraine and partially because of the early rising). Instructor caught me, hah. They understand because it’s a lot of work but they still give me a hard time. It’s really funny because several other classmates were also drifting off but they cheated because they had sunglasses on still so they couldn’t tell. After the lecture, I went to my room, started puking so when I settled down I went to the nurse’s office and she gave me Tylenol and then I passed out (as in fell asleep really fast) and when I woke up I was fine. So I had missed a little bit with my instructor but not much. I cried when I got back to my room because I didn’t want to miss out working with Makiko and I was just feeling so horrible and also the instructor who gave me a hard time hurt my feelings. I’m telling ya, my emotions were on edge today.

Today we had goal meetings, overhead clearances, campus orientation, and free run scheduled in the afternoon. The goal meeting is a meeting to discuss where we are right now with our dog in terms of how we feel and how the instructor feels and what we want to get out of our next week. We then discussed lifestyle and what kinds of things we do when we return home so she can help us obtain the skills to work with our dog in these environments. I did really well and it was great. Next week should be a blast but a lot of work, of course. So I did the goal meeting but we weren’t able to do anything else before my instructor had to leave. So when the person who stays overnight, who is a Canine Welfare Assistant, came she took me out to the free run to let Makiko loose and then also showed me around campus. Oh my goodness my girl can RUNNNN! Β She is super duper fast. There is this trail that winds around campus through beautiful trees and it has benches along the way. They named it, of course, the “Oregon Trail.” Tomorrow is a free day and we have the opportunity to get off campus for a little while but we would have to leave the dog at home. Since I have been so tired this week and not feeling well today, I’m thinking I may stay at home. But to get the “mental health” break, I may take Makiko and go cruise the trail. I’m actually really excited about that. A cool thing about the trail is they have these little “speed bumps” in the road so when we are coming to a fork in the road, we can feel the speed bump to tell us. There are all these little nifty things that I never would have thought of. We got to see where the Visitor’s Center is and the kennels.

After that I went to dinner. There were other times in there where we watered, fed and relieved our dog but that’s becoming so natural I forget to mention it. Dinner was delicious as well, I remember that but I can’t remember what it was off the top of my head. I’m telling ya, I’m exhausted. After dinner was free time, I went back to my room to talk to one of my best friends for a bit and then two of my classmates each came to my door to invite me to watch a movie with them. I thought that was super sweet. So we ended up staying out there for many hours, watching the movie, letting our dogs play, and talking. It was truly wonderful after an emotional day.

It was really cute. So “E” brought her black labrador and his chew bone. Then “H”, her dog, me, and my dog also came but we didn’t bring our dog’s bones just because we didn’t think about it. Well then when Makiko started nibbling on the other dog’s bone while they were sitting next to each other, I decided to go get Makiko’s bone. Then when I brought it out, the last dog decided he was going to go steal Makiko’s bone. Makiko is so sweet she allowed it. But I fight for her and I got her bone back lol. So then “H” went and got her dog’s bone and they were all happy except her dog still stole Makiko’s bone and they kind of switched for awhile and then when I wasn’t paying attention, Makiko wouldn’t have ANY bones lol. Poor girl. She is such a sweetheart. There are old couch cushions that they have if we ever want to sit on the floor so we all got them. “H” got hers first and her dog decided HE wanted the cushion. (Pictures below). Then my dog and “E’s” dog decided to share my cushion for a bit. So then we settled in and she laid on my lap, as always. I decided halfway through the movie that I wanted to lay down so I laid down with the cushion as my pillow and then Makiko just curled up on the pillow by my head. It was adorable. So we just laid there the whole time together.

I will tell you what, Makiko is just amazing for me. We have already bonded so much and if you know me, I really love hugs and cuddling. She has been perfect for me and today when it was rough I really really loved having her cuddles and love. Close to midnight we all decided it was probably time to go to bed. We relieved our dog one final time before we went. Β Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you about that. When we got back from Portland today we got to relieve our dogs on our patio/run area for the first time. My dog is the ONLY dog that pooped out there right away and I think she’s the only one that pooped out there today period. The other dogs are taking a little more getting used to it. She peed too! lol. TMI? She’s such a great girl! She even comes and sits by my side after she poops instead of trying to go sniff out her poop like a lot of dogs do. It is nice to have her relieving in the patio/run area because now in the mornings and evenings especially I can be in my pajama’s and just walk outdoors and relieve her. The patio connected to my living area of my room is for relieving and the patio connected to my bedroom area is for relaxing. The staff water down the relieving patio quite often so it is nice and clean. I’m still responsible for picking up the poop though and throwing it in the bin.

Can you believe I graduate a week from today? The 16th I graduate and the 17th I fly back. Monday we’re gonna work on the overhead clearances that I didn’t get to learn today. Next week we have night routes, learning another route, a mall, a park, an outdoor shopping area, escalators, public transit, visiting with the veterinarian, having another goal meeting, graduation, graduation photos, etc.

Today I also heard from Makiko’s puppy raiser. She is so sweet. She probably won’t be able to come to graduation because it is super expensive. You see, the puppy raisers don’t get notified until approximately 10 days before graduation that a dog they raised is in class. The school doesn’t tell them until they are fairly sure that the dog they raised is going to be a good match. So at that point if you’re flying from like Colorado where my puppy raiser is, airline tickets are insanely expensive then she would have to probably get a rental car and a hotel room. That’s just too expensive. However, since I’m in Denver a lot I’m hoping we can meet up sometime soon. I’ll be there twice in the next 3 months so that should give us a good opportunity to meet. She has pictures and a present for me!! That’s exciting. I can’t wait to see what Makiko was like as a puppy.

So tomorrow is a free day. We still have to wake up and relieve our dogs but then I’m going to go back to sleep. Wake up around 11 hopefully, go to brunch (which is open for many hours), go to the gift shop to buy a few things hopefully, and then do laundry and nap and hang out with Makiko the rest of the day. I think the outing would exhaust me as much as I do want to see Portland. However with everything else that we are doing and as much traveling we are doing to different destinations to practice, I feel like I am already getting a good tour around Portland so that’s not that crucial. We’ll also take a few cruises/walks around campus so that’ll be nice. πŸ™‚ I just hope the weather holds up nice for us. NO RAIN! I’m hoping tomorrow I can get plenty of rest and recover and get ready for the week. I also have 11 more Dr. Peppers to drink before the trip is over so I’m going to use them as a technique to stay awake so I don’t get teased anymore haha. It’s time to get sleep folks so here are a few pictures. I posted a ton of pictures on Facebook tonight because I had been posting photos here but not there.

These two dogs (Bamboo is the black labrador female and Corbett is the yellow labrador male) just LOVE to cuddle up with each other and love on each other. They stole Corbett's owner's seat cushion.
These two dogs (Bamboo is the black labrador female and Corbett is the yellow labrador male) just LOVE to cuddle up with each other and love on each other. They stole Corbett’s owner’s seat cushion.
Bamboo is the dog in the back and she is 46 lbs. Makiko is the dog in the front and she is 50 lbs. They both look almost identical and they both stole MY cushion at one point haha.
Bamboo is the dog in the back and she is 46 lbs. Makiko is the dog in the front and she is 50 lbs. They both look almost identical and they both stole MY cushion at one point haha.
I know this may be strange but her paws are so soft and adorable I had to take a picture :)
I know this may be strange but her paws are so soft and adorable I had to take a picture πŸ™‚
This is what the harness looks like when the handle is removed.
This is what the harness looks like when the handle is removed.
I wanted to get a good picture of her curled up on my lap (her whole body is on my lap while I"m sitting cross-legged) so I had to take a picture with my arms outstretched above me.
I wanted to get a good picture of her curled up on my lap (her whole body is on my lap while I”m sitting cross-legged) so I had to take a picture with my arms outstretched above me.
My cuddle bug and a picture of me with her :)
My cuddle bug and a picture of me with her πŸ™‚
Another picture of my sweet cuddle bug. I took so many pictures because i just think this is adorable and it shows how loving she is.
Another picture of my sweet cuddle bug. I took so many pictures because i just think this is adorable and it shows how loving she is.
I was leaning down to kiss Makiko and take a picture when she let out a big yawn :)
I was leaning down to kiss Makiko and take a picture when she let out a big yawn πŸ™‚
Makiko sleeping on my lap
Makiko sleeping on my lap
Another picture of my cute little cuddle bug with her front legs curled around my leg :)
Another picture of my cute little cuddle bug with her front legs curled around my leg πŸ™‚