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: 

 

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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 🙂

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.