New Harness Description, First Impressions, and First Walk

Hilda’s new harness came today from Circle E. For custom made no stock with this kind of quality, turnaround time was amazingly fast: I put the order in on Friday evening, Arnie started work on the harness Saturday morning, and I had it in my hands, well, today, just under a week after initial order placement. Considering the stories i’ve heard about , that’s phenomenal.


No cheaping out on this thing, that’s for sure. It’s got some definite heft to it, but the weight is nicely distributed. Arnie reckons his harnesses weigh about 2 pounds each for his standard service dog harness, the design on which this one is based, and I reckon that’s pretty accurate.

The first thing I noticed was just the attention to detail and quality. No rough edges, no crooked stitching, padding in the places that padding made sense.

So what’s this thing look like?

The first huge difference I noticed was the saddle. Saddle is a pretty accurate name for it. It isn’t just a back strap about an inch or so wide as on most guide dog harnesses, running continuous with the girth strap. No, at its widest points front to back, this thing has to be a good 6-7 inches, narrowing around the neck area for mor easily getting the harness over the dog’s head. The wider parts sit over the shoulders. Towards the back of the saddle in the cneter, is a D-ring, and to either side of that are snaps to which the harness pouch is affixed. The harness pouch, made of a thin nylon, has a leather strip across the top with a snap in each end and a hole in the center to put the D-ring through. Thus, the pouch lays flat across the dog’s back, almost as though it’s part of the harness itself. Perfect for ID, keys, a phone maybe, what have you. I have a collapsible water bowl in mine, and a plastic bag dispenser attached to the D-ring, along with Hilda’s leash while not in use.

The girth strap goes around from the saddle, also towards the back of the saddle, as one would expect. In the center of the girth strap is a piece of leather, where the two halves of the girth strap attach. Towards the front of this piece, which is padded right where it sits under the dog, two pieces of leather join sort of making a small print letter Y with the martingale strap. That strap runs between the dog’s front legs, to join with the breast plate, padded with sheepskin. A the top of the breast plate on both corners, straps run back to the saddle, over the dog’s shoulders, again sort of like a very wide print letter Y. I should also mention that the saddle is also padded with sheepskin. (You can have the padding left out if you ask for that. Actually, you can get anything you want, because they’re all made one at a time.)

Everything, except the saddle, is adjustable. The side straps that go beside the dog, from the sides of the shoulders forward to the breast plate, are leather and adjust with standard buckles, with holes spaced maybe an inch apart, if I had to guestimate. Don’t wanna measure it. The martingale and the girth strap adjust continuously with ratcheting buckles. These straps are not leather. They’re some sort of plastic. They’re described in the harness description pages as:
The M2 straps are being made by a company which specializes in orthopedic straps. The straps are very durable and come with special ratchet, quick-release buckles which allow for maximum adjustability. The use of these straps has allowed us to lighten the harness and eliminate the big, bulky buckles.

Having the girth and martingale infinitely adjustable is pretty nice. The other nice feature is that both sides of the girth strap have the ratcheting buckle, so you can adjust the girth from the left or the right. In fact, adjust it once, leave one side connected, let your dog step into that side, and then just pull the open side shut until the harness is fitted.

The handle is aircraft aluminium, and completely covered in leather. It attaches with panic snaps, very like the GDF handle I think. The attachment seems to be sturdy, and with no extra play in the handle.

This harness, like other American style harnesses, has the bunny ears that the handle passes through. These ones are pretty tall compared to the Seeing Eye harness. They do a nice job keeping the handle from flipping up too high though.

So how was our first walk with it?

Hilda does not like change. Hilda does not like change at all. Hilda took a lot of encouragement to take a step forward. And another. And then to walk slowly. She was reluctant to go around a car parked in our path, or to turn, at least initially. After a couple of blocks, she gained some more confidence, and by the last block, she was walking at her normal fast clip again.

It’s hard to say, but her pull may be a bit more evenly distributed. Either that or she’s not pulling as much in the new harness as in the nylon one. Her movements are easy to feel, and this thing feels very smooth while walking. The first time we walked out, we had to go back for treats, and at our front door, she somehow managed to step completely out of the harness! I think I’ve got it adjusted correctly now so that shouldn’t be as easy.

Yesterday’s Day Out

Yesterday, we had a whole day out with Hilda. I was scheduled to do two technology presentations at the Sight Center of Northwest PA, one for kids in the morning, and one for adults in the evening. While the prsentations, or seminars, or whatever they ended up being, went pretty well in my ever so humble opinion, Hilda’s first full day out also went pretty well.

We took Uber there and back, and she found the front door without a problem. Of course, inside the building, which is a little small, she wanted to run, so she would often miss turns, or want to go some direction instead of the direction I wanted her to go or that we were following, but she is really very easy to redirect, requiring very little in the way of leash correction for things like that. Hardly any, to tell the truth. We got all sorts of compliments on how beautiful she is, how friendly, how curious she is about everything around her. One comment was that she looked lik being still was very hard for her, and indeed, I think it is, especially in a new environment with things going on. Still, she did it, even with the supersonic shepherd whine, but she did. And the one time she got up because I didn’t have my foot on her leash and she wandered off to have a little walkabout in the apartment area we were working in, she immediately came back when I called.

She also definitely knows “inside” and “outside”, but backtracking, maybe not so much. We went out to park (she didn’t want or need to as it turned out), and when we went back inside, rather than going back throughthe door that we went out of, she went all the way around to the front door. Which meant another ride in the elevator.

Ah, the elevator. It must have smelled funny, because the first couple times, she stopped to sniff the carpet right inside the door of the elevator. By the third trip in it, she was a pro.

Things to work on are the same things to work on, namely, speed inside and pull. Because she wants to go go go, she would sometimes miss a turn into a door that we wanted. None of this is really unexpected, and everyone seemed impressed with miss Hilda. I’d certainly put her behavior up against many very young, very green guides out there, and maybe even some older more established ones. Although, yes, we definitely need to tone down the Little Miss Social Butterfly action.

All in all, very pleased.

Next report, our first walk with her new harness, which just showed up. Can’t wait.

Brilliant, followed by…what?!

There really isn’t a lot to say about this trip, which of course means that I’ll take forever to say it. Gotta be me.

Hilda for sure needed a walk today, so off we went to nowhere. Just down to 29th and Cascade by the elementary school, up to 36th over to Washington (maybe four very long blocks west), then back home over 32nd. It’s a fair haul, anyway. We’re still working on moderating pull, but that’s getting a lot better.

Distractions, oh yes. First, at 31st and Cascade, we encountered a dog out for a walk with its human, and Hilda was interested, though she didn’t take off to go visit the dog, even though the dog certainly had her attention. We still got across the street OK, but it did take a bit of persuasion, though not much, to get her going.

There was one bit of brilliant reasoning on her part further on. A block before Washington, on 36th, there was something about this curb approach she didn’t like. I’m not sure if they had dug up part, or if we were just by a storm drain, or what exactly. I can tell you she stopped shot of the curb, and I could tell that the pavement went down for some reason, and Hilda didn’t like it. So she went around the corner, got up on the sidewalk from the side, and went on. All on her own, on her own initiative.

There were several times when she thought “Forward” might possibly mean “Left” or “right”, because those were maybe more interesting directions, but fortunately, she is very easy to redirect, and she didn’t really insist. When she did, ultimately she was right about it and ended up going my way anyway.

Another time, we crossed, and she missed the curb and was walking down our parallel street for a few feet. She realized the error on her own and took us back to the right and onto the curb, again on her own and with no prompting from me.

At 33rd and Washington, we hit a snag. I’m not sure exactly how this worked, if she veered onto some other part of the sidewalk, or what, but we hit a curb, and she was very reluctant to step off it. Eventually she did though. … And then the crossing wasn’t quite right. So we turned around to cross back over and rework it, except we diagonaled. Or…umm, well, we did something, anyway. Trying to rework *that* really made things even more confusing, so we eventually just found our way to where we were supposed to be going in the first place and went on with life.

Right before we got back to Raspberry and the left turn to our block at 30th, Hilda very suddenly lunged to the left. Something really, really got her attention. I’m not sure what. Maybe it was one of the kids that I heard a few minutes later commenting on my nice dog. Maybe it was something else entirely, but that was not at all a typical reaction from her. She sprang forward towards something else a bit closer to home, too. I think this was perhaps tired brain. I don’t think it was anything aggressive, certainly if she was trying to visit the kids, they didn’t seem too upset.

Another successful trip

This time to Circle K. She hasn’t been there with me in several months.

This is another easy route, with mostly a straight shot. It does, however, present a couple challenges.

We live at 30th and Raspberry. The route is from our house to Raspberry, left on Raspberry down to 26th, take a right, and walk several long blocks to Cherry, where theCircle K is. At the corner of 26th and Raspberry is Elmwood Auto, a small used car place or some such. (Elmwood is the next block over to the east, go figure.) It’s very tempting to accidentally end up where some of the cars are parked there at the corner lot. Fortunately, we avoided that pitfall and walked up to the corner. Actually, Hilda felt the need to investigate the light pole at the corner. Gave it a name but not much attention. This may be something to work on at some point.

Took the right. At the second long block, between Cascade and Plum, we somehow managed to angle into what I assume is the furniture store parking lot. She did it so gradually and so smoothly I didn’t notice. She did notice, however, when we started getting to an obstacle, and she took the left back towards the street all on her own. We then had to work the crossing at Plum several times, because she kept missing the blended curb. I’m not sure what had her attention, but it wasn’t kids playing basketball like it was yesterday. Praise big time when she got it right!

The next crossing was Liberty, which is a nice busy light controlled, though very straightforward crossing. No problem. Easy peasy.

We got to the store. No worries, no trouble. She tried to greet some guy in line, looked around a lot, but stayed right with me and mostly stayed sitting in the store.

Pace and pull on the way up were nearly perfect. On the way back, there was a more pull, but much better. We even took a slightly different way home, and she handled it very well.

Oh, nearly forgot. On the way up, at Raspberry at 30th, when I asked her to turn left, she did left about instead. We had to do it about four times before she got it. The rest of the time, she did all her turns fine. She’s definitely showing more confidence in her decisions to execute a request from me, even if they’re wrong. They’re wrong less.

Trip Yesterday

Written yesterday…
We took a walk up to the Dollar Tree today. Not a bad trip, on the whole. We’re going to really start working on moderating the pull. Towards the end, I think she started getting the idea that pulling like a freight train really isn’t necessary.

She’s got a little bounce in her step sometimes. I’ve heard ofthis wonderfully smooth GSD gait, and I’m getting that sometimes, but other times? Not so much. I’m not sure what it is she’s doing really. Like maybe she’s thinking about stopping and thinking better of it? Don’t know.

She’s definitely taking initiative though. We found a car blocking our sidewalk. She stopped, I directed her to go around, and she went around. She gave some thought to continuing down the street, then correctly decided to get back around and onto the sidewalk instead. Pretty cool.

We got to do lots of right about, and sometimes she didn’t want to, but mostly because it was to rework something. At this one spot, she wanted to go right instead of forward. The crosswalk was a bit off from the sidewalk, but it was only a slight angle. She wanted to take the right to cross theother stret. We had to do it several times before she got that “Forward” in this case meant “Forward”.

We also need to work on Little Miss Social Butterfly’s social tendencies. She’s perhaps a bit friendlier than is good for her. Or at least, good for me. Definitely a work in progress there.

One thing that I’m really enjoying though is she’s starting to get pretty confident in her decisions. Definitely more decisive in her turns today. Following in the store wasn’t really great, but not worried about that.

Right About, Left About

Today was far too nice a day to be stuck inside for all of it, so even though I have to be stuck inside for most of it, owing to things that need done, I was able to go out for a little walk with the Beast today. Today’s exercise was turns, and the difference between “Right” and “right about”, and “Left” and “Left about”.

Another owner/trainer suggested that teaching a “Right about”, which is a 180-degree right turn, and of course by extension a “Left about”, would be useful. None of my program trained dogs would do this, and in fact turning around involved dropping the harness handle and turning, then picking the harness handle back up and going, or whatevering. Still, even if “Righta bout” and “Left about” were of absolutely no use, and they probably will be of some, though I think “Right about” more than “Left about”, they’re useful in at least one respect: they’ll be something I can ask Hilda to do that’s different from a right or left, and something that she wants to do naturally.

We started by going to the nearest corner and making curb to curb rights and lefts, just as an exercise. I note some reluctance, especially to turn left, and I’m not sure why. Anyway, we then worked out “Right about” and “Left about”, which she seemed to pick up very quickly. Seems “Right about” came more quickly than “Left about”, which is OK, since I think I’d actually use that more. We finally took our actual left, after just doing turns and Hilda probably wondering, “OK, what’s the point?”. Went down the block, took another left, and worked on our weird corner with the offset crosswalks, that is, offset in relation to the sidewalk. We crossed all four ways, and walked to all four crosswalks, although before making the last one to go back the way we came, we took the right and walked up a block, specifically so we could do a “right about”. After doing the offset corners a few times each, that is, and when she got it on her own without extra prompting.

On one block, a block up from my house, we were walking back towards the corner I live on but one block up, and we encountered the back end of a car. Hilda stopped and did her indecision dance. I didn’t direct her around the car, just encouraged her to decide which way to go. She started to go the wrong way, towards the front of the car to go around, then changed her mind and made the correct decision. Went around, and almost kept going up along the other side of the car. Just one little “Hupp-up” reminded her to pick up her line again, and we were off.

This trip had lots of bouncing and looking around and a bit of drifting and speed changes as one thing or another caught her interest. Even so, for the most part she stayed pretty on task, especially considering her age and maturity and how it’s such a lovely spring day.

When we got to the corner just ablock up from home, Hilda decided she was going to immediately take that left to go home. I didn’t necessarily want her to do that, or at least I didn’t want her to get into the habit of makinga decision like that without an OK, so we went up to the curb and worked some more on curb to curb turns. She was quite reluctant to make that left, and she really wanted a left about. I did eventually make two lefts to go the way she wanted, but it was a great opportunity to reinforce, yes, thank you foryour input, now we’re going this way. We’ll definitely be working on these things more.

Brains FAlling Out

Fortunately, we recover from brains falling out.

Friday morning, Hilda and I took a walk down to the CVS. I think the nice weather may have been getting the better of our Miss Missy, because…yeah…brains were definitely falling out on the way there.

We still haven’t quite figured out the crosswalks offset from the sidewalks at 29th and Elmwood. We’ll work that a bit more, as we did on Saturday, more on that later. Anyway, there were a couple times on that intersection where she didn’t want to pick up our line of travel again, but we worked it out.

It felt like she was sort of all over the place! And so she was, because when we got to the four-way stop at 29th and Washongton, just four blocks from home, most of the way to the CVS (many of these blocks are quite long), she really screwed up the crossing! Seriously. I don’t know what she was doing, but I found myself walking down the street we were meant to be walking beside…yeah, that crossing felt awfully long! So we got up on the curb, and we crossed back over. We did this about three times before she got it well enough. On our second trip, this guy walks up and asks if he can help me, because my dog “looks confused”. No, thanks, we’re OK. Nope, nothing to see here.

During one part of our trip, Hilda was trying to avoid an obstacle way way way before the obstacle. SHe stopped, and she was sort of dancing around, and her head was going every which way, and I had no idea what she was on about. Encouraged her to go forward some more, eventually found the car she wanted to go around that she wasn’t sure about how to get around (I guess she didn’t think there was enough clearance, but there was, as it turned out). We got around, and it was all good.

When we got to CVS, she decided that pulling to the door like a freight train was definitley the thing to do, so we had to discuss that.

Fortunately, she started collecting her brains again when we got into the store. One thing I’m working on is keeping her on task while walking, as she’s very social and wants to visit with people she sees as we’re walking. She tried to visit a couple people on our way to the pharmacy counter. On our way up to the front counter for some other stuff, I thought she was going around someone, and maybe she was, but next thing I know, I hear a surprised squawk from this lady to our left. Apparently Hilda has now scared her first human. You know, I thought having a black sable GSD might be at least a little intimidating to someone, but…no, no such luck. I reckon Hilda’s just got too friendly a face, because I have, correctly, gotten nothing but compliments on her. Not counting Mr. Russian Guy several months ago and her first scared human Friday. While looking for a few other things, Hilda did a really pretty nice job of following, something we haven’t done a lot of, and when we have, she’s tried to follow too closely, because she wants to follow from the front. This time though, she did better, although perhaps still a little close. Still, she kept track of the person we were following really well.

The trip home was much better, and she only ran one curb as I recall.

Saturday, we worked mostly on those offset crosswalks, which we still need to work through some more. We also need to work on not making 180 degree turns, which she wants to do sometimes instead of just turning to hit the sidewalk.

A guide dog…already?

No, not really, except…

We had a longer walk than I’d planned.

Actually, we’ve had a walk or two since the last entry, including a trip to the grocery store, where we got to practice lying down in the car, not her favorite thing ever, but she’ll do it, and yes, she can squeeze down amazingly small if she has a mind to. But there really isn’t anything much to say about that. Today’s walk is what we’re concerned with.

First, yeah, I think she’s definitely a fan of the work, or at least of the going. When I put Leno in the crate, she ran around a little, then ran to the front door. Right to the front door, as if to say, “Oh boy!!!! We’re going, let’s go now!!!!”

My plan was to find a convenience store that I thought I remembered, on some block with which Hilda was not familiar. Come to that, I wasn’t exceeding familiar with them either, but they weren’t that out of the way. She required a few more reminders, verbal only, mostly, of what she was about, as she would try to go left down a street instead of continuing forward, or look distractedly off somewhere and get us off track a little, but she was easily redirected. Very easily really. I wasn’t quite sure where this store was, but when I prompted “Inside”, she took us right to a door all right! It was the wrong kind of door, in the wrong place, but by gosh, it was a door, and she did what she was supposed to. Someone took us to the correct door though, and we went in for milk. And we got the “No dog” Indian guy. So here’s the thing. Even though in Pennsylvania, trainers of service dogs also have access rights, and even though I still consider her very much in training as she has a lot yet to learn, I felt absolutely no compunction at all about calling her a guide dog. She got me to the store, clearly understanding and applying what she’s learned to new and unfamiliar areas. Yes, she still needs some work on her social graces, but she’s still quite young and immature, and considering that, she’s doing wonderfully well. Anyway, I didn’t have to argue much, and other customers were telling him, “Yeah, hey, he needs that dog!” and things like that, and the guy was then saying, “Yeah, I know”, and was very helpful after.

Then, we had our adventure.

I’m still not sure how exactly, but instead of going west on 32nd street, we ended up going north, towards downtown, on Cherry street. Best I can figure, I was lined up at the corner a little bit wrong. To Hilda’s credit however, we didn’t diagonal the crossing, but rather went across the wrong street. The only way I found this out was that Hilda took a little side trip into aa parking lot and up to somewhere, not sure where, and we had to backtrack. This is where GPS came in very handy. The other thing is, I’m also not sure how I ended up, eventually, on the wrong side of 29th street, so when I found myself, I then ended up going west instead of east for several blocks. Once I figured that out, we were home free.

The thing is, our getting lost in that way was all my doing, except perhaps the initial error that got us across the wrong street. Hilda kept her line pretty well and, up until we got closer to home, a couple miles or so after we started our walk, stopped at all the curbs.

A couple things. Sometimes, when she’s turning, she’ll do a complete 180, instead of just a 90-degree left or right, or at least to wherever the sidewalk is. That’s really just a matter of getting her to understand what I want, and that’s getting better really.

She’s also learning to look for all kinds of obstacles. There were some small logs on the sidewalk at one point. My foot hit one once, so I back her up and reworked it. She cleared me the next time. This guy commented on it, and I explained what we were doing as he moved the log (after we passed it). He told us there was another one further up, which, if it was still there, Hilda passed without running me over it.

She also encountered someone on a mobility scooter in the sidewalk, so we got to work past her. Hilda was initially hesitant, but after she got a good look and said howdy, I asked the woman to move into the sidewalk more. Hilda worked past, the scooter also went past us and Hilda had no trouble.

A couple other things that required a little verbal redirection. Once, while crossing, Hilda tried to angle over to an idling car to, one supposes, greet her adoring public. It didn’t take much convincing to get her to change her mind. Another time, a “Forward” off the curb, she wanted to instead go right and walk down the street instead. The really great thing about her is that she’s very, very easy to redirect. Mostof the time, she only requires a “No, hupp-up” or some such, and not even very sternly.

I sort of wish I could figure out a good way to get some video of a walk, but I’m not really sure how I’d accomplish such a thing. I’ll have to think on it some more.

More Trips!

We had a couple more outings. Today’s was definitely more brains falling out, but even so, not bad. They can’t all be perfect, after all, but there are good stories to come out of these trips, at least.

Thursday, I had to go to the bank, so Hilda and I rode the bus downtown. As with other bus trips, she was a bit whiny. The good news is that Hilda is very people friendly. The bad news is that Hilda is very people friendly. She definitely would love to greet everybody with a wet nose to somewhere and a schlurpy tongue. Never met a stranger has our Hilda. Even so, we’ve seen a lot of improvement. She’ll sit fairly still for attention, and she’s not jumping on people so much these days.

She’s definitely got the whole curb concept down pretty well, as she stopped at all of them in this area that isn’t home and that she hasn’t been to in at least a couple months. Hilda got distracted on the way by, of all things, a bird. I’d have never known, except this guy was coming up from behind me and told me i could go on ahead, because he was just coming, but then told me that she was distracted by a bird in front of her. I assume standing in front of her, anyway.

She also definitely has the “Inside” and “Outside” concepts for finding a door pretty well, too. We passed my bank, which is right at the corner. I noticed this and cued “Inside”, and she zipped a 180 and marched us right to the door of the bank.

All that must not have been nearly enough adventure for our Hilda though. She wanted more. When we got to the bus stop, I accidentally dropped her leash, and somehow didn’t notice right off. A bus had just pulled up, too (not my bus, as it turned out). Next thing I know, I reach down and there’s no Hilda. I call her. I get her back, and I don’t remember if someone got her or if she came on her own, or a bit of both, but she had gotten on the bus without me. To go heavens only knew where, but I’m sure it would have been an adventure.

Today’s walk was just a routine trip to the drugstore. She missed stopping at exactly one curb, and that was a curb to curb left turn. She stopped at the first one, but when we turned left, she wasn’t going to stop at that one. She also went back to missing upcurb sidewalks by a couple feet again, and in a couple cases decided we needed some cross country experience, even though there were perfectly usable sidewalks that we found with a bit of encouragement. Except the one time. This one was as much my fault as hers. We started walking on some grass and dirt, and I stopped and cued to find the way, which turned out to be just a tiny bit to the left. So I thought. Next thing I know, wait, a curb? On the left? Oh no, you didn’t do what I think you did. Yeah, she did. Crossed the little side streeet we were meant to be walking along. Like I said, at least half my fault, because I thought it was a sidewalk, not a street. No traffic, you know.

On the way there, she showed she’s really starting to geththe funny jog the sidewalks on this one corner take to get to the crosswalk. I barely had to say anything to her to keep her going to the crosswalks correctly.

There was one funny thing that happened today though. We were crossing this tiny side street that dead ends into 29th, which we were walking beside. We’re crossing, and Hilda approaches this car that’s stopped and waiting for us to cross. I mean she seriously veered to the right to find this car. She must have really liked whoever, because she goes up to the driver’s side window, which was down, to say howdy, apparently. The driver sounded like a lovely person, she sounded very friendly as she told us we could go while we were walking around her car, but really, I don’t think that’s exactly the best way to meet people. Especially since she never properly introduced herself.