New Equipment! YEEEEEEEHAAAAAAA!!!!

We interrupt this streak of not posting anything with a post.

Ooh…a post? Really? Maybe I’ll post about our trip to the NFBP convention next, but this isn’t that post.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten some gear from Julie Johnson, whose site can be found at Guide And Service Dogs. Besides useful information, Julie manufactures a line of some dead useful things at really good prices. You can also buy from Amazon if you like, as she sells there. I’ve gotten a few of them that I’d like to talk about.

I’ll briefly mention the first aid kit, which doesn’t appear to be on her site. It’s a handy zippered bag full of, surprisingly, first aid supplies. There are bandages, ointment, vet wrap, and an emergency blanket. It’s a handy size to stash either in your home or in your luggage for travel.

Next, the collar bells are a pretty good idea for keeping track of your dog around the house, so that s/he will (theoretically) stay out of trouble. Julie sent me a set in trade for an honest review, and then Amazon changed their review rules. Still, I’ll happily give an honest review for them anyway. These are just your standard jingle bells on a nylon strap with side release buckle. The set comes with three sizes: one set with two very small bells, a medium sized bell, and a larger bell, each on its own strap. These would be great for a fairly quiet indoor environment. The bells aren’t very loud, so they wouldn’t be appropriate for outdoor use. The strap is only a couple inches long, with the plastic side release buckle closure, sort of like the buckles that snap your backpack together. Be aware, however, that these buckles are very small, so if you have dexterity issues, you may have trouble with them. The set I have is not adjustable, but Julie is thinking about making some that can be shortened if necessary. These would be most appropriate on a flat collar; just put the strap around the width of the collar and close, letting them hang down. I don’t think these would work very well with a slip collar, though they might with a martingale collar. I can usually hear these, when Fiona isn’t barking loudly, or if Hilde is not in stealth mode, so they’re pretty handy. I’d probably get louder bells, just because we have some loud household members, but it wouldn’t matter a lot, because this dog can move unbelievably quietly.

There are two things that a guide dog user must have. OK, three. One is a collar of some kind. Hilde wears both a flat collar, for tags, and a training collar, either a toggle collar or a prong collar, depending. Julie has flat collars and martingale collars, but I don’t have either one of those. I do have a collar with Hilde’s name and my phone number on it, in case she gets lost. This collar also has reflective stuff on it. I have a link somewhere if anyone’s interested.

But the other two things that a guide dog handler really has to have are a leash and a harness. Julie makes both out of quality nylon webbing. We’re most of us used to leather, and leather is really nice. I have a leather harness as well, and it’s great. Durable, classy, practical, fairly easy to maintain. Nylon, however, also has advantages. It’s light weight and even easier to clean, and don’t forget, it’s also inexpensive. I’ve used a nylon harness over the past six or seven years on and off. I like them especially for these Erie winters with all the dirt and grit and road salt and heavens only know what. So really, don’t discount the nylon.

First, the leash. You can get any length you like. I prefer shorter leashes, such as the Seeing Eye uses, about four feet long when in its extended long leash length. However, you can get one that’s 5 or 6 feet if you prefer.

Julie does something kind of neat, for which I will take at least partial credit. I say partial because I think there’s a school that does the same thing, but I can’t remember which one.

I’m lazy. So last year, when Hilde was a pup, I called Handcraft Collars to ask if they could make me some guide dog leashes out of tubular nylon. I had to describe what I wanted. So, instead of the usual arrangement where you can hook to one ring for a short leash, towards the bottom snap, and another ring near top, for a long leash, I just had Debbie put in one ring at the bottom, to make a short leash, while leaving a standard handle with the bolt snap strung on the end of the handle. That way, all you have to do to get a long leash is disconnect from the bottom ring. Several months later, I told Julie about that, she said, “Hey, why didn’t I think of that?”, and thus, the Quick Convert Service Dog Leash was born.

I now have one of those, too. It’s a little heavier than the ones from Handcraft. Still, the stitching is quality, as is the hardware. Rather than a standard ring, Julie uses a D-ring. The bolt snaps are heavy duty ones, thicker than the ones on my Handcraft leashes. She uses nylon webbing, which is a bit grippier than the very slippery tubular nylon is, as well as a bit wider. Actually, the 3/4 inch width is as close to perfect as it gets. It’s good stuff, and I highly recommend these, and not just because it was sort of my lazy idea. Sort of. I stole it from somewhere else. Southeastern maybe?

Finally, the harness. I’m a budding guide dog equipment nerd. I love guide dog equipment. I’d love to see all sorts of different harness designs. Even so, I have very definite opinions on what makes a good harness. Of course, it has to be as comfortable as possible for the dog. Ease of putting on and taking off is desirable. A removable handle is a definite plus, and, while I wouldn’t say I’d never have a harness without a removable handle, I’ll always take a removable handle over a fixed handle. One thing that’s an absolute deal breaker, however, is the martingale strap. Ever since I got my first Seeing Eye dog, I have gotten very spoiled by this seemingly simple extra strap that runs between the dog’s front legs, from the belly strap to the chest strap in whatever configuration. Besides giving the dog more to pull into, the extra strap stabilizes the harness’s movement from side to side (so it doesn’t move so much), and makes it harder for your dog to accidentally back out of the harness.

The Sports Style Guide Harness meets all of these requirements. This is the second harness of this design that I’ve owned, and Julie has made some improvements. It’s made with wide 2-inch nylon straps and comes in several different colors. For Hilde, I got it in blue. The harness straps are padded to make it more comfortable for the dog to wear. You’ll notice right away that the design of the harness is different from most guide dog schools. Instead of one strap that goes around the chest from one side of the dog to the other, the harness is made with two straps that run from the back strap, over the dog’s shoulders, and meeting in the center of the dog’s chest at the breastbone. The martingale strap then runs back from this juncture, such that the three straps form something like a print letter Y. You’ll also notice the absence of handle stabilizing loops, or “bunny ears” that are present on most American harnesses. This isn’t nearly as scary as you might suppose. While it does afford the opportunity for more freedom of movement for the dog, the new handle has a much more rigid connection with the harness, so the handle really isn’t in a lot of danger of flipping up too high as it could with the previous PVC handle. Anyway, since there are no loops, there’s less bulk, and less bulk for your dog to have to lie on, which sounds a lot more comfortable. The belly strap is adjustable with a sliding buckle, and closes at the right side with a plastic side release buckle of the sort that you’d use to close a backpack. This buckle is quite large and sturdy.

The handle, as I said, is an improvement over the previous generation. The new handles are made of a flat metal stock wrapped in nylon. It is removable, attaching to the harness with plastic side release buckles. Don’t let that put you off, however; I’ve used a harness with similar handle attachments for a while with no problems. The buckles are sturdy and I’ve never had one disconnect during travel. Julie has also put a comfortable rubber handgrip on the handle, with finger grooves in the front. It’s a very comfortable grip, even for a dog with quite a bit of pull. I’d maybe prefer a bit more of a rounded grip, maybe a little padding under the grip, but even with that, I like it. You’ll have absolutely no trouble following your dog due to “sloppy” handle connections, because the connections are definitely not sloppy and don’t have excessive play in them at all. Highly recommended, especially for the price.

Anyway, if you’re owner training, or if you just need or want alternative equipment, give these a look. You won’t be sorry.

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