First Impressions: Biothane Assistance Dog Harness And Other Gear

Hi, I’m Buddy, and I’m a gearaholic. So opened another post on another blog, and I hear myself saying this a lot.

Yesterday, an eagerly anticipated box came (after a bit of post office drama) from Nerissa at Snowflake Craft. In this box was a whole pile of guide dog goodness (plus a couple cat collars). The cat collars are pretty snazzy as well, but I’m really writing about the dog gear.

About Snowflake Craft

Nerissa Cannon at Snowflake Craft makes lots of stuff for your dog, or cat for that matter. If you need a leash, a harness cape, pouch, or collar, Nerissa can probably make you one. Collars are made from paracord. Have a look at her page on Etsy and get in touch to ask her to make something for you. She can make anything custom, with your choice of a variety of colors. Lots of colors. Overwhelming for a guy who is fashion stupid. Fortunately, Nerissa was very helpful in helping me choose.

I first found out about Snowflake Craft from a new Facebook friend, who mentioned they (well, she, really) was making a guide dog harness. Being ever curious, I went on a quest to find her page, and, being terribly lucky, found it shortly before she was to close the ability to get into the third test group for this new harness. I got my submission in, just in time, too, and was fortunate enough to get into this test group. As an interesting, though unrelated aside, I’m the only guy among the testers. Someone should do a study on the service dog owner trainer population breakdown by gender. There’s probably a grant for that. Anyway, that was in December, and, oh happy day, I got the first harness in our group.

The Gear In the Box

In the box were the following items:

  • Biothane Assistance Dog Harness (guide only version, adjustable T-front)
  • Harness Compatible Saddlebags
  • Poop Bag Holder
  • Two cat collars

Everything looks very well constructed, with no cut corners. The saddlebags were even installed on the harness, a good thing. One less thing for me to figure out, even though I had to figure it out later when getting pictures.

Looking For the Perfect Poop Bag Holder

Always on the lookout for a better mousetrap, so to speak, I also got a poop bag holder in my order. It may well be perfect. It’s a fairly unassuming, compact cloth bag, generously sized to fit a roll of pickup baggies. There’s a place to thread the end of the roll of baggies through, and the bag opens and closes with a zipper. No more trying to stuff a bag into a plastic tube and then find the end to fish through an impossible hole. The holder attaches to the harness or leash or wherever with a mini carabiner, and this harness has two handy D-rings on either side that serve nicely.

Biothane Assistance Dog Harness

The harness can be configured several different ways: for guidework, for counterbalance work, or for both. You can have a straight front, as most guide dog schools use (no martingale), an adjustable straight front, a T-front (more like the Seeing Eye, with martingale), or an adjustable T-front. My harness is the guide dog version in blue, with the handle wrapped in reflective electric blue and reflective light gray paracord, and pewter gray saddlebags and poop bag holder. Handle attachments can also be done a couple different ways, using trigger snaps or a new system that Nerissa calls “pop Strut quick disconnect”. The Pop Strut Quick Disconnect is still being developed, and this is the first harness that has it, I think. Anyway, it looks mostly like the usual American style guide dog harness. It does have a couple extra straps that run from the back strap at an angle to the chest strap, sort of forming a print letter V. I expect these are to stabilize the harness just a little bit more.

So what’s this biothane stuff anyway? It’s some sort of coated material, billed as a leather replacement, but easier to clean and maintain than leather, but offering the strength and greater durability. It feels as thick as the leather used in the leather harnesses I have here, and about as stiff, though also easier to bend and work with than new, stiff, not yet broken in leather. The material itself feels slightly rubbery. Seems it would work nicely in wet and humidity and snow and all sorts of things; some have said they’ve taken their biothane gear swimming in the ocean, so I reckon it’s pretty durable.

The harness itself is constructed similarly to many American style harnesses. Every strap, the girth strap, the martingale, and both sides of the front, are adjustable with standard buckles. The harness closes at the right side with a metal side release buckle, and the martingale attaches to the chest strap with a metal side release buckle. So, instead of threading the girth strap through the martingale and buckling as is done with other designs, you simply snap one buckle at the side and one in the front and you’re ready to go. The handle threads through fairly tall bunny ears, very like on other harness designs. Interestingly, the way the ears are attached appears to help hold the handle up at a natural working angle. While the handle can be laid down flat on the dog’s back, the design seems to encourage the proper handle angle as you’re walking. This may also be in part due to the placement and angle of the Pop Strut Quick disconnects, but if you put the handle down flat, the bunny ears definitely lean back. At either side of the harness, in line with the bunny ears, are handy D-rings, one on either side. I have the poop bag holder attached to one, and I hang a leash on theother one when the harness is hanging up and not in use.

So what about this Pop Strut Quick Disconnect System? It definitely offers great feedback. You can literally feel every move your dog makes. You can feel your dog’s head turning, and every step to any direction. If you’re used to a harness with any play in the handle, this one will take getting used to, as it has none. The connection is quite stiff, with no back and forth movement at all. If you use harness checks to steady down your dog, you won’t get much in that respect. I’m not sure how possible it would be to modify for at least some back and forth movement in the joint. I like the amount of feedback from the much fewer moving parts, but even a little bit would probably be all right, for harness checks and, perhaps more importantly, to relieve a bit of the sudden change if your dog backs up for a traffic check. Sudden stops at least on this first trip didn’t seem to be a problem, and thankfully, we had no traffic checks requiring the testing of this theory. Even if we had, I expect it would have been all right anyway.

This system, however, is definitely not recommended if you have manual dexterity issues. To get the harness handle on or off requires that you pull back the spring-loaded locking mechanism, and, while holding that open (and it will want very badly to close), pulling the socket away from the ball joint on the harness body. This of course is done for both sides. To re-attach, it’s the same, and you (or at least I) wouldn’t find it easy to do this while the harness is on the dog. There is just one thing I would suggest as usability improvements. Make it possible to lock the socket open. For example, pulling the cover back and giving a half twist could lock it open. Then the handle could be easily attached or removed, then twisting the cover back would allow it to spring closed again. In its current form, it almost feels like I need three hands to operate! It’s a good idea though, and I feel very confident it won’t disconnect by mistake as panic snaps sometimes will, at least in my experience, while also eliminating a lot of extra play in the handle connection.

The Saddlebags

What service dog user doesn’t carry a lot of stuff? This one does. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a handy place for extra pickup bags, an extra leash, your keys or wallet or ADA information cards? These saddlebags fill the bill nicely. They fit over the harness and snap over the top. The harness bunny ears hold it in place. The easiest way to attach it appears to be by putting the saddlebags over the harness, snapping the top together, then attaching the harness handle. This makes the harness and saddlebags look like they were purposely built to work together, which of course they were. The saddlebags are about 10 inches front to back, and they’re worn such that there is one bag on either side of the dog. Besides the big pocket on either bag, there’s a smaller outside pocket, with an angled zipper to access it, just right to slide a spare roll of baggies or something like that in. The main compartment of the bag is just long enough to fit my collapsed emergency cane. It’s just tall enough to fit a collapsed silicone water bowl. I have a tie down, an extra leash, and a slip collar in also, with room to spare. The bags, when empty, lie flat against the dog and don’t really take up a lot of space. For extra stability, the bags clip around the dog with their own girth strap that closes with a plastic side release buckle. Additionally, they come with an elastic strap that can snap across the dog’s chest near the harness chest strap.

All of this gear is definitely well constructed. The straps are all padded, especially where screws or rivets might rub against the dog’s body. All buckles are well attached, some even have metal looks to hold the free ends of the straps down. All the hardware looks very sturdy. I feel confident that I’ll get years and years of great service from this harness.

First Walk, First Impressions

In short, I love it. Hilde is still getting used to it, so she was walking a bit slower. As I mentioned, I could feel every move she made. The first walk around the block, for the first half of the walk, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she was so distracted. Was it because Alena was walking behind us with Fiona (the cairn terrier)? That was all I could think of, since she usually doesn’t do that. But no, as it turns out, that wasn’t it. I’d forgotten to snap the side release buckle closed on the saddlebags, so there was this strap hanging down underneath her while she walked, probably bumping her leg and making her a little crazy. Once I figured this out and closed it properly, she was her usual self again. I’m definitely looking forward to more walks with this new harness.

Regarding Proposed (though not yet drafted) legislation to address the problem of “fake” service dogs

Just sent the below to a state legislator’s office who is proposing legislation to address the problem of “fake” service dogs. As usual, they’re calling for the ability to ask for ID’s or certification. Anyway, here are my comments, for what they’re worth. Feel free to use them for your own purposes…


I’ve gotten word that legislation is proposed that would punish those who fraudulently represent a dog as a service dog when it is not one. Thank you, first of all, for addressing this very real problem. It is a problem, and the problem does need to be addressed. However, it needs to be addressed in a way that will not infringe upon the rights of people with disabilities who legitimately use service dogs. As, first, a guide dog user myself, and second, as someone who has recently trained his own guide dog, I have some thoughts and concerns I’d like to share with you.

While well intentioned, I think you may be coming at this issue from the wrong angle. I’d like to establish where the rights and responsibilities lie in this discussion. The right to be accompanied by a trained service animal rightly belongs to the person with a disability. That means that it is the person, not the dog, who is perpetrating fraud in some fashion, either by falsely representing that s/he has a disability, by falsely representing that the dog has been trained to mitigate that disability, or both. The most likely case is “both”.

Having said that, however, since the ADA stipulates that one cannot be questioned as to the nature of his or her disability, there has to be a different test. A certification of the service dog? For one thing, there isn’t one, and creating one would present its own set of problems. (If you want to know what those are, I’d be happy to discuss them, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion, and the problems are many.) Anyway, certification or ID. ID’s are a dime a dozen. Anyone can, and does, get them. The people perpetrating the fraud are most likely to have ID’s and are eager to show them. How, therefore, do you tell the real ones from the fake ones? Certainly the two allowable screening questions in the ADA implementing regulations help: most fakers will be able to answer the first and will either struggle with the second or, at best, won’t be able to give a reasonable answer to it.

The standard, therefore, is and must be behavior. Under that standard, any dog, whether service dog or not, can be removed from a place of business if it is not housebroken, and especially if it isn’t under the handler’s control or is aggressive or disruptive. This has always been the case. However, whether through fear or ignorance, business owners are reluctant to exercise their rights to have such disruptive animals removed for their disruptive behavior. Whether a dog is a legitimate service dog or not, there is no place in a public setting for it if it is disruptive or, especially, if it’s aggressive.

I’d suggest that the laws, first, address behavior of aggressive or disruptive animals. Second, address the fraudulent misrepresentation of disability. If, indeed, someone does not have a disability as defined in the ADA, and if their dog is not adequately trained (something that could easily be proved if it were aggressive or disruptive), that’s where your legislation could step in. Absolutely, give the false representation of disability or of trained status real teeth. As outlined, it seems to me, however, that your proposal would be unenforceable. The litmus test must be, not the presence of an ID or certification, but rather the behavior of the dog in question.

As I mentioned, I have trained my own guide dog. She’s my fourth guide, though only my first that I’ve trained myself. I started her out as a puppy, and I would say that she’s as well trained as any guide dog that came from a training program. How would your proposed legislation affect me? I have no ID for my dog, nor do I believe that I should have to prove that I, a law-abiding citizen, am not breaking the law with my dog, who is very well-behaved and always under my control. Laws should certainly be available to penalize the guilty, but the innocent should not be made to bear the burden of the behavior of the guilty. Conversely, I have met program-trained dogs who have ID’s issued by their schools, who are aggressive, disruptive, and whose training has not been maintained by their handlers. Those dogs would get a pass, and they absolutely should not. I can’t stress this enough: behavior, not ID, should be the litmus test here.

I’d be happy to discuss this with you further if you want or need.



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.

Thoughts on… “Did she sign up for this?!”

I know I’ve had very little to say lately.

In part, that’s because I’m sort of processing what’s going on. A couple people have told me that this is not unusual though, so I’m not worrying. Well, not much.

One friend told me that yeah, 18 months old? Yeah, your dog is going to have another round of brains falling out…she’s about due, so don’t worry about it, everything will be fine.

So, yeah, that’s about it. We’re having some regression. It started with not wanting to lie down on the floor of the car. Hilde did this perfectly when we went to Austin, and for a little while after, then a few weeks ago, decided…nah…can’t wanna.

Then, there were portions of some walks where she wouldn’t really want to go. Like she’d do the pokey slow snail crawl. But she’d fly home with all the confidence in the world.

And she’s showing some small fear reactions to some new people who come here. A bit like how she reacted to Sue when we were in Massachusetts. Barking, turning her head so as to not look at them, backing away. Most recently,this happened with Melanie’s grandfather, who is a pretty big guy, and I think maybe she just hasn’t seen many of those, and certainly not in our home. I hope this doesn’t generalize to outside of home, and so far it hasn’t, but it makes me sorry I was unable to get more people over to visit her when she was a puppy. None of that, to tell you the truth, worked out the way I’d hoped. Even for my lack, I think she’s turned out mostly all right anyway.

I should clarify that by “home”, I mean “the place where we are staying/sleeping”, since I guess that’s probably how she’s seeing it. Strange people that look strange in our home? Don’t like it.

So with all of that, I’ve been wondering. Is she already deciding, “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this. I think I’d rather do something else.”? Especially when, sometimes, she reacts to the harness like she’d just as soon not be bothered with it, but if I take it off to let her park on our way, she’s perfectly fine with having it put back on.

So I’ve been sort of watching, and thinking that the time might come where she very definitely says, “Nope, didn’t sign up for this, you’re on your own, pal!”

This morning was such a time. Protested at the harness, did the pokey slow walk, with stopping for no very good reason and dnacing around, then going eventually. Brought some treats to encourage for when she picked it up. When she figured we were going in somewhere, she definitely showed me all the doors and was happy to get inside. Overjoyed, in fact. We had our lunch, and she did beautifully going home, well, apart from sort of taking a screwy direction across the parking lot, but we worked that out. Parking lots are hard, as is keeping a straight line and keeping her from veering into ones that are flush with the sidewalk, as she tries to find a building or something to follow, but I digress slightly. Anyway, beautiful trip home. So i’m thinking,OK, she likes going home, but not going out. Is this nearly successful, though failed in the end?

And then we went out this afternoon so I could get a haircut.

Apart from needing a little initial encouragement to keep her pace up, it was perfect. When I asked her to turn right as we were looking for the entrance to a parking lot, she showed me that she couldn’t, several times, until she could. Beautiful work there, even across a parking lot, beautiful work home, apart from running the curb out of the parking lot, but I’ll take it (yes, we reworked it).

True, we haven’t gone out every day, and that’s all on me. We’ll see, and I’ll keep an eye on things.

So with all that, I’d been thinking, and wondering, if maybe Hilde’s decided

Adventures With Escalators: Dog Trusts You?

Finally, after only talking about it for ages and ages, I’ve gotten Hilda onto an escalator. My intention was to do it before we went on our trip to Austin for the AccessU conference/seminars, and time started getting short. Amazing how that happens.

Well, we had an adventure even getting there. Missed the first bus we tried to catch, so went to another corner to catch a different bus. This particular corner, it turns out, is kind of icky. It’s all flat, for one, with little to no definition between the sidewalk and the street. It’s also like a five or so way intersection.

So the bus comes, and for some reason, I can’t tell exactly where it is. In part because the engine’s in the back, in part because the street is quite noisy, in part because, I don’t know, because. So we find…something…which I believe is sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, but I had no clue what it was. Next thing I know, there are people coming up and asking if I need help crossing the street. No, I just need to catch this bus. Thought I heard one, where is it? It’s behind me? What the actual hell? Yeah, I think what I found before was the bike rack on the front of the bus. How totally embarrassing. So this person waves the bus to stop, because he’s fixing to leave, and walks me around the front of the bus to get on. I get on and then hear someone calling me. “Hey Buddy! Where you going?!” It’s Sharon, Hilda’s breeder, who just happened by. And she’s going my way and offers us a lift.

We got to the mall, and Hilda zooms up to the door. When we got in, we had to rework racks of clothes that she kept walking me into because this is all so new and exciting. Eventually, I hear an escalator and go that way. We heel on, we heel off, we go back down, and it all goes very well.


“Sir, are you OK?” asks the lady who I assume works there.

“Umm. Yeah, I’m OK.”

“Because the security guard doesn’t want you riding the escalator with your dog. You should really be taking the elevator.”

“Oh really?! Why?”

“He doesn’t want your dog’spaws to get caught in the escalator.”

So I assure her it’s going to be fine, and anyway, better that I teach her on these escalators than on the escalator at the airport between flights. Funny thing, I never heard from that security guard directly, and anyway, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so we went up and down a couple more times.

Hilda was reluctant to approach the escalator after we got off the first round. She whined a little, too. The important thing, howeger, is that she did it anyway, even though she was clearly a little afraid of the thing, and definitely nervous about it.

And here’s the thing, and it’s a thing you never hear about at guide dog school. You always hear “Follow your dog”, “Trust your dog”, and things like that. Absolutely, all very important. You never hear anything about your dog trusting you, which is just as important.

It hit me like a ton of bricks though. Here’s Hilda, who is definitely afraid of this new thing she hasn’t seen before. It moves. It probably feels funny under her feet. She doesn’t like it. She even whined a little while riding it. But she swallowed her fear and did it anyway. That, dear friends and others, is trust. And it’s really pretty amazing.

The rest of the trip was pretty anticlimactic. Just a lot of walking around the mall, and a hamburger, then a walk home after a bus ride.

This trip to Austin, with her first airplane flight and a long day of traveling, is going to be interesting.

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.

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.

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.