This blog entry is for all the guide dog users. When I first was matched with Verona, my first guide dog, I had some problems using her harness. Once I got the handle swapped out for a longer version, things changed for the better but I still felt that I couldn’t “feel” my dog like other handlers said I should. I soldiered on, accepting that I could work my dog even if she was a soft pull and gentle all around. She kept me safe, that was all that mattered in the big scheme of things.
Then, a friend from another guide dog school let me examine her harness, which was made from lightweight leather and an aluminum handle with a button release that was much easier for those times when the handle needed to be taken off. My harness was klunky in comparison. I admitted it then, I had a hard case of harness envy.
A few years later, my school announced they were redesigning the harness, incorporating the lightweight quick release clips and floating handle , similar to the harness from the other school while still keeping in mind the classic elements of high quality bridle leather and solid metal hardware that withstood the test of time and the elements.
I hoped and prayed that I would one day get this into my hot little hands and onto my dog’s back and finally benefit from a more sensitive piece of equipment. I didn’t have long to wait and wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I am very impressed.
The new harness is slimmer, lighter, and gives the handler more sensory information. I can now feel my dog’s gait, shoulder movement, and pace. She leads out more confidently and I feel her move in ways I never did with the other, heavier and less intuitive harness. When my dog shifts or changes elevation for a dipping sidewalk or a ramp, I feel it. Also, the handle floats so my dog doesn’t require additional hardware to keep the handle off her back, an issue she has from a sensitive rump, what the instructors called cushy tushy syndrome. The new harness is also much lighter and the back and shoulder strap isn’t as thick as the old harness so it doesn’t weigh down my dog. She is a female lab and only weighs 60 pounds so I lighter, slimmer design really helps her work better for longer periods of time. It means less physical stress on her back and shoulders which could help her work better and longer and reduce discomfort.
I am very happy with my new harness and thank my school, guiding Eyes for the Blind, for taking the concerns of our students to heart and maiking improvements for those of us who felt it was time to do it.