Back in February, I ordered an On The Go harness from Julie Johnson. As these are individually made and she had some backlog, it took some time to arrive, but arrive it did, and I’ve had my new harness for about three weeks now. That should be plenty of time to give it a fair evaluation, I thought.
First, if you didn’t already know, Julie has sold livingblind.com and, separately, her harness making business. These harnesses, now from Pawpower Creations, can be purchased from (interestingly enough) Pawpower Creations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for latest info and pricing.
Find information on these at the LivingBlind.com guide dog harness page.
So what’s the deal with these harnesses, anyway?
First, to avoid confusion, I will henceforth refer to the harness company by its new name. Meaning no slight to Julie and her excellent work, naturally.
Pawpower Creations harnesses are a great alternative for the owner trainer or anyone who, for whatever reason, wants another harness than the one the school provides. Some people just want a generic harness with no school names on it. Others want features that their school harnesses do not provide. Others may want a harness that’s easy to clean and care for. In all these cases, the Pawpower Creations harnesses fill the bill nicely. Being made of nylon instead of leather, they are easy to clean (machine washable, I’m told), and lightweight. Take them to the beach and get them all wet and icky and it isn’t really a problem. Moreover, the harness is made to fit your dog with measurements you provide as instructed on the harness Web page. Also, and my main reason for buying, the handle is easily removable. No more wrenches! You see, I’ve been wanting an easy to remove handle for ages. It’s especially been a problem with Chet. I have two harnesses from my school, and both of them, from getting in and out of cars and getting stuck or bumped or whatever under the dash of too many cars, have the leather coming unstitched and raggedy lookin’. This is a problem, since the handle sticks out roughly another inch off Chet’s rear end. So I really wanted something I could pop off easily without removing the whole harness.
They are inexpensive, costing around $100 for one with all the extras (extra padding and reflective tape).
I chose the sport harness. I understand this is a more european design. Unlike the traditional American harness, the handle does not pass through loops on the back, instead moving freely. This can be a disadvantage if you’re not careful. The handle can literally swing over your dog’s nose! Not in the course of regular work you understand, but it really does have complete freedom of movement. You could, potentially, more easily overstep your dog, but by then you would notice your handle at a very odd angle. Anyway, the handle attaches pretty well right at the dog’s shoulders. Where the harness you’re used to has a strap that goes around your dog’s middle with another one going from there all the way around his chest and perhaps a martingale coming off that down between his front legs, this sport harness has the girth strap around the dog as you would expect, but then has two straps coming off the back strap, over the dog’s shoulders, meeting then in the middle of the dog’s chest with the martingale between his front legs, in the shape of a print letter Y. The handle attaches to these two straps by means of plastic backpck fasteners, the sort of thing that snaps together and that you squeeze to release. A similar fastener buckles the harness closed. If you want a more traditional American style harness, Pawpower Creations makes those as well, with or without a martingale. Actually, they can custom make something if you need. Rox’e (and Julie before her) will work with you to design the harness you need.
Going For A Walk
Putting the harness on goes about as you might expect, with one small bit of challenge. Since there are no loops to hold the handle down, you’d better keep ahold of it along with the back strap as you put the harness on, or you could turn it inside out! This isn’t a huge deal, since it just flips right way round again very easily, but it is something to be aware of. You put it on as one would expect, by putting your dog’s head through the open part of the Y, then threading the girth strap through the martingale and snapping shut on the right side of the dog. You’ll note that the shoulder straps fit nicely over your dog’s shoulders. Some adjustment of the martingale and girth straps may be necessary. Both are threaded through a buckle, and feel a bit stiff. That’s OK, though; once they’re adjusted, they’ll pretty much stay put. Remember that these buckles make the straps infinitely adjustable; there are no holes, so you really can make the adjustments very fine if you need to and they should stay put. The handle lays flat along your dog’s back. At least, right at first. You may find at times, depending on how your dog moves sometime or how it’s put down, that it lolls off to the side, a consequence of the total freedom of movement in the handle. I may sound like I don’t like this, but really I do. having that much freedom of movement also means your dog can really make a very tight turn without any real discomfort either to you or to him.
Now here’s what I really like about this harness. Chet is mostly very bored with my neighborhood. This means that, as he walks, he has almost no pull. With my school harness, the handle would feel just slack and as though we were crawling instead of walking. With this harness, you can really feel your dog’s shoulders moving as he walks, and even with a light pull, you feel a very steady pressure in the handle, and it’s very easy to detect even the smallest change in speed, whether it’s more pull or a slackening of speed. I felt that I was getting a quicker response and could more easily tell when a distraction was coming; feedback felt more immediate. The handle always felt “engaged”, even with the lightest of pull, instead of feeling slack. This was an unexpected and welcome surprise.
Is having a removable handle really that handy? I’d have to say that it is. There’s nothing like having a handle stick into your shins! Nuff said. Just pop the handle off and put it somewhere handy, then pop it back on when you get out of the car. No more re-threading martingales, and you only need to stick something over your dog’s head once.
These harnesses are very well made. I don’t feel like they’ll come unstitched any time soon. Seams are double stitched and sturdy. I got extra padding, which was very nicely stitchd in foam, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon. the handle is similarly stitched. It’s obvious that real care and time were taken to make sure these harnesses were put together right the first time. Also, high quality buckles and fasteners were used throughout. I don’t think we’ll be in danger of losing a handle clip or something like that, and I don’t think the adjustments of girth strap or martingale length will slip when you don’t want them to.
I give this harness a definite 11 out of 10. You really can’t go wrong with this one if you have a need for a new harness for your guide dog, or even just want one. I don’t think you’ll find one better.