Bradley wears a custom made “Mobility Support Harness,” made by Bold Lead Designs. While its intended purpose is to allow mobility assistance dogs to perform their duties, a leather pull strap made it possible for Bradley to guide. Since it is a mobility harness, we had to make some allowances for variation in handling techniques, in comparison to a guide dog working in a traditional guide harness.
The wonderful news is that, Katrina, the maker of the harness, is now offering a handle, more suitable for guiding, modification to the mobility harness, and we got to try it out early! I’ve had it for a couple weeks now, and, only in the past week have we had an opportunity to acclimate ourselves to the new setup. While Bradley has all the skills to perform guide work, we’ve both had to adjust to the subtle, yet functionally significant, difference in the feel of the new handle.
It took some getting used to, transitioning from the shorter, more flexible leather pull strap, to the longer, more rigid guide handle. The pull strap was much shorter, so, while Bradley was able to remain ahead of me when we used it, the guide handle allows him to walk significantly further ahead of me. The difference of about four inches has served as an astronomical benefit to the effectiveness of Bradley’s guiding. Because he is slightly farther ahead of me, the allowed amount of time between the physical feedback and my reaction to that feedback is increased. Because of this, I’m able to walk with a more natural stride, at a slightly faster pace, without worrying that I’ll take too long to respond to physical feedback. Failure to respond quickly enough could result in something like falling off a step or walking into an obstacle. The new guide handle addition drastically reduces the chances of that happening.
The guide handle is constructed of a double layer of leather and is more rigid than the leather pull strap that I had previously been using. The rigidity, combined with the placement of the attachment points, provides for more sensitive physical feedback from Bradley’s movement. Physical feedback from a guide dog’s movement is the foundation upon which guiding operates. The improved feedback, resulting from the new guide handle has allowed us to work more fluidly and, most importantly, more safely, as a team.
I’m very happy with this harness and how well it has served us, in such a short time! As someone with multiple, sometimes conflicting, disabilities, it’s a blessing to have access to well-made piece of equipment, that meets all of my needs.