22 January 2011

When the Gear You Need Doesn't Exist

I thought I would continue along the thought pattern of *Decisions* and talk about my decision to make my own gear.

Most manufacturers (and that includes those who make equipment for service dogs) focus on the typical breed builds of more robust chests, typical height dogs which I had, but shorter length dogs, and the list could go on. The first time working with a Border Collie, I tried from time to time to buy gear that was available, but the end result was always the same- it would fit in one area, but not another; it would rotate as we worked causing inconsistencies in the guidance from Met, but also led to red skin or sores and frankly I found it so infuriating to spend good money on gear that they assured would fit him only to have to pad it, add straps to it, put the coat on under the harness because it was so full chested it would fall off, or to be fed up and toss it aside for another solution.

I love to sew. I figured if I could not find what I needed on the market, why not just make it myself. At first I tried my hand at more precise modifications of existing gear but realized that still held me within certain constraints, though this brought about a nice training harness. I began to purchase the supplies I needed to experiment with. One of the first harness and pack setups I made for Met, worked absolutely like a dream! It never rotated and gave us the ability to work well as a team in the earlier stages of my eye disease. As my eye disease progressed however, changes were needed in his gear. I never really settled on a good solution again- not like what we had for those few years anyway. Though, one of the last harnesses we worked with was purchased for our use, it too required padding and other modifications. I dreamed of using my creativity to design once more the equipment we needed for both my needs and his structure. Unfortunately time ran out for Met, but not my desire to make custom equipment for my agile built Border Collies.

Fast forward to the entrance of Thane. He was a 9 month old full of energy and strong will when he came into my life. Needing to focus more on him and his training than sewing, I opted against sewing for him initially. I bought several harnesses trying to find one that would fit. The no-pull harnesses had a big issue, if it fit his girth, it did not fit his chest depth (not by a longshot) Though I found a harness we could live with for the short term while he was still filling out, it still had drawbacks that made it really clear to me that designing my own gear was not only going to be an enjoyable part of this partnership, but also very much a necessity. Through trial and error over a couple of years, I finally had a good British style guide harness for Thane and I to work with. What I really needed however, with the continued deterioration of my vision, was a good American style harness where the handle could pass through loops that limit its movement some to allow clearer guiding from Thane. Its taken a lot of experimentation, but I finally managed to design the perfect harness we need in order to continue working effectively. Of course, a re-design of his raincoat was also required after pulling this off.

When I look back at all the gear, training equipment, disability equipment and the like that I have made over the past decade in training and working with my Border Collie boys, all I can say is boy I am glad I have the desire, the ability and the creativity to pull this off. It's sad to me that manufacturers are so narrow-minded in their development of gear for working dogs that dogs like Met and Thane would be left to work in ineffectual gear had it not been for my ability to intervene.

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