Written by Colt Rosensweig
Hi. I’m Colt, and I’m a gearaholic. You also might call me an enabler—one of my favorite things to do is help people find just the right gear and accessories for them and their dog. Some things, people actually need, like some of the equipment I will be talking about in this post. Other things we may not need in the sense of not being able to go on without them, but they’re really fun to have anyway. I am the absolute wrong person to consult if you want to be convinced not to buy something.
Since a post about all my favorite vendors for service dog equipment and dog gear in general would probably be the length of a Robert Jordan novel, for this first post I’ve decided to focus on two makers of top-quality service dog gear: DD Service Dog Designs and Snowflake Craft. (Full disclosure: Yes, I buy a lot of stuff from both these wonderful ladies, and I’m proud to call them my friends. Nerissa Cannon, owner of Snowflake Craft, is also a board member of Growing Up Guide Pup.)
DD Service Dog Designs makes some of the best, lightest, and most comfortable mobility harnesses you can find. I used to use a basic assistance harness from Bold Lead Designs exclusively—while also a high-quality piece of equipment, these harnesses can be a bit bulky, especially if your dog has a preposterously deep chest. While lighter than most leather mobility harnesses, they still weigh a significant amount. I thought this harness was the be all, end all until I got my DDSDD harness.
The DDSDD harnesses do everything a heavier, bulkier leather harness does, only they’re incredibly light, low-profile, easy to clean—I could go on and on. I almost never use my leather harness anymore. Each DDSDD harness is custom-made to your dog’s measurements, which is crucial when you have a dog who isn’t Lab- or Golden-shaped. They’re fleece lined, so you can jazz up your harness with some color, or keep it very monochromatic (the better to accessorize with multicolored pull straps and other items!). You also get to choose what is embroidered on the front of your dog’s harness—most people go with the usual “Service Dog” but having “Do Not Distract” right on your dog’s chest is another option.
These harnesses also come in both a straight front and a Y-front design. Most dogs show a distinct preference for one over the other, though this varies from dog to dog. Kaline is clearly much happier in his Y-front harness—he finds it easier to trot as he’s leading me along. And though he was comfortable in his leather harness once I got it sized properly, nothing compares to the comfort of his DDSDD harness. He barely even knows it’s on.
DDSDD also makes fantastic, customizable vests. While stand-alone capes are always an option, my favorite is to get the “convertible” capes—these can either be attached to the back of one of the harnesses (more pockets: always better), or they can be used on their own to mark a working dog. Amanda is incredibly accommodating to crazy patch addicts (me) who constantly send vests back to her to have more patches sewn on without messing up the pockets. Kaline has three convertible capes in blue, black, and red, classic service dog colors, so I can always color-coordinate his gear. That may not sound important to everyone, but trust me, it’s important to a lot of handlers.
And that’s where a craftsperson like Nerissa of Snowflake Craft comes in. Snowflake Craft offers a large, dare I say insane, variety of both pet dog and service dog items. And starting in 2017, 5% of the purchase price of all service dog items will go into a gear scholarship fund to which handlers in need can apply.
Probably the first thing I got from Snowflake Craft was a pull strap. Well, pull straps. For those who may not know, pull straps are usually used by people who need mobility assistance but not necessarily guide work—the straps are usually floppy. SC makes pull straps from paracord, which means you can buy a pull strap in colors appropriate for any situation! When we went with GUGP to Universal Studios this past summer, Kaline’s SC pull strap in Hogwarts House colors was a big hit.
Other awesome paracord products include clip-chains—chain martingale collars that are clipped together so that they stay at the top of the neck rather than sliding down—ID tag holders, custom leashes, key fobs and much more. Nerissa is incredibly creative and is always coming up with amazing new ideas for new products and accessories. She designed a collar called a Knot-A-Prong, which has moveable knots all along the collar to mimic the correction of a prong collar in a milder (and more colorful) way.
Since I’m an addict, I also have a collection of “off-menu” SC items like custom collars for our favorite sports teams, puffy bow ties, and sports-themed pajamas and snoods (another necessity for the well-dressed Doberman). Own a Dobe, especially one with floppy ears and a penchant for shaking himself off excessively, and you quickly learn about the marvelous garment known as a snood. It’s basically a fleecy tube with elastic at one end. Usually it’s used to keep ears warm and/or clean, but I also use them to keep Kaline’s ears from flapping when he shakes off, especially in the rain. Kaline being Kaline, I naturally have various team-spirit snoods so that he can look snazzy while also being incredibly pouty and grumpy. (He is not as much a fan of the snoods as I am.)
SC is also hard at work on exciting prototypes for mobility and guide harnesses made of biothane which will be released in June of 2017. The harnesses feature a ton of reflective material so the dog is visible in any conditions, and biothane is probably the easiest material to clean off after it gets wet or dirty, an important consideration when your energy to do such cleaning is limited. In order to ensure safe and ethical usage, customers will need to complete an application process before buying a harness.
Both Nerissa and Amanda are incredible craftspeople with strong ethics. The importance of this can’t be overstated. There are too many harness makers and gear makers out there who will sell to anyone, regardless of whether the dog is actually a service dog or the gear is safe for a dog of that size and age to be using. I’m always proud when Kaline is out looking sharp in his gear from DD Service Dog Designs and Snowflake Craft!