Interaction between dog and owner
The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation
Guide Dog harness
Our pavements are often littered with dozens of bicycles parked all over the place, or inconveniently situated refuse bins. But thanks to their guide dogs, blind people can negotiate these obstacles in complete safety. These guide dogs unerringly lead their blind or partially-sighted owners around anything that happens to be in their way. They will take their owners to the bus stop, station steps or information desk on command, with enthusiasm and with tails wagging.
“I was suddenly blind again on the day my guide dog passed away”
(Jeanne Visser, guide dog owner)
“Thanks to npk design, all the pieces fell into place quickly”
Peter van der Heijden – Head of Training and Client Care, The Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF)
The familiar white dog harness used by the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation (KNGF) dates from the mid-1980s. So it really is time we brought this up to date. After various attempts on the part of KNGF Guide Dogs to design and produce a new harness themselves, we were greatly honoured with a commission to do this in collaboration with them.
During workshops with blind and partially-sighted guide dog owners and KNGF Guide Dog trainers, we all worked together to discover where points for improvement and the owners’ own wishes lay. As far as the guide dog owners were concerned, the key issues were that the harness must be comfortable to use (for the dog as well), the dog must be visible in traffic, and last but not least, harnesses must look good too. Colour was also an important point for visual limited people.
We then held a number of sketch sessions in order to put our ideas down on paper. And we also started making prototypes at a very early stage in the proceedings. Since the fit and the fastening method of a harness are crucially important, fitting sessions for the guide dogs themselves were an important part of the procedure.
A harness must be an exact fit and all its rings must be rigid and not have any slack in order to ensure that signals from the dog to the owner and vice versa are given in the right manner. For this reason, we replaced the heavy metal handle in the old harness that used to lie along the dog’s back with a high-tech carbon fibre composite version. This means that the new guide dog harness weighs a great deal less, and it enables signals to be given without any errors.
Since attaching and detaching the handle is something that has to be done every day, we devoted a great deal of attention to this. The new featherweight handle is passed through small grooves in the harness and attached to the rings. These grooves in the harness are formed using techniques adopted from kitesurfing trapezes. You can then feel and hear a distinct click telling you that the harness is securely connected to the sophisticated rings. Guide dogs must be able to feel each and every signal that blind people give through the harness with exact precision. Auditory feedback is very important in this connection.
Once it is linked up correctly, the handle will remain in ‘float’ mode. This keeps the weight of the handle completely off the dog’s back, while his owner no longer has to carry the weight of the handle either.
We found that leather is the most comfortable and authentic material, and more particularly the most durable, for a guide dog harness. A reflective edge and a safety torch ensure that the dog is more visible in traffic.
We had a fantastic role in this project since we were able to create new alliances and crossovers. Combining our knowledge of industrial production techniques with the expertise of the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation’s leathermaker enabled us to integrate new techniques and materials originating from, for example, kitesurfing trapezes and F1 cars.