Introduction: This study developed and piloted a new harness evaluation tool, comparing two new guide dog harnesses with the standard leather harness issued by guide dogs NSW/ACT, to identify the benefits and limitations of each and inform recommendations to guide dog handlers.
Methods: We used an exploratory, sequential mixed methods design to (1) Consult with current guide dog clients to identify problems with the standard issue harness, (2) Draft a new Harness Evaluation Tool (HET) scored out of 30 points, which also invites open comments from handlers, (3) Equip current guide dog handlers (n=22) to trial two new harnesses for one week each, and then (4) Complete four harness evaluations online via survey monkey (one rating each of the new harnesses, and two rating the standard harness pre-post trials).
Findings: Mixed methods data analysis showed that overall, the ruffwear unifly harness rated better than the Queensland harness or the standard guide dogs NSW/ACT harness. The three harnesses all enabled fluid, independent guide dog mobility but had different benefits and limitations. The HET created a precise, comparable evaluation of harness features with open feedback adding details. The HET was revised post-pilot, in response to participant feedback, to increase its validity.
Conclusion: Specific problems with the standard leather harness, such as an ill-fitting body piece and awkward clips, might be rectified by issuing one of the new harnesses or modifying the current harness. Although the ruffwear harness scored best, concerns about the dog overheating need to be explored. Person centered practice suggests that guide dog handlers could be offered a choice of harnesses, along with the HET to support shared decision making between handlers and guide dog mobility instructors. These findings can inform harness manufacturers about valued improvements to harness design, and the HET also provides a template for evaluating other assistance dog equipment.
Published Date: 2023-04-28; Received Date: 2023-02-21