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Guide Dog Class Lecture: Equipment

This lecture discusses the standard equipment you will use with your guide.


Our leather leash can be converted to two different lengths, 3 feet and 5 feet in length. The leash hardware is attached using braids. At either end of the strap of leather is a snap, one slightly larger than the other. Beside the larger snap is an “O” ring. Attach the smaller snap to this ring when you want a short leash.  The short leash is used during guidework, while heeling, and during some obedience exercises. When you require a long leash, you can make the change easily. There is another “O” ring approximately 2’ from the small snap. Switching the smaller snap to this ring creates a loop handle for the long leash. The long leash is used for leash relieving, during some obedience exercises, or to create distance between the handler and dog. 

The new leash is quite stiff. As you work with it, the leash will become soft, supple, and stretch over time.   


The collars we use at GDB are the martingale, metal slip, nylon slip, and head collar. 

Martingale Collar

The martingale collar is a length of nylon webbing with an O-ring at either end. Passing through the O-rings is a short loop of metal chain. The leash is clipped to a ring on the metal chain. When there is tension on the leash, the small loop pulls taut, making the nylon collar smaller and tighter on the dog’s neck. For proper fit and function, this collar sits at approximately the mid-point of the dog’s neck, tight enough to allow effective action with the collar. Fastened to your dog’s collar is a rabies tag and two identification tags - one with GDB’s name, phone number, as well as your dog’s name and GDB identifying number upon it, and a microchip alert tag. The martingale collar we issue is put on and taken off using a quick-release fastener. 

Metal Slip Collar

This collar is made up of many small links with an “O” ring at each end. The leash is attached to the “live” ring, the one that pulls links through the other ring. Correctly worn, this collar sits low on the dog’s neck and releases quickly and smoothly after tightening.    

To maintain this smooth action, I. D., rabies, and microchip tags are fastened to the middle of the collar, away from the ends.  

Nylon Slip Collar 

This collar functions in a similar way to metal slip collars. However, nylon slip collars are fitted to stay high on the dog’s neck as they have a snap that enables them to be put on around the dog’s neck instead of over the head. Because of this, the length of the collar can be shorter. This high positioned collar enables the handler to quickly and calmly gain the proper response from the dog. It has the effectiveness of the high collar technique yet eliminates the need to adjust the collar. 

The dog still wears their assigned collar with identification, which gives the handler the option to change the leash from one collar to the other as needed. Nylon slip collars are available in a variety of colors so they can either blend in with the dog’s coat or contrast with their fur.

Head Collar

The Gentle Leader is the brand name of head collar that GDB issues to all clients. It is common to refer to the head collar by its brand name. Head collars are similar to halters used on horses and offer an effective way to manage your dog. If you have control of the dog’s head, the body will follow. The head collar is a tool to be used either on a regular or situational basis. The leash is attached to the ring of the head collar, under the dog’s jaw. The safety strap is attached to the head collar and the ring of the standard collar. The head collar should be removed whenever the dog is not being supervised. Head collars have become commonplace and are available in a range of bright colors along with colors that blend in with the dog’s coat. 


The harness is comprised of two basic parts: the “Body and the “Handle.

The Body 

The body part is made of leather and conforms to your dog’s torso. It is secured with a girth strap that passes under your dog behind the front legs and attaches with a quick-release snap. The buckle on the strap is used to adjust the size of the harness. Reflective tape is sewn onto the sides of the body part. A label that says “Guide Dogs for the Blind” is sewn into the top strap.

The Handle 

The handle is a "U" shaped, fairly rigid rod that has padded leather on the end for you to grip during guidework. The handle ends attach to the harness body via an innovative quick-connect device called a "Klick" connector. A reflective sign with “Guide Dogs for the Blind” and our logo is attached to the handle. We have different lengths and styles of handle to fit your individual needs. You will have an opportunity to try two different types of handles in class; the straight handle and a slightly rotated version, which we refer to as the ergo handle. Different types of handles can affect your following position. Therefore, you will work closely with your instructor to determine the best type of handle for you.     

Due to the harness’ removable feature, it is easy to detach the handle and leave it somewhere; so, don’t forget it! GDB’s 800 phone number is on the handle. Since people have been known to misplace the entire harness, we also suggest that you add your contact information in indelible ink to the underside of the harness body.

Harnessing Technique

You will be shown how to carefully harness your dog on an individual basis. 

The following information gives you an idea of how the harness fits on your dog:

  •  Have your dog sit at your left side while holding the leash or standing on the leash with your foot. This leaves both hands free to put the harness on. 
  • With the right hand, grasp the harness back strap between the connectors, holding the harness with the handle pointing UP towards the sky. The quick snap, on the underside of the harness is unsnapped.
  • With the harness handle pointing skyward, you are prepared to put your dog's head through the large opening of the body part.  
  • With your left hand, support your dog's muzzle lightly (fingers under the muzzle, thumb over the top) and gently guide the harness over your hand and the dog's head. Once the harness has passed completely over the dog's head, release your left hand, so the harness can be laid down flat on the dog's back.  
  • Keep the harness in place on your dog’s back and allow your dog to stand. Reach under the dog's belly (just behind the front legs), draw the girth strap under and fasten the quick release snap pieces together. 
  • Check that the leash is free from the harness.  

In our experience, alumni have used various methods of effectively harnessing their guides. As long as it does not negatively impact the dog, these variations are fine.

Care of Leather Equipment 

Under normal conditions, the harness and leash only need occasional cleaning. Use a warm moist cloth or leather-cleaning product, not a softener. With proper care, the harness and leash should give you many years of service. 

Replacement of Harness or Handle

If the harness or handle becomes unusable due to normal wear, it will be replaced by GDB. If the harness or handle is misplaced or lost contact GDB’s support center at 800-295-4050 to discuss options for replacement. 

The issued harness allows for normal growth. While your new guide dog is essentially full grown, some may broaden a little more in the chest area. However, if a dog gains weight and the harness is too tight, the weight should be reduced, rather than up-sizing the harness.

The harness remains the property of GDB. When a dog retires, the harness is to be returned to the school. It is unlawful to use this harness or collar on any dog that was not provided as a guide dog by GDB. 

Tie Downs

A tie down is a short, strong cable encased in a plastic sheath with snaps on each end. It is a simple way to confine a dog to a given area and can be readily moved from one place to another. Your room is equipped with a tie down near your bed. Tie downs are an effective tool to help establish and maintain good house behavior. The tie down does not often tangle, but if it does wrap around your dog’s leg, calmly unsnap the tie down from the wall and de-tangle your dog. 

While here in training, your dog will mostly be on leash or on tie down. All dogs are familiar and comfortable being on a tie down. Many dogs associate being on tie down with “quiet time”, so they generally settle shortly after being placed there. With your dog wearing just its quick-release martingale collar, attach the tie down to the “dead” ring of the martingale collar on either side of the center ring. Avoid attaching the tie-down or leash to the small ring that contains the ID, microchip, and Rabies tags, it will unravel and break with tension. Remember to remove the leash when your dog is tied down.

Feeding & Watering Pans 

Stainless steel pans for water and food are easy to clean and very durable. In class you will use the feeding and watering pans in the Student Residence. It is the responsibility of the client to purchase feeding and watering bowls on their own for use at home once graduated.  

Food Pouch

Your food pouch may be clipped onto your belt or fastened around your waist using the nylon web belt that comes with the pouch. 

Grooming Equipment   

Your waist pack includes grooming tools for brushing your dog’s coat and removing loose hair, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a washcloth. 


This garment is worn under the harness. They are available to purchase through our gift shop. They come in either highly visible or conservative color, both with reflective stripes.

Dog Boots

Well-fitting booties can protect your dog’s feet from very hot or cold surfaces, chemicals or sharp objects on the road, and while riding escalators.  Class clients are provided a set of 4 boots that have been sized correctly for their dog. 

Dog Rug

One non-slip fleece rug is provided to you. 

Retractable Leads  

These are leads that can allow the dog 15’ – 30’ of freedom to exercise in an open area around the handler while still attached to a lead. The brand we have available for use is called a Flexi Lead™. This can be a difficult and potentially hazardous piece of equipment, so individual instruction will be offered for those that want to use it. 

Audio Streaming

You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.


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