Crowdsourcing: Which Vest Would Keep You Away? UPDATED

In a recent post, I commented on the problem that all assistance dog handlers face: distraction from the public. In my case, there’s a slightly different twist.

While Barnum’s work at home is zipping along beautifully, we have a long way to go with his public access skills. This is because I so rarely go anywhere. However, now that it’s summer, and I’m a little more functional, I’m more often able to take Barnum to public venues to train.

One issue we face which many other service-dog-in-training (SDiT) teams don’t face is that since I am so obviously disabled (I am in a wheelchair and use oxygen) and in a public space, people generally assume Barnum is my working service dog (SD) no matter how he’s behaving. (In fact, people generally assume he’s working even when he’s running around, off-leash in the woods, in his orange safety vest!)

When we’re training in public, I always put the “In Training” patches on his vest under the “Service Dog” patches, but I don’t think anyone sees them. I think even if they were ten times larger, the sight of a woman in a wheelchair with a dog with gear on would automatically translate to “service dog” in most people’s minds, and people would still not really “see” the “In Training” badges. The poor visibility of the “In Training” patches raises two concerns.

One of my concerns is that if we’re in a store, and Barnum’s comportment is far-from-perfect, I’m not comfortable with people believing he’s a SD because I worry that we will give other SDs a bad name, or that we will support the myth that partner-trained SDs are not as well-trained as program dogs. Even worse, because I know that some individuals try to pass off pets as SDs (which is illegal as well as unethical), I worry that people will become used to seeing a badly behaved dog as a “service dog,” and that will support the efforts of those who commit fraud.

The second problem is people wanting to talk with me. When I am working Barnum in public, I am unable to communicate with other people. I can’t split my focus. When I try to tell them that I can’t talk, I think I usually end up coming across as very rude because it’s just impossible for me to answer questions, chat, or anything else when I am trying to use my limited energy and focus on extremely demanding training. People who want to talk to me or who want to interact with Barnum are equally big problems in this stage of our training.

I recently came across two products that are designed to tell strangers not to interact with your dog. They are in the DINOS (dogs in need of space) resource section of Notes from a Dog Walker. They are both primarily intended for dogs who are reactive to people or other dogs. DINOS can include fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, or overexuberant dogs (which Barnum was sometimes in the past with other dogs). Barnum is not reactive to people or dogs, however I think this gear could be really useful to Barnum and me as an SDiT team in public.

I’m not sure which to get. I’d like your opinion.

Option A: The TACT Training Vest from Clean Run

Side view of a red corduria vest covering the dog's chest and shoulders. A rectangular black patch with white capital letters says Training Do Not Distract with a red Stop sign. On the back is a smaller round patch which says Training Stop Do Not Pet.

These colors are very eye-catching.

You can read a description of the materials and see additional views of this vest at Clean Run.

Pros

What I like about this vest is that it has the message very forcibly on both sides, and to a lesser degree, from the top. It also looks like it will last well, and it looks professional, so I could keep using it as we improve our public manners. Red and black help get across the “Keep Away” message, I think.

I’m also wondering if I’d be able to remove those patches and put them on his working gear when he’s no longer training. A very large “Do Not DISTRACT” patch is definitely preferable to the smaller “Please Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working,” patch that we have now.

Cons

I’d like something that I can fit over Barnum’s pack, if possible, because I’m using the pack as a cue to teach him that a certain standard of behavior is required. I’m not sure if that would be possible with this. But the tradeoff might be worth it. I also wish it covered more of the dog, because between my big self and my big chair and Barnum’s big self, I would want to make sure the message didn’t get lost.

The biggest drawback, in addition to the minimal size of the vest, is definitely the price: $100+. I could also pay extra for a badge for me to wear that says “In training, do not distract,” but I doubt that would be useful. Most people seem to have trouble seeing me inside all the assistive equipment anyway. Plus, being in a chair means I couldn’t put this badge anywhere close to eye level for a standing adult. For those who know me and want to be friendly and chat, my presence as a familiar face would probably override a little badge. Most people look at the dog, anyway.

Option B: Dog In Training Vest from The Pawsitive Dog

A tan vest that covers from shoulder to waist with very large purple capital letters that says Dog In Training and below that in smaller letters Give Me Space.

This covers more of the dog.

There are more pictures of this vest on different sizes and breeds of dog at The Pawsitive Dog, including the option for a harness hole in the back. It has the same text on both sides of the vest.

Pros

It covers more of the dog. There is just one message, and it’s pretty straightforward. The size of the lettering is huge; there’s not much to distract from the message. At $38, it’s also less than half the price of the other one. This seems most likely to fit over Barnum’s working pack.

Cons

It doesn’t look as professional. My biggest concern is that I’m not sure if medium purple on tan is bright enough and has enough contrast to get the message across.

UPDATE: Cricket Mara, the maker of this vest, replied to my questions with this very helpful information:

The Dog In Training vest is made of a poly/cotton blend fabric with cotton straps and “Soft Touch” Velcro.  It is durable and washable, but still not heavy or noisy.  To use it over his pack, I would measure his chest with his pack in place.  I do suggest air drying to preserve the screen printed lettering.

UPDATE: Option C: Design Your Own Vest

Therapy-dog-style vest in dark blue with large yellow embroidery that says YOUR TEXT GOES HERE on both sides.

This might be the winner, if I can contact them….

Notes From a Dog Walker — the creator of the term, DINOS — commented below and suggested this online store.

Pros

Much more reasonably priced than either of the other options. I can choose the color of the material. (Not sure if I can choose the color of the text.) This means I can choose colors AND a message that I think will be the clearest and the most obvious!

Cons

I think this is least likely to fit it over his pack. I’m emailing them with questions about sizing, colors, etc.

What do YOU think?

I’d particularly like to hear from members of the general public who do not have assistance dogs: Which vest do you think would more likely keep you from approaching a person and dog and trying to engage either the person or the dog? If you knew the person or dog? If they were strangers?

I’d also like to hear from other assistance dog handlers. Which do you think would be more effective, based on your own experiences? If you were going to buy one, which one would you get?

I look forward to everyone’s responses! Please feel free to cast your vote (and offer your reasoning, if you’re so inclined) in the comments to this post. You can also tweet me on Twitter at @aftergadget.

Thank you!

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I didn’t like strangers), and Barnum (Strangers are fascinating!) SD/SDiT

23 Responses to “Crowdsourcing: Which Vest Would Keep You Away? UPDATED”


  1. 1 notesfromadogwalker May 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for linking to my resource guide – I hope one of those options works for you, but if not, here’s one more that you can customize to say whatever you want:

    https://www.therapydogvest.com/custom-vest/design-your-own-vest.html

    I just found out about it from a happy DINOS family who bought one and I’ll be adding it to the resource guide.

    I also wanted to share that service dogs, dogs with medical needs, senior dogs, or any other dog that needs space can be a DINOS too, so I hope these vests are helpful to anyone who has a dog that just needs a little space to be comfortable or to do their job.

    Let me know which one you pick!

  2. 8 staticnonsense May 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    i’d say the first one. largely in part bc of the colors – black and white has such a contrast that folks will pick up on it much more easily. i know i do, esp with visual impairments. i can’t read the second one well at all.

    if cost becomes an issue, i wonder if donations would be helpful?

  3. 9 wendy May 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I think either would give me the message.

    I see quite a few Service Dog In Training vest in my area…there is a school near by.
    they are bright Yellow with Black Writing. (I’ve also seen the trainer have on a vest that looks a lot like the dogs)
    I can’t tell you exactly what it says…I know IN TRAINING is big, and that tells me to respect them and leave them alone….except I have had one or two trainers actually asking people to try to distract the dog so they could work on that. That was interesting to me.

    I like how big the writing is on the second vest….but purple? That doesn’t seem in your face enough.

    The first one is nice…but $100 nice…I wonder. It seems a bit busy and I’m afraid people will see it as a warning, but not read what the warning is.

  4. 10 Beth May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Of the two, The first one strikes my fancy, but sometimes simple is horribly effective.

    I see these in the building I work at all the time…several people foster the little ones until they are ready to go into the program and they wear this vest. Although the wording isn’t what you are looking for, the coverage on the dog and the colour contrast are quite noticeable. In Ontario, the standard reaction to service animals is to pretend they are not there for the most part. Address the person, not the animal, ask before touching, etc Standard stuff. The vest stands out from across the foyer.

  5. 11 Laura May 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    As a first responder and person who is used to a variety of service dogs, I find that the first option (mainly the color combo) would be the most eye catching. If you can choose the color of the material and lettering and fit, then I would go with the last option. It looks like it’s the most comfortable for Barnum and adjustable for fit. Just my 2 cents worth :-)

    • 12 Fibrochondriac May 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      I agree with Laura and other comment providers. The first one gets my attention. The purple writing on the second looks like advertising to me, especially if people don’t take time to read it, which people tend to do.

      And given what Beth and you said about people trying to interact with you, it might be wise to find some way to get a “do not disturb” message located somewhere on you. Even if they don’t read it at first, you can always point to it (with a smile so not to appear rude) and move on…

  6. 13 Sharon Wachsler May 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Laura, Fibrochondriac, Wendy, Beth, SN-

    Thank you so much for your comments! Very helpful.

    Someone also asked me in an email if I wanted feedback from AD partners, too. The answer is yes! Certainly!

    I’m waiting to hear back from the therapy vest place, but I am probably leaning toward the 1st one, since that seems to be the favorite. Clean Run is actually not too far from me, so I might try to get a ride over there and ask them if I can try one out on Barnum to see how it looks, including over his pack.

    Or, if that doesn’t work out, I might just make one by buying patches I want to use in the future and sewing them on to a cape.

  7. 14 Jen May 9, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    The first one looks very official. It’s expensive but a fair price for something of that complexity (and, I hope, quality) that is made in the US. I like the reflective stripes. That would be my first choice, but I think you could also add patches to the third one you listed as a good, less expensive alternative.

  8. 15 Steve Mozer May 10, 2012 at 8:56 am

    I am a designer of Service dog equipment–I agree the first cape looks the best but, the price is way out of line. If you can find the patches and put them on a less expensive cape I think you would be better off. I do not understand why you need to put if over his other equipment–can’t it go on buy itself (unless you have a special harness for a purpose). I have also turned regular patches into Velcro patches so that they can be changed or replaced if damaged.

    • 16 brilliantmindbrokenbody May 11, 2012 at 12:17 am

      It has to go over his pack because Barnum has thus far been taught that wearing the pack means he’s working. He also has an orange vest he wears for visibility and safety while playing, so it’d be somewhat difficult to teach the poor boy that one piece of clothing means play while another that feels similar means work. Wearing the pack feels distinctly different, and he and Sharon have already been working on an association between that ‘working’, so why start from scratch with a harder thing for the dog to differentiate?

      (Hope I’m not stepping on your toes, Sharon, but I know sometimes you don’t have the wherewithal to reply to comments, and at the moment I have it to spare.)

    • 17 Sharon Wachsler May 16, 2012 at 1:55 am

      Hi Steve.
      I looked at your site, and I think they look like nice vests at a very reasonable price, but I don’t think they’d work well for what I need. I want something large enough that it can be spotted at a distance, which requires a big area (covers more of the dog) and big text/message.
      Also, as Kali said, I want it to go over his harness/pack that I’m already using.
      I think maybe the best option right now is to take some old shirts and writing, “Training: Please do not distract” on them and I’ll wear one and put one on the back of my chair and maybe on Barnum’s gear.
      Overall, my problem is that patches are too small. The most effective signs seem to be those huge placards that go on guide dog handles, but that’s totally not feasible for us. I think eventually I will try to find much bigger patches that say, DO NOT DISTRACT.
      For now, the big issue is that Barnum wants to sniff anyone he can when we’re in public, so he needs much more training than the people do in not getting distracted. That’s one of the main things I cringe at the thought of people not knowing he’s in training still. We have started more work on people zen (see our FB page), and I’ll just have to do as much as possible of that before we go out into public again.

  9. 18 brilliantmindbrokenbody May 11, 2012 at 12:14 am

    The first one is the one I prefer, but I think the one I linked you higher in the comments is not far behind (and less than 1/3 the price). The second one I would expect to be ignored – I very much agree with fibrochondriac that it looks a bit like an advertisement. The third could be passable, but my experience is that because of the bordering effect (I think!), patches draw the eye better than just embroidered text.

  10. 19 Carrie Ann August 30, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I actually stumbled across your post when searching for dog vests of my own to keep strangers away from my fear/defensive-aggressive pit bull towards strangers. She’s a complete sweetheart, but wants nothing to do with strangers and will ignore them (even in a large crowd of people) as long as no one stares at, attempts to touch, or approaches her head on. For this reason I try as much as I can to bring her with me in public, since I feel that she is stable enough under my control and isolating her at home to avoid some embarrassing growling (she never bares her teeth, however) can’t do any good to help her snap out of this behavior.

    If I had the money, I might go with option A, but over 100.00 for a vest is ridiculous to me. I do like the stop-sign on it, which I feel might be easy for even children to recognize- but the “do not distract” is a little vague. I feel like someone who lacks common sense may still try and say hello if the dog doesn’t seem to be doing anything important that needs distracting from.

    I think I will go with option C, myself, because it’s customizable and I plan on putting something pretty straightforward on it. With 4 available lines I think I’ll go with Cesar Millan’s motto and have it say:

    IN TRAINING
    No touch,
    No talk,
    No eye contact.

    However, she is not a vicious dog, and I don’t want people standing around me to suddenly give me 50 ft of space because that message is pretty blunt and maybe a little too harsh. I dont know, maybe until we can get to a behaviorist or professional trainer that can modify her behavior and make her comfortable with all people- this is the safest route to take.

    But to answer your question (after this long ramble) I’d go with option C. I plan on getting my vest in black, since the customizing of text color doesn’t seem to be available- the yellow will contrast nicely and be noticeable to passers by.

    • 20 Steve Mozer August 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      If you do not have the experience of taking a dog out in public with a cape and any patch on it, I think you should plan on being very disappointed with the results you are going to get. If someone is predisposed to believe that your dog needs petting or attention from them–they will pursue that and never even notice the value of an identifier cape or the writings that do not apply to them. After taking hundreds of service dogs in training out for training in public places I find that many (if they even have a clue) will respect the cape and keep their distance. The “do not pet” or the Org. Patch are not as powerful as the desire for people that just want to share that they are dog lovers also and will start sharing their dog stories while trying to pet your dog. If I train a dog in public for just an hour, I can pretty much count on defending the dog and myself from contact or distractions at least ten times or more. Believe me when I tell you it can be tedious and that I am not alone in this thought. Ask any one else if they run into these people. Anyways, what I am trying to share here is that the general unaware public will not always be deterred by whatever you have on your pack. It is ultimately up to you to try to avoid whatever kinds of exposure that your dog is not ready for and to expect to have to educate the public as you go. Good luck with your cape choice.
      Steve
      earsandtail.com

      • 21 Sharon Wachsler August 31, 2012 at 1:35 pm

        Hi Steve.

        Believe me, you are preaching to the choir. As a SD trainer and partner since 1999, I have ample experience with the public’s desire to interact with my dog and me, whether they are training or working. In the past, however, this was not as big of a problem because my two previous SDs were typical bouviers who had no interest in strangers.

        Barnum, however, whether due to my uber-socialization efforts when he was a pup or to his personality or to a combination of the two (which is what I suspect), loves people and is easily distracted by them. And I have been too sick to take him out and do as much public access training as he needs, which has compounded the problem.

        However, if you are a trainer and not visibly disabled, I do at least have one advantage that you don’t, which is that people see “woman in powerchair with oxygen and mask with dog” and immediately assume that this is a service dog. I fortunately live in an area where the general population is more aware of service dogs and of what proper SD etiquette is than most other areas of the country, so this does limit the amount of smooching, petting, baby talk, etc., somewhat, though of course, not nearly enough!

        I recently just took an old T-shirt and wrote on it with permanent marker: TRAINING – Please give us SPACE and put that on. I don’t know whether it helped or not, but it certainly didn’t hurt. And it made me feel better about blatantly ignoring even people in my town who I would normally be friendly to because I had already tried to give them a heads up that it’s not personal.

      • 22 Steve Mozer November 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm

        Wow-you have been at this for a while haven’t,t you? Having a large Service dog in town is a big plus for people education. I wish I had a good answer for her–but hyper vigilance is probably the best cure. I am sure you have found out that you can spot these distracting people a mile away most of the time. Are bouviers your breed of choice or the school (org) that provides the dogs. I have provided equipment to many service dog orgs across the country. (http:/www.earsandtail.com) I am in this to try to help as many people as I can with equipment issues. With in the next few months I hope to make available as many of the two hundred pieces that I have developed for assistance dogs. Since I have been at this I have found that more people that have even lesser limitations can benefit from some of this technology (like a hands free leash for someone with arthritis).
        Let me know if you are looking for a particular solution-I will try to help if I can.

    • 23 Sharon Wachsler November 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      Hi Carrie Ann,

      I must not have seen your comment before, when you posted it. You said, “She’s a complete sweetheart, but wants nothing to do with strangers and will ignore them (even in a large crowd of people) as long as no one stares at, attempts to touch, or approaches her head on. For this reason I try as much as I can to bring her with me in public, since I feel that she is stable enough under my control and isolating her at home to avoid some embarrassing growling (she never bares her teeth, however) can’t do any good to help her snap out of this behavior.”

      I believe you will find this post by a wonderful dog trainer whose blog I follow to be useful for your situation: http://blog.caninesinaction.com/2012/08/when-you-should-not-socialize-your-dog-part-1/

      Best of luck!


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