How Rogue Detection Dogs Inspired the High-Vis Web Master™
Rogue Detection Dogs are happy to work all day traversing plains, climbing up mountains, trekking through snow, and clambering over rocks and fallen trees, all with the expectation of playing with their ball – their reward for successfully locating wildlife scat.
The small-batch release of a High-Vis Web Master™ Harness was inspired by feedback from this hard-working group of dogs and humans doing incredible things in the name of science and conservation.
Rogue Detection Dog Bounders (handlers) Heath and Jennifer had some great words and pictures to share with us below about their history with the Web Master, and how their work and partnership contributed to the development of the High-Vis Web Master.
How long have you been involved in conservation/detection work with dogs, and how did you get connected with Ruffwear?
I (Heath) started working with detection dogs in the summer of 2001 on a Grizzly bear study in Alberta, Canada. I used to have the old emails from when I first reached out to Ruffwear – it would have been around 2004 I believe. We were just in the process of developing the Conservation Canine program at the University of Washington, and I wanted a harness that matched the work we were doing in the field.
I got online and searched and searched. As soon as I came across the Web Master™ I knew that was the one. There was nothing on the market that even came close to what it offered as far as functionality in the field.
What kinds of things do Rogue Detection Dogs look for in gear?
The Rogue Detection Teams’ dogs have unique needs for the gear they utilize in the field. They're tasked with conducting extraordinary & vital wildlife work, often with endangered or elusive species. As is often the case with rare species, they live in remote and challenging to navigate ecosystems. Just as humans depend upon hardy specialty gear to trek into the wilderness, our working dogs require gear that assists them in their rugged research, too.
Multi-functioning, versatile gear can be a lifesaver when the dogs require multiple pieces of gear on a single survey. Our projects, especially in protected ecosystems like Yosemite National Park, require that our dogs are outfitted in official gear that designate they are on a job.
Having a harness that operates both as an official uniform where we can attach our working dog patches, and also as a piece of gear that assists our bounders (detection dog handlers) to lift, carry, and pull our dogs through the technical habitat we work in, is key. Enter the Web Master, which has long been our official working harness for our conservation detection dogs.
We work in all different terrains and seasons, too – whether it's sub-zero temperatures in Alberta, Canada that require warm coats like the Powder Hound™ or the steamy African Savannah of Mozambique where the Swamp Cooler™ helped regulate body temperature. Safety is our first concern, and we're grateful to have gear that keeps our dogs happy, healthy, and visible in the field.
Why is visibility a particularly important feature for Rogue Dogs?
Visibility is so important in our field. Our work is frequently solo (one bounder + one dog) and we always have to think 5 steps ahead. In the case of an emergency, bright, high-vis gear on both bounder and the four-legged partner ensures that we're broadcasting our whereabouts simply by standing out.
Also, we never know when we're sharing the field with others who recreate. Making sure our dogs are easily distinguishable as working dogs ensures that hikers, hunters, and wildlife officials know we're on a job in the area.
What is it about the Web Master that works for Rogue Detection Dogs?
My first thought is craftsmanship. It is built to last, but we didn't know that before we started using it. So it goes back to functionality. While the handle is what draws you in, it isn't simply the handle. It's how the harness is put together and how it fits on the dog. It is designed to disperse their weight as you lift.
I don't know of any other harness out there that I'd use over the Web Master, except maybe one other one also designed by Ruffwear :)
So, when you needed both visibility and a harness, how were you solving for that problem before?
In the past, our solution for requiring gear that doubled as an official vest and a working harness with a handle, as well as needing to maintain visibility in the field for safety purposes, meant we doubled up on gear.
We layered our two favorite pieces of gear on the dogs: the Track Jacket™ with the Web Master layered over the safety vest. Problem solved, right?
Except sometimes, doubling up was too good of a thing. In the summertime, keeping our dogs cool is a top priority, so we would drop the Track Jacket and hope that the visibility of the WebMaster would suffice.
One might ask, why not just utilize the Track Jacket as our official working vest?
We tried that too. However, we found we still needed a handle like what's on the Web Master to lend a helping hand to lift our dogs into helicopters or onto boats, to maneuver across steep inclines, and over giant fallen trees, or through dense vegetation, and all the other obstacles that we encounter while bushwhacking.
Another nice thing about the Web Master is that we can insert a tiny GPS data logger device into the material on the underside. This is something we can't do with just the Track Jacket.
Such a dilemma, right?! Wouldn't it be great if there was an all-in-one solution?
Sounds like you're onto something! In fact, coming up with a better solution has been a topic of conversation between Rogue Dogs and Ruffwear for a while now. What was your initial reaction when Ruffwear wanted Rogue to test out the High-Vis Web Master?
We love gear testing with Ruffwear, and we also love knowing that our feedback may prove helpful somewhere down the line. We've appreciated that we can send honest feedback to the product developers with Ruffwear and know that our field-tested opinions are valued and heard.
We even approached Ruffwear once with a design for a conservation working dog harness that encapsulated all of our favorite features from Ruffwear's various gear. Think of a Web Master, meets Swamp Cooler, meets Track Jacket, and you have a *teeny* idea into our wild idea. We love Ruffwear because they are all-inclusive – their gear can work for official working dogs like ours and also for all the explorer dogs in the outdoors going on adventures.
When we first got the barest of hints that Ruffwear was considering adding a High-Vis Web Master, we jumped up and down with joy. This could be the solution we were always looking to find!
Testing different colors and fabrics for their durability and visibility is a part of what makes putting Ruffwear gear through the wringer so fun. Across the board, regardless of the different materials/colors, the overall feeling was that we were simply excited and relieved to think that Ruffwear might develop this harness.
How did field testing the High-Vis Web Master go?
We were sent four different harnesses with varying colors and fabrics. These were sent out into the field to various locations and drug through the underbrush and rolled around in the mud. They were bleached by the sun and drenched in the rain. We wanted to make sure we were able to give the best feedback possible on a product we'd hopefully be using for all our field teams shortly. As far as I know, all four of these harnesses are still in the field and holding up great!
Here's some feedback bounders sent to the Product Development team:
"I love it. Temps haven’t been above 80, but I’ve seen a huge difference in Pips’ stamina on the days we had to wear one of the normal Web Masters over a Track Jacket for safety. It’s so nice only having to use the High-Vis Web Master and know Pips is safe. There has been hunting around us and having a high-vis harness or vest is a must. Making sure it isn’t affecting the dogs’ performance is also a huge consideration."
"I think it's a great idea to offer these, but I don't think they work for every scenario. Jake and I were talking about how the Track Jackets are a thin layer that can block out the sun and potentially keep the darker dogs cooler on their back. In some instances though, extra layers do make the dog's hotter. I like that there is the option to go minimal and take only a harness. On our walks, Jake really appreciates the fact that he only has to put one item on Ranger. Usually he would have to put the Track Jacket and the Front Range."
"I prefer it over the combo with the Track Jacket. It's less the dogs have to wear during hot months, and they don't add anything but color during cold or wet temps. I especially like them with the brush guard for the field."
Ruffwear is a big fan of working with your team – both because of the important conservation work you're doing and because of the immensely valuable feedback you provide when testing our gear. Like you said – if it works and holds up for hard-working, scat-sniffing dogs in a vast array of terrain and conditions, we feel that much more confident it'll work for all the other dogs out there getting after it with their humans. Thank you, Rogue Detection Dogs!