Life with a guide dog in the family is no different to life with any other kind of dog but there are some things that only guide dog owners get to experience. My name is Craig and I’m the Digs for Dogs dog walking franchisee in the Middleton area. My wife Claire has a visual impairment (VI) and three years ago, we welcomed guide dog Thea into our family and life hasn’t been the same since! Here are five things you never knew about being a guide dog owner:
1) Guide dogs are great at hide and seek – As part of their training, guide dogs are taught the ‘find’ command to help their VI owners locate objects and people. As much as this can prove useful for Claire, it also keeps our 5-year old daughter entertained as she hides behind the curtains and shouts “Find Poppy” in Thea’s general direction. Thea dutifully counts to ten and then sets off to find the hidden child, much to the delight of the giggling pixie behind the curtain!
2) Guide dogs occasionally trip up their visually impaired owners – Guide dogs are skilled at avoiding obstacles and keeping their VI owners safe but, every now and again they forget their training and walk their owners into a lamppost. Or off a kerb. Or into a pothole. Claire ended up in A&E with a broken bone in her foot thanks to such a pothole. If only guide dogs were trained to phone an ambulance too!
3) Guide dogs lead other supposedly less well-trained dogs astray – While I spend most of my days walking other people’s dogs, Thea sometimes tags along for the day when she’s not working. Of course, you’d expect the highly trained guide dog to behave perfectly during our walks. The truth, however, is that Thea finds any and every muddy ditch and puddle she possibly can so that she can go for a dip while all the other dogs stand and watch. It costs many thousands of pounds to train a guide dog, money that doesn’t always seem so well spent when the other dogs pile into the puddles after following Thea’s example, leaving me with some explaining to do to the owners!
4) Guide dogs should ignore other dogs when working – An essential part of a guide dog’s training teaches them to ignore distractions when they are working, especially from other dogs. Most of the time, Thea is a model guide dog and stares straight ahead like a racehorse wearing blinkers but if the mood takes her, she casts off that professional air and yells “Hiiiiii” to a passing dog before dragging Claire halfway across the room with her! If ever you need to clear a path through a crowd of people, use a guide dog that’s misbehaving!
5) Guide dogs sulk when they are walked past the park – Any self-respecting dog loves a run in the park with all those interesting sights, sounds and smells but when they are working, guide dogs miss out on a trip to their favourite place. Boy, do they sulk though! Thea does everything she can to lead Claire to our local green spaces but as soon as she realises that’s not the destination, she gets as stroppy as a teenager. Her head drops, she walks slowly and if she could talk, I’m sure she would swear. She may be a dog but sometimes she’s every bit as human as the rest of us!
Despite all the funny and quirky things that Thea does, she really has been life-changing for our family. As well as being a vital guide to help Claire navigate the streets around our town and beyond, she is also a much-loved family pet and we wouldn’t change her for all the money in the world. So, the next time you’re out and about and you see a guide dog working so professionally with its owner, just smile because you know the REAL truth!