In some ways owning a guide dog is a bit like having a child. They depend on you to be fed and cared for, their behaviour depends on how you discipline and teach them, and their owners love them to bits!
I’ve been thinking about conversations i’ve had with guide dog owners since I got OJ. Some trained in Ireland, some in the UK, some in the US etc. Like kids, all dogs are different and their owners handle them differently. Dogs have different sensitivities and stress levels, and some need more encouragement than others. Nobody knows a dog better than its handler, and the handler knows how to deal with issues that might occur. You learn a lot during guide dog training, and a trainer is always availible to give help and advice when you need it.
I know that I spend a lot less time with my guide dog than a lot of people do. There are people who have them with them 24-7, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously I love having OJ with me, but sometimes it just isn’t practical or possible. For that reason I was determined that my dog wouldn’t become clingy and completely dependent on me, and could handle being alone without becoming stressed and agitated. I live at home, so always wanted to control his behaviour in the house and not let him have access to every room. My parents will mind him if I’m away somewhere and can’t bring him, so I want him to be familiar with them and behave well.
During training I was encouraged to leave OJ in our room alone for short periods. There were usually 4 dogs around the breakfast and dinner table, so I would often leave him in his bed then. This was never a problem, and because of this he will happily stay alone now if he needs to. Of course he has Dougal to keep him company sometimes and he is always happy to see me when I get home.
This topic came up in a conversation recently, and the guide dog owners I was with couldn’t believe that OJ didn’t sleep upstairs in my room. One said, “You don’t seriously leave him downstairs all night do you?” For a fraction of a second I felt like the worst guide dog owner ever!
This person is not very strict with their dog, and admits that it has picked up some bad habbits. The dog has some behaviours that I would find intolerable. Their reasoning, or excuse for this is that they have some sight and perhaps doesn’t depend on it in the same way that someone like me with no vision would depend on their dog to guide them safely. I know I’m a strict guide dog owner, but fair at the same time. OJ always behaves well in public, and I know that is because I am constantly keeping an eye on him so to speak. I also know its important to let him have free time to play and be a normal dog. Finding a balance between these, that works well for you and the dog is a skill that you start to learn when you decide to work with a guide dog. Its important to learn that each dog and owner are different, so do what is best for you and your dog, regardless of what the people around you think.
Currently reading: Accident by Danielle Steel
Currently listening to: ‘white lies’ by Mick Flannery