adjusting to life with a guide dog

Owning a guide dog and living with your family can sometimes be a challenge. I thought it might be worth bringing up this topic for future guide dog owners, and it would be good to here other people’s experiences. Although it can take a bit of work at the beginning, there’s no reason why a guide dog can’t fit into a busy household.

Luckily I get on well with my family and we are all dog-lovers, so having an extra hound in the house wasn’t a problem. I had to teach them right from the beginning that O.J is a working dog first, and then a pet. For this reason, feeding him at the table or outside his regular feeds wasn’t allowed. Our previous pet dogs were often fed from the table, so I started discouraging this when we got Dougal six months before O.J came. It worked well and although they might be tempted, family members don’t feed him.
For the first few months I wanted to make sure that I did almost everything with O.J. I fed him, groomed him, walked him and played with him, and made sure that my nephew and other people only played with him for short periods of time. This showed O.J that I was the boss and the person who looks after him, and that other people won’t play with him whenever he wants.

When you come home from training, you have so much to remember and everything is so new. Suppose its like having a new baby and you are worried encase you do anything wrong. It is important that the people you live with give you space and time to work things out with the dog and that they don’t interfere. Of course it can be difficult to explain this to family members who just want to fuss over the new dog. They have to remember that you are the person who was professionally trained to handle the dog, so you know what your doing. If its something you think you’ll have a problem with, it might be worth asking your trainer to have a chat with your family members on your behalf. Advice is sometimes more easily accepted when it comes from a professional or a complete stranger.

Some family members might find it hard to accept your independence when you get a dog. If they’ve been used to seeing you being guided by other people or using a cane, then trusting a dog can seem strange. People might try to discourage you from taking the dog to a particular place, because you could manage without it before, but the dog is your new means of independence, so it should be up to you to choose where and when you bring it with you.

Guide dogs can fit into any type of family, with children and other animals easily, but there is no doubt that it can take a bit of extra work. The sooner you do this, and tell people what is accepted and what’s not, the better it will be for everybody. Dog trainers will tell you that one of the most important things when training a dog is consistency. A dog doesn’t understand that he’s allowed to do something one day but not the next, so if you don’t want them jumping on furniture, don’t let them do it from the very beginning. If the people you live with respect this then you’ll be fine.
I’ve found that trying to explain the reasons for doing things works better than getting angry when people let the dog do something you aren’t happy with. You never know when you might need to go away without the dog, and will need someone to babysit!

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16 thoughts on “adjusting to life with a guide dog

  1. Great post — I found it was so helpful with my kids especially with my first guide and they were younger to understand the whys of the rules — it helped them embrace when they knew it was for mom's safety. I remember it much like an adjustment to a new baby. That first month upon returning home after being gone for a month was a bit overwhelming with my first guide. With Cricket thankfully it was shorter time away and I was more aware of what to expect. Great post! Sounds like you and OJ are a great team.

  2. Excellent post yet again, Jen. Thank God to see you back again – you were missed. Saw a golden lab guide dog today and though it was beautiful i knew to ignore it as it was working – see, i learned something from you!!

  3. Great post, it's so important for family and friends to understand the bonding process that needs to take place in a partnership. Thank you for educating us and explaining it so well.

  4. John your very good! Glad you put what you learned into practice, or is it practise? I never know the difference.Becky its interesting that you mention kids, because I think even very young kids can learn not to feed or touch a dog if it is explained from the beginning.RR glad you found it useful, and i'd imagine you have had to do a lot of these things as a trainer. I tried posting on your blog but not sure if the capcha worked.

  5. Jenifer i will write that post shortly.I am slightly worried about that. My 7 year old bro should be fine, but don't know about my 19 month old bro lol. With our pet dog, i keep thinking that i need to say to stop feeding her scraps, (a weee bit guilty of this myself. Bad me!!!!!!!!). Anyway how do i pop the question? I have now started to scrape stuff into a bag, but am kind of worried that if i suggest it, we all won't stick to it.I hope to god that i can pop the question soon though as i don't want to wait til i'm away!!!!Take care, xxx

  6. Didn't realise you had a brother that young, but like I said if you do it from the start he'll soon learn. It will prob be more difficult for him to understand that he can feed the pet dog but not the guide dog. Maybe try keeping them in another room when you are eating so that nobody is tempted, and the guide dog doesn't see the other dog getting food.

  7. I suppose. My sister and that should know lol since she's an adult!!!!!The dog would prob get fed earlier anyway than when we eat so it shouldn't be so bad. I must ask though just so they are aware.And the guidedog won't beg cause it's not gonna be used to anything else apart from it's food.If i start now, then maybe by the time doggy comes then everyone will know what the craic is.Thanks for answering my question. Xxx

  8. HI, I think that this is a very good post. I would agree with what you have said Jen. John, from my point of view its not that you shouldn't go near people at all its just not to distract the dog. If I am out having a walk which I like doing I wouldn't mind at all if you asked me could you talk to Ralph. If I am too busy or in a hurry I will explain that to you but in general I think that if I have time I will try and educate people. Torie, I am sure all will be fine for you. Don't think that the dog won't necessarily beg though. At first when you have a new dog they can be like kids and can test you to see what you might let them away with. This is normal and I wouldn't worry about it as long as you can make it clear to them that behaviour you don't find acceptable they will not be allowed to continue. Discipline is the key to success. Cheers, Nicky.

  9. Hi Jenny,I have a somewhat different experience from yours, but similar in some ways. Most of my family are dog lovers, but they're very strict on the idea that guide dogs and other service animals are only animals. So they do good to help you, but it doesn't matter, they're just dog at the end of the day, so that excuse gives them room to justify things that I don't like, such as petting and talking in harness. With feeding times however, I feed him like I'm supposed to, but I spoil him a bit with extra snacks if he's being really good and well-behaved, and I discourage others from feeding him unless they put the food in my hand. I always find out what it is first, and I definitely have to know that the person giving me the food is trustworthy not to be poisoning my dog! I don't just feed him anything because someone says it's good food. I don't allow begging at the table though, ever. If he begs, I give him no attention, except to tell him no.Most strangers around me think he's a play toy. They try to pet him and talk to him, and a couple of days ago on the bus, a woman brazenly said hello to him and literally patted him right under my fingertips! So I retorted back, "Could you stop patting him please! He's working!" Excuse me, sneaking around while talking to my dog and patting him, both in my hearing and within phisical reach so I can feel with my hands what's going on, as if I'm both deaf and stupid, doesn't work with me. All it does is makes me very, very angry.On a positive note, I find that taking Troy out as often as possible educates the public a lot more. I deliberately take him to shopping centres, on buses etc, because I know hundres and possily thousands of people will tell their kids or other people around tem, not to talk to or pat my guide dog unless it's off harness and they warn me first. Troy loves long outings too, so it makes it a heck of a lot easier on both of us! It also gives me opportunity after opportunity to ask people not to interact with the dog, so I can give the same instructions fifty times a day without getting too angry the more times I have to ask. It's not like everyone has heard that same instruction. But I'm sorry, if someone is going to rudely talk to Troy and pet him as if I can hear and I'm too stupid to find out, then I've got a good mind to speak bluntly and sternly to them. With kids it's an exception though, I just ask them politely to stop and explain why, because of course they don't try to pretend that I'm stupid just because I'm blind. They just don't know that it's wrong to distract a guide dog. There is an exception to that rule too of course.Michelle

  10. Hi Jenny,I have a somewhat different experience from yours, but similar in some ways. Most of my family are dog lovers, but they're very strict on the idea that guide dogs and other service animals are only animals. So they do good to help you, but it doesn't matter, they're just dog at the end of the day, so that excuse gives them room to justify things that I don't like, such as petting and talking in harness. With feeding times however, I feed him like I'm supposed to, but I spoil him a bit with extra snacks if he's being really good and well-behaved, and I discourage others from feeding him unless they put the food in my hand. I always find out what it is first, and I definitely have to know that the person giving me the food is trustworthy not to be poisoning my dog! I don't just feed him anything because someone says it's good food. I don't allow begging at the table though, ever. If he begs, I give him no attention, except to tell him no.Most strangers around me think he's a play toy. They try to pet him and talk to him, and a couple of days ago on the bus, a woman brazenly said hello to him and literally patted him right under my fingertips! So I retorted back, "Could you stop patting him please! He's working!" Excuse me, sneaking around while talking to my dog and patting him, both in my hearing and within phisical reach so I can feel with my hands what's going on, as if I'm both deaf and stupid, doesn't work with me. All it does is makes me very, very angry.On a positive note, I find that taking Troy out as often as possible educates the public a lot more. I deliberately take him to shopping centres, on buses etc, because I know hundres and possily thousands of people will tell their kids or other people around tem, not to talk to or pat my guide dog unless it's off harness and they warn me first. Troy loves long outings too, so it makes it a heck of a lot easier on both of us! It also gives me opportunity after opportunity to ask people not to interact with the dog, so I can give the same instructions fifty times a day without getting too angry the more times I have to ask. It's not like everyone has heard that same instruction. But I'm sorry, if someone is going to rudely talk to Troy and pet him as if I can hear and I'm too stupid to find out, then I've got a good mind to speak bluntly and sternly to them. With kids it's an exception though, I just ask them politely to stop and explain why, because of course they don't try to pretend that I'm stupid just because I'm blind. They just don't know that it's wrong to distract a guide dog. There is an exception to that rule too of course.Michelle

  11. Thanks Michelle. Sometimes you just have those days when in your hurry or don't really feel like talking all day, and everyone in the world seems to want to pet the dog!

  12. Excellent Post Jen, I had trouble at the beginning with my family and our pet dogs were used to being able to lick out pots and pans from dinner etc after we had eaten but when Pearce came along I made sure they knew that Pearce was not allowed to have these things and that if they were to feed our dogs Pearce went in another room, there were times when members of my family would forget and give Pearce something because of his loving eyes but I always reminded them not too and explained why and it is frustrating because the dog is meant to bond with us as GDO's not the family members as such so I make sure i do everything for Pearce and its paid off and he knows I am boss and that he needs to listen to me and not others, again with petting I dont mind if people do it if they ask and are polite but if they just go and do while I am working him and holding the handle thats what frustrates and makes me angry and I feel bad because Pearce has got distracted through no fault of his own really and then he craves more attention but if I have the time I will explain to people why they should never distract a guide dog and doing talks in schools the younger the better I think because they are very interested at that sort of age while adults really I dont find take things in as much as children do. Well Done on posting that because I think alot of GDO's have these problems with family and some dont get one because of family etc so it needed to be addressed and the more you go out the more you educate people.

  13. I'm so glad that i'm not the only one who asked that question. I'm glad that i am not the only one who has a pet dog who gets fed some scraps.I deffinetly think that some adults are so ignorant. I think that it's "Cool" for the kids to have a dog in their school, and it means that they are educating the parents too.Xxx, and thanks Nicky.

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