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!