Six Months With Sibyl

It’s been six months since Sibyl came home from Cork with me after training.
I’m not going to write about her progress since I’ve done that already. Just to say, I’m really happy with this dog, and I know she has lots of potential that I haven’t seen yet. I spoke to a large group of children in our local primary school almost a month ago now, and one of them asked a question which was very observant, and which I’m going to answer here. Answering it is a good way for me to reflect on six months with a second guide dog, while still having my retired one living close by. This post might also be useful for anybody transitioning or waiting for a new dog.

One student in the group last month wanted to know why certain dogs were given to certain owners, so I explained the matching process to them. I told them that there were characteristics that O.J had, which my next dog needed to have in order for us to work well together. Another child asked me if both dogs had very different personalities. I explained how they are both very different and react differently to different things, just like humans do. About ten minutes later, just as I was about to finish up, a very observant child who was paying lots of attention said,
“So you said that dogs have to have similar characteristics for you to be matched with them because you need a certain type of dog. You said that Sibyl is very different from O.J. So why did they match you with her if she is different from him? Do they not have to be the same?”

I forgot how exact you have to be with children sometimes, and how they pick up on absolutely everything. It’s a fair question though. Guide dog owners don’t like comparing dogs, and we’re not advised to. You can’t help it though, and I find myself still sometimes doing it now. Sibyl is still very young and obviously has a lot to learn, but she has the potential to be an excellent working dog. She may end up being a better worker than O.J in some ways because she isn’t sensitive and nothing phases her. She doesn’t stop to sniff while walking, and although she’s extremely nosey, she can keep moving at the same time. Of course the seven years and eight months experience I had with O.J will benefit our working partnership.

Sibyl and O.J are both Labrador/retrievers, and gorgeous looking dogs! Everyone says that, not just me! O.J’s retriever instinct was very useful for picking up things, and responding quickly to the find command when asked. He was particularly good at finding the button on the lights to cross the road. He’d enthusiastically point his nose towards it, as close as he could get, often embarrassingly pushing people out of his way in the process. Sibyl is mostly Labrador, and her finding and retrieving instinct isn’t as strong. I’m working on teaching her this, and although she’s improving, she’ll never be as obsessed with the word “find” as O.J was.

Both dogs have similar walking speeds and chilled out personalities when working. You could bring them anywhere with lots of people and they’d be great. They love attention, but are completely happy to be left alone. I couldn’t cope with a dog that follows me everywhere! They love the combination of town and country walks that we do, they love children, and they absolutely love the beach! Unfortunately they even seem to have similar health problems. I don’t know what that’s about.

I feel really lucky to have worked so well with O.J, and had a smooth transition to a new dog while he is still healthy and happy. I know of a few people currently waiting on dogs, and they’ve been without one for a long time. I’m also lucky that my parents kept O.J, and I can see him when I want. He just lives in a different house, but I keep reminding them that I still pay his insurance so he’s still my dog! He is always happy to see me and follows me around when I come to visit. He stays in my house sometimes, and there’s days when I leave Sibyl at home, just so that I can take someone’s arm and take O.J for a walk on his lead. Keeping a retired dog is definitely not the best option for everybody, but it worked for me. Knowing that I didn’t have to miss O.J helped me form a bond with Sibyl more easily.

If I had any advice for somebody who is retiring a dog and going for a successor dog, it would be this. Don’t feel guilty for comparing dogs. It’s normal to prefer certain characteristics in a particular dog. It’s important to recognise that each dog is different. To be fair to the new dog, it needs time to settle in and mature, just like the older one did when it began it’s working life. No two dogs are ever going to be the same, no matter how similar their working styles are. If you are lucky though, like me, you might have two dogs who are very similar, very different, but equally funny, and equally good at their job.