Everyone has one of two deeply-set opinions when they see me train my guide dogs (for the blind):
- “Those poor dogs are slaves!” “They’re trained so negatively!” “So horrible… how could anyone be so strict with a dog and force them to work??”
- “Look at that cute dog!” “What a wonderful occupation for a dog!” “How beautiful – a blind person having such a great dog by his/her side… such a heart warming connection.”
Or they know nothing about guide dogs.
Well. All I can say is that both of these could be true. People can do anything in a negative, cruel way or put their heart and soul into it.
I wanted to write this post to share how they can, and should, be trained. First off: the dogs are not slaves. They love their work and you can see that written on their faces every day they are able to guide. I also choose dogs that are good for the job – not aggressive, frightened or unstable. My dogs see me get their harness and leash to start the work day and they run over, wagging their tail hard enough to levitate two inches.
Every morning and night they go on a long walk where, at times, they’re on the leash (to practice some obedience and for safety reasons) and at that time they can’t play with other dogs. When we get to the woods and fields, they run free: they tumble, play, and run (only once I can call them back reliably).
They get to play a bit before and after training, also, to warm up to and then shake off their work day. So when you see a guide dog not allowed to interact with other dogs while on the job, don’t feel bad. Playing would put their blind owner in serious danger. They take a break with other dogs when they’re off work – just like people! We can’t throw parties constantly at the office, neither can working dogs.
My dogs are part of my family – live in my house and are treated the same as my own dog. They get to play, they’re healthy, and they have an occupation! It seems worse for a dog to sit at home doing nothing all the time, right? My dogs know they have a purpose and you can feel it surging from them while they work.
When I have my dogs guide me through the city, their tails wag back and worth, setting a rhythm. I can’t take the smile off my face when I see them strut around so proudly. People look at them and my dogs look back, “I’m cute, I’m cute, I’m cute… Do you see this harness? I’m important! I have a job, I have a job, I have a job… I’m smart! You can’t take your eyes off me, can you (I’m so important).”