If I were asked by a potential guide dog handler what it is like to train and share life with a guide dog, focused on the grittier aspect’s, this is what I would tell them. This document states my thoughts and does not support or endorse a particular guide dog program.
1. Training is Physically demanding. Over time it could put stress on your left arm, shoulder and hand
2. You may not wish to wear sandals anymore, open toe shoes and dog feet don’t mix well. You may choose to wear slippers or house shoes instead of being bare foot in the home — Nyla bones, when chewed become marked with sharp edges and hurt just as much as stepping on Legos. .
3. Dogs, like people, are messy, from drool to pee, puke, and at least once-daily poop pick-up, it is not for the squeamish.
4. Dogs shed, a lint brush and good vacuum are all essential for guide dog handlers. Dogs smell when wet. Conversely, dogs tolerate rain gear and booties, be ready for people to comment on the raincoat and booties when out in public. Did I mention that dogs shed?
5. Most dogs, while trained for good indoor house manners, will revert to being a dog. Don’t be surprised, on occasion, to find a shredded paper towel or tissue or even a can or yogurt container licked clean. My second dog chewed a paper napkin to shreds while laying down under the table in a fancy restaurant.
6. Cover all waste cans or it could become a canine snack bin — Same goes for the cat litter box.
Remember dog proofing is like toddler proofing.
7. A crate in your home is like a piece of furniture and most training programs recommend it. The top of our crate has turned out to be a great place to put the empty food bowls, toy bin and the top of the crate can become a safe place for just about anything.
8. You will need a larger bag or pouch. You are now caring things for two.
9. Did I mention dog hair?
10. Then there is other husbandry, ear cleaning, bathing, brushing, and learning how to give a pill to a reluctant dog. Pill pockets work only about 50% of the time.
11. There are times when you will need to leave your dog home because it may not be safe or significantly stressful. A loud rock concert is one example. Also, if it’s too hot or cold for you, it will be just as intolerable for a dog, so keep up those cane skills.
12. Finally, there is the Financial cost of food, equipment like grooming supplies, and supplements like fish oil and taking care of an occasional ailment or injury. Should you choose to keep your dog after retirement, it will require a handler to administer care and joint and/or other health supplements or medications to an Elderly dog. It also means you will be making the decision to euthanize the dog when it’s time.
13. The emotional journey you will take with your new guide dog will be blessed with twists and turns. Training will challenge and build confidence. The bonding is powerful. Some handlers say it took time to bond with the dog or to become used to the extra attention from the public, others said it was getting family, friends, and/or employers to adjust to the dog. Some handlers did not apply for a successor dog until the current dog died, sharing that it felt disloyal. Many guide dog handlers cannot keep more than a single dog due to restrictions depending on where they live. Other folks transition to a canine successor with a more practical attitude. It’s a team effort and investment in time and energy.
There will be times when your patience is put to the test; being denied entrance to a store or transportation because of your guide dog come to mind. At these times, being prepared and knowing your rights, keeping in touch with other handlers and/or guide dog user groups and staying in control are all tools to help with instances of access denial.
I hope this document has been helpful and has accomplished what it was meant to achieve: sharing your life with a guide dog takes a good amount of hard work and dedication but it is fulfilling and worth it.
For more information:
Follow Your Dog a Story of Love and Trust by Ann Chiappetta
The Handbook for the prospective Guide Dog Handler by Guide Dog Users, Inc;