I have a very beautiful guide dog. She is black, very shiny, well proportioned, with very dark brown eyes. To add to this, she is extremely easily distracted which makes her a nightmare to work with at times. Not because of her distraction, which is handlable, but because of the numbers of people who will insist on distracting her.
A guide dog probably has to work harder than any other type of working dog, simply because most of its duties are contrary to its natural instincts. This is probably a very simplistic analogy, but a sheep dog, for instance, works using its natural instinct to round up its pack. A sniffer dog is rewarded for doing what it does best, that is, sniffing things out with its nose. However, a guide dog is trained not to sniff and scavenge, not to guard, not to chase or be over exuberant with people, all things that Labrador type dogs usually thrive on.
Last year, during my dog’s first few months of working, I seriously wondered if she’d make it as a guide dog as people on the street will insist on distracting her while she’s working, either by looking at her and gesturing to her, calling her or making clicking noises to distract her, or even touching, stroking and trying to cuddle her while she’s working. I’ve had to work extremely hard with her to get her to the point where she will pass these distractions without altering her course or pulling excessively. I’ve been called abusive names and accused of being cruel to the dog for not allowing bad behaviour.
This lunchtime I went to Sainsbury’s and visited the pharmacy counter whilst I was there. I told the assistant who was helping me that I’d be fine to negotiate my way back out of the store, which I do on many occasions successfully with the dog.
The dog was doing extremely well on the way out, working steadily and confidently. This was until a lady decided that it wasn’t necessary to ask to stroke my dog, but to just bend down and start cooing over her and blocking her way. I asked the woman to leave the dog as she was working, but was met with, “but she’s so gorgeous.” By now I had to stop and the dog was wriggling and wagging, pleased to have a distraction. I asked the woman if she would distract a working police dog and she said that absolutely she would not because they’re working dogs. So what did she think a guide dog does?
I was eventually given room to go on my way, but by this time, the dog had lost concentration and took off completely the wrong way, so I asked the dog to sit, tried to calm her down and gave her the command again to find the way. Before we could move off, the woman was there again, clicking her tongue and saying “this way doggie”. I eventually was forced to tell her, very directly, to leave us alone so that the dog could get on with her work. The lady eventually left me, muttering something under her breath about me which sounded far from complimentary. So once again, I’ve made an enemy, just because people think they have the god-given right to stroke a guide dog.
As I get older, I am becoming less and less tolerant of this type of behaviour. Why can’t people just stand back and watch and admire the wonderful work that guide dogs do, rather than wanting a piece of them all the time. These dogs are not super dogs or robots, they are just well trained animals who need to stay tuned with their handler. Yes, we are handlers, the dogs do not just take us where we want to go. We get there through team work and a lot of training together. The thoughtless and selfish behaviour of the public just constantly attempts to undermine the work of the guide dog partnership.
I know a blind person who would possibly do very well with a guide dog but they do not feel that they could have one. Not because it wouldn’t suit them, but because they know that they wouldn’t be able to maintain a civil attitude with the constant barrage of thoughtlessness and selfishness which I encounter.
Yes I’m angry. Primarily angry with the Guide Dogs Association who will not properly address public education and insist on portraying our dogs as cute and cuddly.
In the meantime I want a guide Rottweiler.