Posted by: arnoldoneal | September 5, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

One of the most common things I hear when I am out and about with Brody is “He sure is a well trained dog.” or “Is he in training?”.  People are amazed at how well behaved Brody is and they wish their dog would behave and obey as well.  I enjoy telling them about the training that guide dogs undergo and I love the reaction I get when I tell them that it cost $65,000.00 to get a dog ready to go into service.

I have written about the puppy raiser families that adopt the dogs as young pups who teach them obedience, potty training and who take them every where so that they learn to behave in public.   This is where the training begins, and they do a wonderful job and are a vital part of the process.

After a dog has been with the puppy raisers approximately a year, they must, against all natural instinct, return their dog to Southeastern to begin the next phase of training.  This is where the dogs are matched with a guide dog trainer. These trainers specialize in training guide dogs for the visually impaired, and have undergone years of training in order to reach this level.  Some of the training staff at Southeastern have been training guide dogs for more than 20 years.  At this stage of the training the dogs will learn to work in the harness.  It is amazing how different the dogs behave when the harness is on.  When in harness they know that they are working and they are very focused on the task at hand, whether it be guiding their partner down the street or waiting quietly under a table at restaurant.  The dogs are trained to stop at curbs, go left or right on command, find the crosswalk button, find a chair, go to a door and even find an elevator.  People ask me all the time if he is trained to do tricks.  He is not trained to do tricks, but he does make a fabulous eggs benedict.

The truth is, Brody is brilliant.  I am the one that needs better training as it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Since I have some vision left I have a tendency to anticipate the curbs and obstacles. Brody senses this reaction, and it teaches him that he doesn’t have to work as hard.  I can tell sometimes that he isn’t as focused as he should be, and this scares me a lot. I have even had bad dreams that I ruined Brody and he had to go back and be retrained.  Unfortunately this can happen and I don’t want it to happen to us.

One of the biggest dangers to a guide dogs training is letting people pet them.  Guide dog works for the praise and affection of his partner. When others pet them they learn that they can get attention without working for it.   It is hard to tell people that they can’t pet Brody. He is such a handsome dog, everyone loves him and wants to pet him, and to often I let them.

I have found that some people are not very understanding and can get angry when told they can’t pet your dog. The other day I went to the mall and was in a store when an employee of the store came up and asked, “Can I pet your dog?”.  I thanked him for asking, but told him,  “No”, and then explained why.  He then said, “Well, if I can’t pet him, can I kick him in the face?”.  At first I was so surprised I didn’t say anything, but I then I calmly replied, “I suppose you could do that, but are you sure you want to spend time in federal prison for assaulting a service animal.  You would be better off to kick me in the face.  You would do less jail time for that.”   With that, he made out like he was just joking and he went on his way.

After this incident, I ordered a sign for my harness that says  “ Please don’t pet me, I am working”.  The sign seems to help, but there are still those who pet Brody anyway.  They pet him while reading the sign. I guess they are thinking that the blind guy cant see what they are doing, so they do it anyway.

I promise I will try to do better at not letting people pet Brody, but could someone else have that conversation with my wife.  I’m to afraid!

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Responses

  1. Guide dogs are very impressive. I have a disability (multiple sclerosis and recently broken hip), but not with my vision…except when I put ear wax remover in my eye because I thought it was Clear Eyes. I must admit that was strictly user error and I can’t blame it on anything except not paying attention; which I guess is a sort of disability all on its own.

    Good luck with the dog petting issue. Maybe you should try a sign “Yes, I bite so keep your paws off”. 😉

    • That is a great idea for a sign. If the “Don’t pet me, I’m working” one doesn’t work we will try that one!

  2. The obstacles that you must encounter with ignorance. I hope you do not have to encounter that same person again and I hope you said something to his employer! Kiss Brody for me, he’s doing a good job and so are you!

    • Hi Allison, Bobbi Jo had me call the manager and let them know what happened so that person can be educated.

  3. Hi,

    I’d love to agree with you! I’ve got a guide dog, and a certain Guide Dogs organisation I’m with isn’t so strict, they wonder why me and Troy have issues read this blog to read more. I don’t have a guide dog harness despite asking many times for one.

    Please keep up the advocacy! I find that blogging about the subject of guide dog Etiquette helps a lot, it also gives me the confidence to tell people in real life, “Please don’t pet him”. The other thing I’m beginning to hate is that people always want to know my dog’s name. Do they really need to know his name, other than that they’d love to interfere with Troy? That would be like saying, “Excuse me, what’s your child’s name?…” before proceeding to talk to him/her when you know better.

    Oh well I could go on for ages about the annoying things of life that relate to me and my guide dog, but I’ll finish this comment now until next time.

    Please keep the posts coming. I appreciate this blogger community for all the things they’ve done to help me, whether they realise it or not.

    Michelle and Troy


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