Is a Guide Dog for You?

By DeAnna (Quietwater) Noriega

You have just walked face first in to a rain laden branch or a rope barrier that your cane passed under, or stumbled in to a hole you missed detecting.

You wonder if a guide dog is the answer. There are a few things you should consider. A dog, unlike a cane can’t be put in a closet or leaned in a corner when you find it inconvenient to use it. Like a child, they require discipline, care and feeding. Regular grooming will reduce the amount of dog hair that will need vacuuming off your carpets and furniture or brushing off your clothes. When choosing your wardrobe, you may still have to take the color of your dog’s coat into consideration. Some people are afraid of dogs are allergic to them or just don’t want them in their homes or vehicles. Travel or busy schedules may require you to carry extra items such as food and other dog related things with you. Like a young child, Your dog needs monitoring to avoid his puppy curiosity getting him in to trouble.

Questions you might ask yourself are: do you enjoy the company of pets? Are you willing to exercise, play with and clean up after a dog? Keep in mind that a dog isn’t a robot and although he has been trained to watch out for overhead obstructions, stop at curbs and steps, obey directional commands, swing around objects in your path and return to his original direction of travel, he will need you to know the route you want to follow. You will have to stay on top of his canine instincts to scavenge for food, greet other dogs or sniff. He will learn to recognize locations you frequent and routes you take often. Make judgments on whether it is safe to enter the street. Although he is not trained to guard you, his presence is to a degree a deterrent to some people. When asked by a stranger if my dog bites. I usually answer that he has teeth.

I am a good cane traveler, but find myself exhausted by the high level of concentration I employ when utilizing a white cane. As a result I avoid making unnecessary trips. I find traveling with a guide dog more like taking a leisurely walk with a friend. I can relax about a lot of the minor hazards and allow myself to focus on keeping my route in mind instead of worrying about detecting every dumpster, misplaced tricycle and unexpected crack or drop off in the pavement. I enjoy the company of dogs and prefer to go places when I like rather than at some friend or family member’s convenience. I meet a lot of dog lovers and find them eager to help with directions and useful information. I find store clerks and office personnel happy to assist me. In short, even when I get lost, I have more confidence in my ability to figure things out because I know I am not alone, but in the company of a friend.

A little understood benefit of having a guide dog is the fact that a well cared for and much loved dog returns to its handler a degree of unconditional love that we seldom receive from others. The bond between a guide dog and its handler is such a close one, that the team becomes extremely sensitive to each other’s moods and needs. This provides a twofold balance to the relationship. When it seems as if life in general has set out to make your day difficult, your dog is there offering companionship and comfort. In return the dog has his needs met and yes, is loved by the handler. Someone in your life depends on you. Too often we find ourselves as visually impaired people on the receiving end of other peoples’ Generosity. To me it isn’t a burden to care for my dog’s requirements but a pleasure to give back for services rendered. The gift of reciprocal love is an immeasurable part of being a guide dog handler.

Okay, so you have decided to train with a guide dog, what next. There are more than a dozen reputable guide dog training programs in the country. Talking with other guide dog users may clarify your thinking as to the type of program you would be most comfortable attending. Outlining your lifestyle and expectations will also help the staff of the school you choose find the right match for you. There is an excellent survey of the guide dog schools in the U.S. on the GDUI.org web page to help you choose the program that will best suit your needs.