blazing trails with waggy tails: frequently asked questions

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A photo of me at the airport. I’m wearing black leggings and a gray sweater with a daisy in my hair. I’m holding my cane and light green suitcase, looking off to the side.

I’m really, actually doing it: I’m taking a step for my independence and going on my first solo trip to Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, Cali!

I thought I would make a short post answering some questions people have asked as I’ve talked about getting a guide dog. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or contact me directly!

Why are you training for two weeks?

for a blind person, a guide dog is like a piece of medical equipment (like a wheelchair), except it’s alive. From an engineer’s view, both a dog and a person are independently functioning systems with ability to think and make decisions. However, if you combine two independent systems, they become co-dependent and have to learn about each other, like a relationship or marriage. Since we can each make decisions independently, we can make mistakes, and have to learn to function as a team. A guide dog handler (me) has to give their dog commands (like forward, left, right), so as a new handler, I have to learn these commands and how to utilize them.

Why doesn’t your dog wear a vest?

guide dogs do not wear vests for the primary reason that their handler is blind. The purpose of guide dogs is to essentially pull me around as I tell them where to go. A vest identifies a service dog (similar to a guide dog, but does different tasks like seizure alert, PTSD dogs, blood sugar alert, etc) to the general public, and is a symbol for the dog that it’s in “working mode.” However, a guide dog’s harness is a rigid, U-shaped handle that not only signals the dog to be working, but is necessary for traveler since the handler is blind.

How do they know when to cross the street?

the short answer is because I tell him to! Contrary to popular belief, dogs can’t read traffic signals, so I have to use both my auditory skills and sometimes remaining vision to know when it’s safe to cross. However, there are always crazy people running red lights and turning illegally. A guide dog is taught “intelligent disobedience,” meaning if he sees a car coming that is unknown to me, he will not go forward until it is safe and saves my life (a cane can’t do that!).

Will your dog live with you/go everywhere with you?

yes! The Americans With Disabilites Act defines a service/guide dog as a dog who is trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled handler. Service dogs are allowed access everywhere, including places that do not normally allow dogs. This excludes comfort animals/emotional support animals whose sole purpose is to be of comfort and not a specific task (like reminding a mentally ill handler to take medication, alerting of an oncoming seizure, or guiding a blind person). Therapy dogs, or dogs that go to hospitals/funeral homes and provide comfort to more than one person have a different set of laws attributed to them.

so yes, my dog will go everywhere I want it to go with me! I’ll use discretion of when would not be a good time or place to have him (like OSU football games, ayee). He can stay alone in high intensity situations where I wouldn’t need much guiding. But he would be allowed in university dorms and my sorority house.

Do you know anything about your dog prior to training?

no, and it kills me to have to wait! While other schools (places guide dogs get trained) might release information prematurely, GDB does a fantastic job at hiding any information from me until the day I receive my dog. This includes name, gender, breed or literally anything about my dog (those stinkers 😉).

Can I pet your dog? Can you pet your dog?

of course I can pet my dog! Physical affection during guide work (harness on) is motivating for my dog and reminds them they’re doing something right. It’s also necessary and healthy for the dog to be loved by its handler, especially when providing a service to me.

regarding others petting my dog, the answer is yes and no. Much has to do with the handler’s own discretion. If you ever see a guide or service dog, please ask of you want to pet the dog, especially if his harness or vest is on!! If you pet a dog while he’s working, or even make eye contact for that matter, you risk distracting the dog from his job and could risk the handler’s life. Even if a dog is laying by their handler and seems to be doing nothing, if the hardness is on, it’s work time. When harness is off, please still ask as this isn’t your dog, but there’s not a risk of distraction since the dog isn’t technically working.

How do they know what dog will suit you if they don’t really know you?

guide dog schools get to know you pretty well during the application process. They usually do some sort of interview and ask you in detail about your travel habits. For example, I explained during my interview that I’m a college student in a large campus and urban area. Often, they match you to a dog that can fit the required energy levels you need for your daily travels. They also match your temperament based on how they perceive you. There is also a small degree of personal preference for breed and gender that they incorporate, but overall it’s about having the best match.

Do you get to name your dog?

unfortunately, no. My dog will be at least a year old, so it has to be called something for its short life! The generous donors have the unique privilege of naming dogs, which causes for some interesting names.

Are you excited?

I’m so excited!! I feel that I would benefit from a guide because of how much walking I do on campus. My vision is very dependent on the correct lighting (i.e. I’m extremely light sensitive which impairs my vision further) and the sun isn’t disappearing any time soon. I especially feel that this will increase my autonomy and independence when traveling on my own as I do in college.

 

what other questions do you have? Stay posted on my journey as I meet my guide this upcoming week and begin to learn about this new phase in my life. you can follow my journey on Facebook for more up to the minute coverage (link below), and as always, thanks for reading and have a sunshiny day! ☀️

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