Probably if you’re reading this you’ve checked out my about page. It’s undergone various style changes as the mood strikes me, but somehow manages to be at least partially out-of-date because I rather loathe writing introductions. Still, it’s adequate enough to get a general idea of who I am, what this site is, and a healthy dose of other random information. Currently, it’s formatted in an FAQ style, but in truth the most common questions I’m asked aren’t there because they all revolve around my guide dogs.
I covered a few of the most common questions about guide dogs, but those are hardly the most common questions I receive. They vary from basic stats about the girls to inquires about the training involved to the downright random and sometimes rude, but hopefully the answers will be informative for all and maybe a bit amusing.
What’s your dog’s name?
My current guide dog is Uschi.1 In public I generally won’t reveal her name because (a.) it really isn’t information anyone but me needs to have and (b.) when you give someone the dog’s name they will almost always repeat it and so this ends up being an exercise in punishing the dog because I’ll just have to reprimand her for reacting to her own name! When I’m in a rush and can’t explain all that I just say her name is Sam.
How old is your dog?
Uschi will be three on October 24.2 I don’t usually answer this one in public either because when the dog is young people start to jump on anything they perceive as a mistake.
What breed is she?
Uschi is a German shepherd.3 (Often this question is asked as a guess: “Is that a <insert breed of choice>?” The most amusing of which is when I’m asked if she’s a wolf.)
Is she a mix?
She’s a purebred shepherd.4 (This is a common follow-up to the above question and often has the same type of variation with the guesswork. The tone generally says that I’ve been conned into thinking my guide dog isn’t a mongrel of some variety. I’ve only come across this since I started working shepherds. I’m fairly sure this is because the general public think all shepherds look like Rin Tin Tin, black-and-tan with a big saddle/cape, and my girls are both sable.)
What color is she?
Uschi is sable.5 (Sometimes it’s also called grey, but the defining characteristic is that the coat is two-toned ranging from one color at the root to another at the tip. And yes, if you’re wondering, that means her hair shows up on absolutely everything.)
Isn’t that a unique color?
(Also: “I’ve never seen a shepherd that color before.”) Actually, no it really isn’t. Not only can shepherds be pretty much any color and vary widely in markings, but the first recorded GSD was a sable. Though, in defense of the general public, I didn’t know any of this before I was partnered with Yara.
Is that a blind dog?
No? She’s a guide dog. I don’t think it would be nearly as helpful if she couldn’t see either! (Basically this is a probing inquiry from people who recognize that she’s a working dog of some sort. Sometimes they identify her as a guide dog, but more often than not they aren’t sure what the proper terminology is. My favorite variation to this was when I was asked: “Is that one of those walking-eye dogs?”)
Are you training her?
No, she’s not in training; she’s my guide dog. (When I first started working a guide dog I used to be offended by this question because it seemed to imply that I didn’t need to use a guide dog to get around. And sometimes that is the veiled meaning behind the question. However, it’s more often the case the person simply doesn’t realize they’ve come across a real-live blind person with her guide dog. I also happen to live in a pretty active region for puppy raisers, so there are a lot of pre-training puppies out and about.)
Did you train her?
I did not. Uschi is from a training school in Connecticut called Fidelco.6
How long was her training?
After being puppy raised for approximately two years, Uschi had six months of formal training at Fidelco and then we trained together for about two weeks.7
Can I pet her?
Sorry, no. See here, please.
Does she bite?
No! (I freely admit I hate this question. I don’t want to give any impression that my guide dog — or any working dog — is prone to aggression. But “no” seems to be synonymous with “please distract my dog by putting your hand near her muzzle and/or pet her.”)
Would she protect you if you were attacked?
Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never been in a situation where my guide dog felt I was being threatened. She’s pretty passive and submissive and I expect she would more likely run away than attempt to go after someone.8 (This is often related to the above question and also comes in about nine million variations. Basically this can be categorized as an inquiry into aggressive tendencies.)
Does she know any tricks?
Well, she knows how to guide a blind person around. (This one also comes in a wide number of variations, e.g., “Can she turn on the lights?” Essentially, people lump guide dogs in with every other kind of assistance dog and want to know if she can do or does perform other tasks. I get the impression that other people don’t find guiding a blind person nearly as impressive as these other skills and that just cracks me up.)
How do you know when she has to go to the bathroom?
(It is mildly horrifying to me how often this is asked.) We have a schedule. She eats at the same times each day and we take trips out to relieve at specific times as well. But if she really had to go and it wasn’t part of the routine, I’m sure she’d make it known.
How often does she get a bath?
Very infrequently because she gets groomed every single day. Believe it or not, the oils from her skin keep her very clean and bathing would actually strip the oils away. Of course, if she had a Pepsi dropped on her head or something of the like I’d have to give her a bath! (Yes, that actually happened once with Dolly and we were not anywhere near home at the time.)
Who takes care of her?
(Generally asked in the specific, such as: “Who cleans up her poop?”) Me. It’s all part and parcel with the gig of working a guide dog; she’s completely my responsibility.
What does she eat?
(The more common variation: “Does she eat people food?”) Uschi eats a mixture of about four cups of Nature’s Variety Instinct Grain-Free Chicken Meal kibble and raw food each day. There’s also an entire shelf in my kitchen dedicated to various treats. She might also get a raw carrot or something, but table scraps are not part of her diet.
Can she have a treat?
Thanks, but no. (I used to accept treat offers with the stipulation that I was to give it to my dog. But Yara’s dietary issues made this impractical since to do so I would have to quiz perfect strangers on treat ingredients.)
Are dogs allowed here?
Guide dogs are allowed wherever the public is. So, basically, if I can go in, she gets to come too.
Does she like riding in cars?
(Another question with countless variations all to do with how my guide dog handles different work situations.) Indeed she does! There are probably some days she enjoys <insert situation of choice> more than others because it’s new and different or particularly fun. But I do try to keep work from being boring or monotonous for her by giving her play breaks or down time or varying up our routine.
Do you like answering all these questions?
(Okay, I admit it, I probably can count on one hand how often this one has been asked.) Yes. And no. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls! And I do very much enjoy talking about them. They’re a huge part of my life! But even I have to admit that sometimes it gets a bit old. I repeat a lot of the same stuff ad nauseam and sometimes it seems like I get swallowed up by all the attention the dog gets. I will say it’s much easier for me now than it was when I first started working a guide dog. I’m a bit on the shy side when it comes to talking about myself — and I still am — but as a handler I feel a responsibility to educate the public about guide dogs. And, let’s face it, more often than not the dogs are infinitely more interesting than I could ever hope to be.
- Dolly was my first guide dog and my second was Yara. ↩
- Yara is six. ↩
- As is Yara. Dolly was a Labrador retriever. ↩
- Actually, none of my guide dogs have been mixes. ↩
- Yara is another variation of this color. Dolly was completely black. ↩
- Yara is also a Fidelco dog; Dolly was from Guiding Eyes. ↩
- Same for Yara. Dolly had four months of formal training and because she got sick in the middle of our training we had a total of five weeks together. Some of that was home training. ↩
- Likewise for Yara and Dolly. ↩