Anyone even vaguely familiar with Uschi, especially when she’s not working in harness, can attest to her crazy, playful nature. Honestly, living with her boundless energy is both amusing and exhausting. If anything she keeps me entertained, but I am very glad that she is capable of composing herself in harness and focusing on her task of aiding me in safely traveling independently.
Probably when you think of the term “guide dog” you imagine a blind person walking along being led by a harnessed dog. That’s certainly makes sense since that’s essentially what the dog is trained to do. Personally I think that simple act of walking as a guide dog team is both amazing and beautiful. Through leather and steel there’s a connection between handler and dog that even after all these years I still find truly profound and something without equal. But this isn’t a post about any of that. No, it’s a post about a more common part of working a guide dog, but one that’s often not stressed.
I’ve mentioned many times before that generally the largest part of a guide dog’s working life isn’t spent actively guiding their blind partner, but are more accurately “down times.” Guide dogs spend a lot of time being stationary. They lie under tables and chairs, tuck themselves under counters or even just sit beside their partner while they do any number of things from eat at a restaurant to standing in queue. Basically, they’re being completely unnatural to pretty much every dog that the public may have ever had contact with.
I hear a lot of comments from random strangers that their dogs would never be so well behaved and that they wish they could bring their dogs with them everywhere. But the reaction I love the most is when the person hasn’t even noticed the dog’s presence until I’ve gotten up to move or something. Considering how often the public’s reaction to my guide dogs is more than a little frustrating, it’s simply a welcome treat.
In a lot of ways, though, it’s just as much an example of what it is to be a guide dog as the aforementioned mental image. Certainly there are calm dogs and those who are well trained who, for instance, could lie under a table in a crowded restaurant for hours at a time without any issue. However, in my experience, that’s not the typical dog and it’s most definitely not the normal behavior for Uschi who has spent the vast majority of the time I’ve taken to write this post alternately chasing a tennis ball around the house and barking at all the trick-or-treaters. Goodness knows I could never sit around that quiet for such long periods of times when I was four. Honestly, I probably still can’t some three decades later.
That said, I find that many people don’t quite understand that a stationary working dog is in fact working. It’s not hard to understand given how we view the concept of work. I can’t imagine many employers would condone having a workday that accomplished nothing and merely consisted of sitting quietly. Of course, the converse is equally true and an employee who is disobedient and not fulfilling their duties wouldn’t be tolerated. Which is precisely why a guide dog “just sitting there” is actually working just as much as if she were leading her handler across a busy intersection.
They may seem less glamorous in relation to the more dynamic and active parts of guide dog work, but these moments of calm, quiet are ones that I truly admire and adore because even during these there’s a trust present. Uschi knows that eventually more actual work is coming — the opportunity to go somewhere or the chance for a car ride — and I have faith that she’ll be a good, obedient companion. Like so much of our partnership, it’s so simple and yet it conveys so much.