Happy Working Dog

Uschi looking quite pleased to be riding in the car

A lot of the time when I sit back and watch Uschi, I imagine “I’m a Hard Workin’ Dog” is playing in the background. Everything she does in life is approached with a cheerful exuberance that I am quite honestly a bit jealous of. And that includes her job guiding me about. Of course, this should be expected — and both of my previous guides were also very eager to do their jobs, too. But I was surprised to hear that a lot of people don’t realize how enjoyable a guide dog finds her chosen career. And yes, she really did chose her job.1

See the thing is in a lot of ways guide dogs don’t really think of their job as work; it’s more the thing they’re supposed to do, like your pet dog is supposed to play fetch with you. Dogs are pretty neat creatures in that they really do live to please their human companions. Guide dogs are no exception, it’s just that the way they please their humans is by making sure they don’t walk into trees or fall down flights of stairs. Moreover, throughout their lives with their puppy raisers and trainers they’ve come to expect that they’ll go places. They’ve learned from a young age that they accompany their human companions all over the place — and a guide dog quickly picks up on the fact that she goes everywhere with her handler. Certainly going anywhere is more interesting than staying cooped up at home all the time so it’s only natural this would be an enjoyable activity.

That isn’t to say that every guide dog is going to prance down the street like Yara or have a goofy grin plastered across her face like Uschi. (My first guide dog’s most common facial expression in harness could at best be described as exasperation, but she was always wagging her tail!) But you can rest assured they’re just as content in their work as my girls.

  1. But that’s a post for another day, I think.

Buddy and Juno

Guide dog schools each have their own rules and systems for how they name their dogs. Generally, each litter is assigned a letter and all the pups are named accordingly. While the dog is in training a moratorium is placed on the name to avoid confusion. Unless they are used for breeding, that name usually will become available once the dog leaves the program. Two names, however, are almost unanimously considered “off limits” to name a guide dog.

Morris Frank kneeling next to his German shepherd Seeing Eye dog, BuddyBuddy
The first formally trained guide dog to work in the United States was originally named “Kiss” but Morris Frank found it undesirable and renamed his partner “Buddy” during their training in Switzerland. Personally, I can’t blame him especially since Buddy would become quite a media sensation once they returned to the USA. Her historical work guiding Frank in his travels paved the way for The Seeing Eye to be founded and tens of thousands of guide dogs to be partnered with blind people throughout the next 80+ years. (As a note: I believe only The Seeing Eye has officially retired the name from being used.)

At some point during the placement period each potential guide dog handler will have at least one walk with Juno. He’s pretty unique in that he — or she — comes in so many variations and is completely adaptable. Also, he’s invisible . . . Okay, fine! The truth is Juno doesn’t really exist. A Juno walk is actually a type of role playing and is a means to determine things about the handler, like strength, speed and gait, to aid in matching a suitable guide dog. To a bystander it must look like the most bizarre thing because it consists of a trainer essentially guiding a blind person along with a harness absent a dog. Juno is also a tool to teach a first-time guide dog user how to properly hold the harness handle and leash and interpret the information they are receiving, like following the dog around an obstruction. Juno is also used as the first instruction in correcting the dog. Personally, I only recall doing this during training with my first dog, so I don’t know how common this method is any more.

Happy Labor Day!

Hoping you enjoy your day off work!
Profile headshot of Uschi in harness on a brown background

In Print

I’m very passionate about literacy because books are a wonderful gateway into so many things. As an avid reader it might surprise you to learn that I didn’t first learn about guide dogs between the cover of a book.1 It wasn’t until I was training with Dolly that I even heard there were any books related to guide dogs! Below are several titles that you might be interested in checking out. This is by no means an exhaustive list (and if you’ve any suggestions of ones I may have omitted, feel free to share).

[Read more…]

  1. Actually, it was a clip on Sesame Street that first introduced me to these wonderful animals.

Fact and Fiction

Aside from exclamations of their extremely good looks and inquiries about their various statistics (names, breeds, ages, sexes, etc.) the single most common comment and question I hear is that people are impressed with the remarkable work that my guide dogs must do for me. I’m the first one to admit all three have shown on countless occasions how incredible they are both in and out of harness, but the notable thing about these comments is that they showcase an overwhelming myth that guide dogs work autonomously.

Below are a few examples of questions/comments I’ve received, followed by a clarification of the truth behind the statement. [Read more…]