Sort Your Dog Out!

One of the most valuable pieces of advice that I learned from our instructor while training with Opal at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick, Ontario, was: ‘Always sort your dog out’. Let me explain. Guide dogs are, in the end, just dogs with special training. They are vulnerable to the same desire for mischief as other dogs. Their curiousity (my Opal is a busybody extraordinaire) sometimes gets the better of them, even when they are in harness. Variables like their level of stress, the ‘newness’ of a situation, the scent in the environment, and their relationship with you at any given moment, contribute to  potential distraction and unwanted behaviour. It takes a long time to get into sync with a new guide dog. It was a year before Opal and I were truly in tune. She is my first guide dog, so perhaps it was a longer process for us. I had been cautioned that I would be ‘tested’ by her, when we returned to Halifax and started out on our journeys together. How true! Dogs are capable of all sorts of mind games. It is their way of determining who is ‘in charge’. For example, Opal would insist on an opportunity to relieve numerous times on our way to the bus stop near our home. I gave her the benefit of the doubt for a while, but called her bluff when I realized that this was just a gigantic ploy to sniff around. More significantly, she wanted to see if I would let her be the boss. Our instructor’s words echoed in my head on Opal’s first visit to my bank. I was trying to do some business with the sit-down teller and the bank manager with Opal at my feet. Opal was getting up and trying to check out the litter basket when I said to the bank manager and teller, “excuse me” and promptly ignored them and ‘sorted my dog out’.  I did not return my attention to them until I was satisfied that Opal was back in place and not doing anything goofy. I continue to do this when the need arrises, regardless of who I am with, or where I am… I could care less if I am with a head of state, or an journalist doing a TV interview with me (as was the case last week) or anyone else who is expecting my undivided attention; my priority is to ensure that my dog is safe, comfortable and not bugging anyone. When the day came that Opal realized that this is my consistent response to any silliness or distraction on her part, she started behaving nicely most of the time. She understood (with great relief), that I am ‘top dog’.  This applies to all dogs, pets and service dogs alike. There is nothing more annoying than an uncontrolled dog (or child) misbehaving in public. Sort them out!–they will love you for it because they feel the ‘leader of the pack’ is handling it and is in charge. 


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