Do Guide Dogs Misbehave?

Short answer to this question? Yes, of course! They’re dogs, just dogs with special training. All dogs will misbehave, given the opportunity (and all you people with allegedly ‘perfect pooches’ need to rethink that plan to nominate your canine for sainthood!)

I must say that I get a lot of comments from people (bus and taxi drivers, store keepers, hospital staff etc.) who remark that Opal is a very well behaved dog. I would agree, given what I’ve heard about other guide dogs, much to my surprise and horror.  Sure, Opal has been known to lick women’s bare feet in public when I’m not paying attention.  Her passion for soft and fuzzy things has overwhelmed her more than once too; she stole a ladies gloves off a seat at the ferry terminal once, and she has tried to boost a stuffed animal or two from Walmart’s and other stores. Ok, so maybe she has also shredded a basket  (‘off the job’) and torn several pairs of my panties into confetti. At least I caught up with her when she tried to destroy my bra, in time to rescue it. See a pattern here? Oral fixation…jaws and tongue in action? Like many labs, she loves to carry stuff. The first thing she does when  her ‘saddle’ (harness) comes off at home, is to pick up the nearest object that will fit in her mouth and run like a dog possessed.

I have said this more than once: Dogs are a lot like kids. They are opportunistic.  They need good structure, routine  and enforced rules in order to behave like good dogs. I think that most of the stories I hear from cab and bus drivers about guide dogs jumping around, barking, annoying the driver or passengers (!!!!) in their vehicles, is not about a ‘guide dog being bad’.  Nope. It’s about a handler that does not ‘sort their dog out’. These are the handlers that give the rest of us a bad name by allowing the public to develop a negative impression of guide dogs. I have been at functions with other people who had guide dogs, in one instance, 35 blind people and handlers. All  were relatively very well behaved (even the people). I have also been at meetings, and parties where only one other guide dog and handler were present, where  I became irritated beyond belief (the handler irritated ME, the dog irritated Opal), ’cause the handler was asleep at the switch and not paying attention to, or doing anything about his wandering and misbehaving dog.

The off-duty guide dog will eat that chocolate birthday cake, those half dozen blueberry muffins (low fat), the marinating steaks etc. IF THEY HAVE OPPORTUNITY. They will bother your guests, demand attention, ‘act out’, just like small children, unless you enforce the rules which YOU  create, consistently. It makes them feel more secure to know who is leader of the pack (or parent). It is  really about ensuring that they do not have opportunity, and preempting the food theft, destruction of property, annoyance of guests etc, BEFORE IT CAN OCCUR. Put your stuff away! (like my panties which should not be lying on the floor next to the hamper). Put your foot down  firmly (but do not carry a big stick!–be kind and fair to your dog).

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2 responses to “Do Guide Dogs Misbehave?

  1. You are so right! It’s not the dogs fault when all they are doing is looking at things in their point of view. When handlers forget that these dogs have natural triggers and will do things that the dogs feel like it’s OK, no matter how well they are trained, that’s when the problem comes into play. I hear it so many times when a handler says He or she should know better after all they were trained not to or to do this or that. But ask the handler if they continually enforce these actions so our dogs remember and do they do this consistently and you always get the same answer. No! Not Really but they should know better, they were trained. That’s because many handlers think of things in human view point and not in the eyes of their dogs.

    I love when people of professions tell me how well my dogs are. It tells me that I am constantly continually being the enforcer of my dogs behaviour. Sure they may want to do something they shouldn’t out in public like bother a person for attention but I have the leash, I feel their movements and I am aware of the environment. That is my job so my dogs and I are safe when going out in public. And that’s what handlers need to learn that their dog isn’t what they say finished in training but that they must continue the training process so they could grow together.

  2. Just one thing I would like to clarify. Sometimes a guide dog misbehaving is not a bad dog, and does not have a negledgant handler, but it is a poor match or a situation in which the dog is proving that they need a career change. I am an extremely compitant dog handler, whether we are talking guide dogs or pet dogs. I have had four guide dogs and have helped many owners train their pet dogs in basic and advanced obediants. I had a GSD that was displaying some behavior that was not acceptable. It started as distraction and then distress if we would leave the lecture hall, while the class remained behind, or when we would remain behind after the majority of the class left. It escelated to wanting those people walking in the oposit dirrection from us to stop and come in the dirrection we were going. I contacted the school for follow up, warning them that I was seeing signs that were indicative of a strong prey drive and an over developed hearding instinct. These are admirable traits for a police dog or a sheep dog, but not acceptable in a guide dog. The kicker was that she was the best guide I had ever and have ever, to date, worked, and she was loyal to a fault. The school that she came from was very small and they asked me how urgent it was, and I told them maybe a five or six out of ten, 1 being, the dog is working like a dream and 10 being, the dog just killed my cat. They told me three weeks, and offered suggestions of training enhancements I could try. She started to vocalize loudly, howling and wining and squeeking when upset, and would jump up at the arm of someone sighted guiding me, if I was healing her. I called back and said, eight/nine, I need you here now. They sent someone out within two days, and they assessed her, said they would like to take her back to the school and work with her. They took her, I cried, she pined in the kennel, they brought her back after three weeks, saying that they had done temperment testing, worked her, taken her to several social situations and worked with her on the spacific issues she was having. They said that she slept for the first half of the trip, when they were an hour and a half out, she sat up and stayed sitting for almost an hour, then when they got close to the town I was in, she stood up and stared out the window like there was someone out there with a steak or a cat running along side the van. When they arrived, they had to uncrate and recrate her over twenty times, because she was leaping around trying to get to me, yowling and being generally rediculous. They finally got her calmed down and we worked around the college campus, did extensive obediants, went all over town with her, and she seemed much improved. She only displayed the problem behavior once, to a small degree and corrected away from it with a simple verbal plus leash correction. She stuck to me like glue and was a wiggling, waggling fool. The trainer worked with me again the next morning before class, and on the way out of one class, disaster struck. She was trotting along, when a girl sprinted by us, and quick as a flash, she whipped her head to the side and grabbed the girl’s pant leg. Unfortunately she also pinched, not bit some skin. It was red, but there was no blood and no skin broken. I calmly corrected her, worked her to the nearest phone, contacted the school representative and told him “Ten, Ten, get back here right now, this is an emergency.” I retired her that instant. I brought her to my dorm room and kept her calm and said goodbye to her and packed up all of her favorite toys and her food, and told UP to take a hike when they came knocking at my door. There was no way I was letting them take her anywhere, with the dog bite histaria and sue happy culture these days. UP knew me and liked her, cops always seem to have a fondness for GSDs, and I told them “She nubbed the girl and I am sorry. I am retiring her right now, and will apply for a replacer dog. What she did is not in any way acceptable, but it was not a bite, it was a nub, a hearding breed trait, and she is not viscious. You know what a powerful dog like this can do. If she had meant to bite that girl, to hurt her, she would be in the ER getting stitches right now, not wining to mommy and daddy on her cell phone about suing us for money.” I handed her over to the guide dog representative, called UP and told them to come and pick up coppies of her Rabies and other vaxination records, that they would need to ensure that the girl was safe, and was done with it. The truth is that sometimes things like this happen, but it is how the handler chooses to deal with it that is the real issue. It was heartbreaking. I loved her so much, and she was not dangerous, but nubbing is absolutely never an acceptable behavior in a guide dog, end of story. Once, when there was a fire drill in my dorm, my dog was sleeping in my room when the alarm went off. I was taking a shower and that is why she was not with me. My room mate was not in our dorm at the time. My RA opened the door to make sure we were getting out alright and my dog charged past her and by accounts of several students, started running up and down the hallway, sniffing at each door and squeeking in a very upset manner. I was hurridly getting dressed when a furry shepherd barroled into the shower stall and started nosing my hands and wining. Another student told me that she ran to the bathroom door and jumped up on it and barked. Someone opened it for her and she ran in to get me. It was not a fire drill BTW, as we at first thought it was. The person on the floor above had started a small fire in a microwave and had through their stupidity spread it to a trash can, where it was threatening to melt the plastic and spread to the whole room. I held onto her collar, and without a leash or harness she led me through hallways, down stairs and out of the building, then to the grass with the other students. Then she broke away from me. I was trying to figure out how to explain to the school how I lost her when she returned with one of my very close friends. That friend told me that they were around the other side of our large multi-dormatory complex, when she ran up to them and started barking and pulling on their sleeve, then they followed her to me. She made as if to head off again, but I tackled her and made her sit and all was well. I am sure that she was going to get my other close friend from college who was nearby. She was one of those intense dogs that works too hard, loves too much and tries too hard. But she was a damn good dog, just not meant to be a guide dog. There are irrisponsible handlers out there, and I hate them with a passion, but I just wanted to share my perspective. A few years ago a man’s GSD guide dog bit a maltese, pet dog that ran at it in a place of business. The guide dog was eight years old, had a spinal condition that could have caused emense pain and potential neurological complications, and it had been attacked six months before by a rot wyler, while in harness. So, the guide should have been retired, and the matter should have been closed. But, no, this moronic, selfish, vile man, aged sixty something, mostly deaf and partially blind insisted that he would continue to work his dog, despite it’s PTSD like symptoms, it’s long years of previous service to him, it’s painful medical condition, and an official reccomendation from the school against continuing to work the dog. These are the idiots that we need to target. That poor shepherd is suffering everyday because this jack ass won’t retire him, and the next time a dog scares or startles him, and he reacts with justifiable fear, he is going to be put to sleep. GSDs already have a bad enough rap with out unfit handlers like that one making it worse. Ok, rant over.

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