Guide dogs are a great tool for expanding independence and building confidence for people with low or no vision as they are travelling in the community, but how do you know if having one is right for you?
During the first in a series of four online workshops that IN-SIGHT is currently offering, Melissa Mabee and Mary Abby Jusayan from the IN-SIGHT staff talked about the pros, cons, and things to think about as you evaluate whether or not a guide dog might be right for you.
Mary Abby, who is a longtime dog guide user, says that having a guide dog is a lifestyle choice that may not be the right fit for everyone.
What Guide Dogs Can Do
One advantage to having a guide dog over just using a long white cane, is that the dog can provide clearance. This means that when you come upon an obstacle such as a wall, furniture, or something else that is blocking your path the dog can lead you around it while a cane will simply let you know it is there and then you have to figure out how to maneuver around it.
Guide dogs can also help with targeting, which means that they can be trained to help you find a door, chair, or even an elevator button.
Most importantly, guide dogs are trained to offer intelligent disobedience. If, for instance, you were at a street crossing and you told the guide dog to go forward but the dog saw an oncoming car or another dangerous situation it would not proceed in order to keep you safe.
And it goes without saying that guide dogs also offer a great deal of companionship, which is particularly helpful in uncomfortable situations you may encounter while travelling.
What Guide Dogs Cannot Do
While there are a lot of things that guide dogs can do, there are some things that they can’t.
There is no canine GPS, meaning that you can’t say to the guide dog “take me to the store” and expect it to know where to go. You need to know where you are going and how to get there.
That being said, if there is a place that you go to all the time such as your office, the guide dog may be able to learn the routine for getting there safely.
Guide dogs also can’t interpret traffic signals, so you need to have the underlying skills to be able to cross a street safely.
Guide dogs also are not a replacement for the long white cane. In fact, demonstrating solid cane skills is a pre-requisite for being considered for a guide dog.
Mary Abby explained that the reason for this is that sometimes your guide dog may not be available and you never want to be in a situation where you cannot navigate yourself independently. “You probably don’t want to take your dog guide to a loud rock concert, a hot beach, or while you are shopping in a small store,” she said. Mary Abby also pointed out that dog guides can become ill or injured, or sometimes the weather may make it impractical to travel with a dog guide.
Must Have Supplies
When travelling with guide dog it also important to remember that you will have to carry a backpack or purse that has the supplies you will need for the dog throughout the day including treats, a collapsible water bowl, extra food in case you end up being out longer than you thought, disposable waste bags, booties for foot protection in certain environments, and perhaps a towel that you can put down when travelling in a car to avoid fur getting on the seat.
Sharpen your Independent Living Skills
Melissa pointed out that beyond having solid orientation and mobility skills, dog guide users also need to sharpen other independent living skills as well, such as:
- Keeping a calendar to keep track of vet appointments, medication administration, and grooming schedules.
- Cleaning so that you can insure that you are keeping your home free from hair that the dog sheds as well as being able to wash food and water bowls.
- Labeling, so that you can organize and find the dog’s food and medications.
- Self-advocacy, so that when people encounter you and the guide dog you can clearly express your needs or politely ask them not to interfere with the dog when it is working.
- Sensory skills to help you be able to know where the dog is when it is out of its harness.
Don’t be Dissuaded
Mary Abby and Melissa were clear that while there is a lot to think about when evaluating whether a guide dog is right for you, don’t let those things dissuade you from learning more if you think a guide dog could help you increase your independence and self-confidence.
For more information about guide dogs, you can reach out to Melissa and Mary Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org.