Whether you’ve recently become a guide dog owner for the first time, or have had a wide variety of dogs throughout your life, it takes time to adjust to each one. I’ve had my first guide dog, Sparky (pictured), for two years now but when he first arrived there were lots of things I had to learn.
Though I’d had pet dogs in the past, having a guide dog was very different. Here are my top ten tips for being the best guide dog owner possible.
1. Before going out anywhere, even for a free run, make sure the dog has been in its spending pen first. This is important because it means it is less likely to do its business on the street. If the dog is being naughty and chooses to do its business while on a free run instead of in the pen, reward it with a treat next time it performs successfully.
2. If possible, allow the dog to sleep in your room with you. This is a good way to increase the bond between dog and owner – which is vital during the early days of training.
3. Groom your guide dog every day if you have time. Not only does this mean you will have the smartest dog in town, but it is another fantastic way of increasing the bond between you. Grooming helps to keep the dog healthy, as well as allowing the promotion of new oils in the coat. It also reduces the amount of hair around the house, which means less hoovering!
4. During the first year when working with the dog, don’t deviate from your regular routes in any way at all. Always walk the route in exactly the same way, and avoid going in any shops you don’t need to go in. It’s also important to repeat the routes as much as possible so the dog becomes familiar with them.
5. If you have one, put a “Do Not Distract Me” sign on your harness when working the dog. This should stop members of the public coming up to the dog so much when it’s working because they see the sign. It doesn’t always work though!
6. Make sure your dog always has access to plenty of water. This is particularly important during the summer. Refresh it about three times a week.
7. Measure the right amount of food for the dog’s required diet. This can be done using a small can or tin, such as a baked bean tin.
8. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to know the dog. It takes about a year to feel completely confident when working with it, so don’t worry if you make mistakes. Remember to ask for help if you need it.
9. Make sure your dog has a lovely soft bed to lay in. Particularly in the early days it will be tired after training, so will appreciate somewhere warm and cosy to come back and relax in.
10. Give your dog plenty of love. This is another great way of increasing the bond between you, and will make you feel better too. It also helps the dog to feel more secure in its new environment. Most dogs love hugs, so will never get bored of them!
I hope you found these tips useful. If you have any of your own to share, I’d love to hear them!