There's no denying it, these dogs who make it to be an assistance dog, are pretty special dogs. But they are just that, dogs and I think it is very easy for people to forget that. I've been handling guide dogs since 2002, almost ten years, and I have a tendency to forget it. It's easy to think that your service dog is a super hero when he/she stops at curbs, hands you your wallet when you're buying his/her food, tucks up under the seat of an airplane and no one knows he/she is there and so on and so forth. But what about those moments when they are "off duty?" What about the time when they do dog things, whether wanted dog things or not? That sort of thing happens as the rest of this post will demonstrate.
Glacier Should have Been a Plummer
When you are first issued your guide dog, at least at Leader Dogs for the Blind, you are instructed to take him/her everywhere with you. There is a "tie down" in your room where you can attach your dog when you cannot supervise him/her; like when you are taking a shower for example. I took this "take your dog everywhere you go" advice very seriously and would even take Glacier into the bathroom with me when I had to "park" myself. I figured he'd have to go into bathrooms with me in public, so why not get used to it now? I did this with Jetta as well. I never thought a bathroom break would lend itself to practising "leave it."
If there was a bit of toilet paper dangling from the roll, Glacier would very craftily lean over, take the tip of the paper into his mouth and start unravelling it. If I wasn't paying attention, he could get quite a bit pulled off. I learned two things from this experience:
1. You never know when you will run into a training opportunity
2. bigger guide dogs required a whole different set of skills because they could reach things your smaller dog could not.
Jetta Says "NO!"
There have been many times where I have chosen to not listen to my guide dogs. More often than not, they are right and I am wrong and that leads to an interesting experience. One winter, after Jetta and I had been working together for a few years, we were out traversing the snow covered sidewalks/streets of where I attended university. It had been a particularly bad year for snow and the banks were almost as tall as I was in certain places where it had been shoved by a plough. Traveling through snow always comes with its own problems-the snow muffles sounds, it hides landmarks that you can usually feel with your feet Etc-and so I was a bit on edge as we muddled our way to a nearby restaurant. I was supposed to be meeting a guy for a date and so I think I was already a bit nervous.
We came to a street crossing that we had done a million times, but hadn't been down that way since the ploughs had been out. I asked Jetta to "forward," the cue that asks your dog to walk. She refused. I listened for traffic and heard nothing. I asked her to "forward" again and she still stood there. I felt like she was ignoring me. As I've mentioned before, Jetta was and still is a very stubborn girl. I thought she was mad at me for making her wear her boots; because let me tell you, she hated wearing her boots. She used to walk me as close to a wall and then pull away every time I put her boots on.
Frustrated by her perceived misbehavior, and worked up about needing to be somewhere on time, I dropped her harness handle, walked myself across the street and clamored up on to the very high snow bank on the opposite side. It was a quiet street and even though I'm totally blind, I can keep a straight line, so I wasn't worried about crossing the street. Jetta excitedly hopped up on to the snow bank with me and I said,
"See? What was your problem?" I took a few steps forward and realised what her problem had been. Normally, when snow banks are built up like that, you can step up on them and down the other side. There will usually be a cleared sidewalk waiting for you to walk down. Not this time.
I took three steps ahead and once we got off of the packed snow, instead of stepping down a man made hill, I sunk up to my waist in soft, fluffy snow. So much for me being right and Jetta being wrong. I went to my date with snow covered jeans and a good story.
"A Stinky Mess!"
Roscoe, Mr. K's Black Labrador who is also from LDB, is a stellar example of an outstanding guide dog. His work is usually right on and he loves doing it. He equally loves having some down time. In the summer of 2009, we headed up to a friend's camp for a couple of days for a much needed break. Unfortunately, we spent most of our time indoors as it rained a lot and that brought the mosquitoes out in full force. During one of the breaks in the weather, we took Glacier and Roscoe out to have an off leash run. They raced in circles around the camp, flinging wet grass and mud into the air. They were both filthy, but the mud was nothing in comparison to what Roscoe decided he should get into next.
Both boys being Labradors, they ran down to the lake and romped about. Glacier would run into his ankles, splash around and then run right back out. Roscoe was having a great time, splashing and rolling in what we thought was just lake water. When we called them back up onto the deck to get toweled off, we were horrified by the stench that came off of Roscoe. Turns out it was not lake water he found so fun, it was dead, rotting fish. Need I say more?
Jetta Has Expensive Taste
When in Greece we stayed at a hotel with a lovely patio area. There was a pool and an outdoor bar made out of marble. Often, we would sit by the pool side and just hang out. We had been staying at this particular hotel for quite some time and the owners said it was okay for Jetta to roam free. It wasn't peak season and there were only a few of us staying there. So, I thought it would be good for her to walk around and socialise. This area was closed in by a huge wall and you could only enter by a door, so we weren't worried about Jetta escaping. As soon as she was let off of her leash, she ran laps around the pool and went to greet everyone that was sunning themselves enthusiastically. Once she had burned off some energy she set about exploring the little patio. Everyone kept an eye on her and I could hear her tags jingling, so we knew she was safe. At one point we noticed that she had been spending an awful lot of time in one particular corner near the wall and Tenie went to investigate. When she reached Jetta I heard her exclaim sharply a word that I won't repeat here and then proceeded to chase Jetta away from the corner.
Apparently, there was an olive tree that grew on the other side of the wall whose branches reached into the patio area. The olives had grown to size and had been plopping on to the tiled floor below and Jetta had made a buffet of the fallen, slightly unripe olives. We frantically checked Google to make sure that olives wouldn't hurt a dog and then invested in a big roll of poop bags.
Glacier's Oral Fixations
Since the day I got him, I thought Glacier should have been an assistance dog who used his mouth to help instead of a guide dog. He liked/likes to pick things up and carry them around with him. He doesn't usually chew/destroy the objects, just presents them to people proudly. A few days after getting Glacier at LDB, I was headed down to the dining room for lunch. It was a Sunday and I had worked out earlier in the day and had left my gross gym clothes on the bathroom floor. Glacier was on leash with me at all times, or on tie down, so I wasn't worried about him ingesting a sock or something. Before going to lunch, I stopped in the bathroom to wash my hands and then headed out. Glacier was particularly excited to be off to lunch. He was prancing along beside me tossing his head around and just generally being silly. About half way to the dining room I realised that this prancing was not normal, so I stopped him and had him "sit." He sat and I heard something hit the floor. I searched the floor with my hand and found my gym bra, soaked in slobber lying close to Glacier's paws. I promptly reversed our direction and returned the bra to my room and put it safely into my laundry bag, along with any other clothing articles Glacier may take for a walk with him.
To this day, if someone comes to the door Glacier feels it necessary to pick something, or maybe a few somethings, up in his mouth and trot/prance happily around, showing the new visitor his prizes. Sometimes he stuffs two toys and a shoe in there. How they fit I will never know. Just the other day, when I was packing up some stuff to send to the women's shelter, Glacier came into the living room carrying his bowl and a plastic dish I was donating as a result of our move to Scotland. Both dishes are quite large and I was astonished that he managed to get them both in his mouth. The good thing is, I've taught him to bring me such things now and drop them, instead of racing around playing "keep away."
Grumpy Bear Had To Go
In June of 2009, Mr. K and I spent 6 weeks apart because he was applying for his passport. Canada and the United States had just decided that in order to cross the border, a person needed to possess a passport. The process took longer than we thought and we spent quite a long time separated. Trying to think of something to cheer us both up, I found a three foot Grumpy Bear Carebear and sent it to Mr. K. I have always teased him by saying that he's my Grumpy Bear and so I thought the gigantic bear would be a funny surprise. Mr. K laughed when he got it and left it on his bed to use as a pillow. Roscoe was having none of it. Before we got married, Roscoe used to sleep with Mr. K and he would get up in the bed and shove the Grumpy Bear off. Mr. K once caught him carrying Grumpy Bear away in his mouth. No matter how many times Mr. K put the bear back, Roscoe would push it off. This went on for a year until I moved in with Mr. K for a month in July of 2010. Grumpy bear was put up in a spare bedroom, ready for us to take with us when we moved to SC. There were a few times when I or Mr. K would find Roscoe dragging the bear around, but we would put it back with the other things we had packed for our move. I came up into the living room one day to find gobs of stuffing strewn across the carpet and there standing in the carnage was a panting Roscoe and Glacier.
All we can figure is that one of them-I blame Roscoe since he had a hate on for the bear-went into the room, stole Grumpy Bear and the two of them played tug-of-war with the plush, three foot bear until they tore him in half. Bits of bear were everywhere and I'm pretty sure Roscoe was grinning.
So, as you can see, these dogs are dogs. They are dogs with gifts and a lot of training, but at the end of the day, give them a roll of toilet paper, a bra, three foot Grumpy bear or something smelly to roll in and they will take every opportunity to be a dog. :)