By no means is this blog a replacement for advice from your Guide Dogs School/organisation. We are just reporting on our own experiences. 🙂
I’ve been a guide dog owner for five years and was informed during training that a free run once a week would be healthy for the dog. A free run is basically time the dog can run around outside and be a dog, sniff to its heart’s content, play with other dogs if possible and just generally take a break and let their tails wag.
And although I have tried to free run Bailey during these past five years, the possibilities have been minimised due to my own fears of running him independently. In the beginning, my mum or dad would come along, sometimes my sister but due to health and life complications, it just was not feasible to expect them to do it each and every week. So, last month, I plucked up the courage and asked my GDMI for advice.
Bailey is a wonderful guide but he can be quite stubborn and on free runs he can be a little swine to recall. I learnt one of the reasons why during my visit with my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. But before I get to that, lets discuss how someone who is blind can free run their own dog.
First of all, 1. An enclosed area, field or park where the dogs are permitted to run is suitable. In the UK, most Guide dog mobility instructors will visit you during aftercare and help you find or observe a free running area. 2. A bell if your sight is non existent or low so you can hear the dog if you cannot see it. 3. A yummy treat so your pup has every reason to come back. Providing it’s not fatty or something ridiculously unhealthy for the dog but something nicer than working treats if you food reward during harness work. A toy may suffice if your dog is not food oriented. Again, some input from your organisation may help here. 4. A whistle: UK Guide dogs, as some other organisations whistle train but again, check with your organisation for how to best recall your pup.
These tips may change depending on your dog.
So, my trainer came over and we walked the route, Bailey in work mode and entered the park which he has been too so had no problem at all locating the entrance. He even knows the drill that he pees when he gets to the nearest bush, still on harness and then walks further into the park on harness before he is let off. I again tried for the “busy, busy” command to see if he wanted to go. At least you can say you tried. Now laws differ from country to country and I’m lucky my pup, if does go on a free run will poop in bushes, being the self conscious flower that he is, but guide dog owners here in the UK are not obliged to pick up their doggy business. I do if I can locate it but on a free run this is virtually impossible, hence the few toilet tries before being let off.
Letting off is quite important. I remove Bailey’s harness, ask him to sit, place the bell on his collar, show him his treats and remove the lead, asking him to wait, continue waiting for a few seconds and allow him to go by a small flap of the hand and an “off you go” vocal command.
While someone who is sighted there, you do depend on them to help you locate the dog if misbehaviour and bad recall starts to occur. During my GDMI’s visit, I learnt why Bailey’s recall had been not up to standard. Dogs can become complacent if they see you standing there, not moving so here’s the great tip that my instructor told me to keep the dog vigilant and more likely to come back easier. So off Bailey went and I went trundling along on the path. Having a path is a great idea if you can as it means you can follow a direct path and not get lost or disoriented.
Bailey stuck pretty close as I walked on our first independent free run last week. When other dogs came running and he would run toward them, I’d whistle and he’d come back to which I rewarded with a bit of his treat.
On the whole he was brilliant. I wandered onto a different path by accident but knew I had so turned back and Bailey still kept following.
He had a lot of fun. His walk home was slower but he was still conscientious and I was very proud of him.
Having no sight at all, I was worried and scared I’d not be in control and wouldn’t be able to see if he wandered too far. I just hope each time is as good. I know there are risks but at least now I can give my dog a time that shows him I appreciate all of his hard work and give him the opportunity to be a regular lab/golden retriever. 🙂