A few people have asked how Bailey acts now he’s retired. Several have thought he’d still try and guide me and others have asked how he acts now he’s out of harness.
I thought I’d write a blog as they’re very valid questions and ones I wasn’t sure of the answers to until now.
So when guide dogs are trained as puppies, they are not just trained to work in harness. Good lead behaviour is very important during the puppy years as once the young dog is placed with a blind or partially sighted person, there may be times they will be walked on the lead.
My first experiences of walking with Bailey were on the lead. You are not permitted, in the UK to use the dog in harness without a guide dog mobility instructor present. This makes a lot of sense but also gives you the initial impression of the dog’s behaviour on lead.
A lot of work, from what I can remember was on the lead during the first week of training. We went out on harness walks that first week but when in the hotel, you would generally walk around with the dog on the lead.
Dogs are trained to walk beside you or just slightly behind. They are discouraged from pulling and are not there to guide during lead work.
As many have thought, learnt behaviour in harness does affect their lead work over time. Bailey used to hide behind my legs on his lead as a youngster but confidence and trust has taught him to walk beside me.
Bailey doesn’t pull on his lead, never really has done. I think back in the early days if dad was going with us on a free run he would try pulling but it was never an acceptable behaviour so he was discouraged by me for doing it. That was purely done in excitement of the upcoming run but he only did it a handful of times so overall his lead behaviour has been brilliant.
That continued lead work has lead nicely to his retirement. Now I’m using the cane to guide myself around and when I have Bailey with me, he walks nicely at my side, free now to sniff a pole or a tree at his leisure.
His concentration is not what it needed to be in guiding work and because I’m holding him on his lead, he’s not guiding me. When a dog is in harness, you are slightly behind them which gives them the ability to pull on the tension of the harness to guide correctly. Without that harness, he knows he’s not working but also prohibits any working patterns on the whole.
He has to take his cues from me. But as with all things, there are exceptions. And this is the only exception I’ve noticed to.
When we’re walking along, if I’m about to catch a pole with the cane, I feel him tugging on his lead away from it. And as clever and as cute as that is, I am ignoring it. Not because I don’t think Bailey’s a super clever dog but I cannot and should not rely on that as one day he’ll just stop doing it and if I’m not using my cane correctly I’ll end up with a black eye or worse.
He is very relaxed on his lead and after just under a week of making the retirement choice with my guide dog mobility instructor, I feel vindicated in my decision. He’s bouncier at home and comes running for his lead.
But no, Bailey does not guide me any more. He always has known the difference between being on just his lead and being in harness and even though he’s still watching out for me, doesn’t mean he won’t get entirely enthralled one day by a smell and so it’s imperative that I use my cane and just keep him as a pet on his lead and ignore any cues from the pup.
I hope this has explained any questions and if you do have more, leave a comment and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.