Imagine after a long day of work, you decide to go out to relax and have fun and someone tells you that it’s impossible for you to have fun since you are working all the time. Of course, it is good that you are aware that this is false and you can enjoy yourself as you please. This same misconception applies to service dogs except people are not aware that they can have fun too.
As a guide dog trainer for The Seeing Eye in Morristown, I have seen this issue firsthand. I first noticed it after my family took back a service dog we trained, a German Shepard named Chase, after he was retired early. When my mother pointed out that it was impossible that Chase even became a Seeing Eye® dog because he liked to play and sometimes got into trouble, I realized that there are people who do not believe that service dogs can have fun.
When a guide dog’s work for the day is done, they can enjoy the companionship of their person and engage in playtime. In his article titled “The 10 Biggest Misconceptions About Guide Dogs for the Blind” comedian Brian Fischler addresses the misconception that blind people work their guide dogs at home.
“As soon as Nash and I get in the house, off come his leash and harness. Inside the home, Nash is a regular dog, playing with his bones, sleeping in my bed, and running to the door almost every time someone knocks on it,” he stated about his guide dog, Nash.
Service dogs are able to balance themselves between work and play mode with their people. Software engineer Niko Carpenter described this even split with his guide dog Wade.
“When he’s on duty, he is very well behaved, very calm, and very focused. But when it’s play-time, he’s rambunctious! He just loves to play, to fetch, and to wrestle.”
Kea Grace wrote her article “10 Things Service Dogs Want You to Know” in the perspective of a service dog.
“I’m a dog, not a robot. I have incredible, awe-inspiring skills, but I’m still a living creature,” she wrote, referencing that service dogs can have days off just like people do.
While guide dogs have extensive training and life-changing skills, they still are living animals. When people see a guide dog working, almost immediately most know not to touch the dog, which almost makes them view the guide dog as superior to a pet dog. This does not mean that a service dog cannot be pet at home by their person or others. The common issue is that people view working in public and at home involves the same routine for a guide dog. When a dog is working, their job is to be someone’s eyes and distracting them stops them from doing that job. Although guide dogs have more responsibility than a normal dog, that does not mean they are treated differently.
While your family dog may not be able to do exactly what a service dog has been trained to do, that does not make how they are treated any different. The love and affection a pet dog receives are the same as a guide dog’s. Housepets and guide dogs can enjoy the same luxuries from their families at home.
My current guide dog in training is a 7-month-old German shepherd named London. Like most puppies, London failed to follow commands at first and was considered the dog from hell on some occasions. As he began to grow out of old habits, he still was a tough to work with. Due to his bad behavior, I heard the famous words for the second time, “How can he become a Seeing Eye dog if he’s so bad? He’ll never make it.” These words caused me to sit down and think about what people viewed guide dogs as. They imagined a picture perfect dog that caused no issues and always did what it was told. I wish I could say there was such thing, but sadly there is not.
If no one is considered perfect, then service dogs should be held to the same standard. It is unfair to hold them to such a high standard just because they are trained for a certain job. It would be like saying someone is perfect because they are trained in a certain job position. That also means guide dogs are allowed to make mistakes, just like we are. Guide dogs are not the “perfect” dog, they are just trained to change lives.
This belief of perfection relates back to the misconception that guide dogs cannot have fun. Due to the seriousness of their job, too many people think they do not have time to enjoy themselves at all. Yes, a guide dog is essentially a blind person’s eyes, but if people think that all a guide dog’s purpose is to help a blind person around, it discredits the work that person puts in with their dog. A person does not just receive a guide dog and go on with their life, they must put the effort it takes to keep that dog. The person must utilize the commands given to the dog in training in order to get to their destinations. Simply saying a guide dog cannot have fun because their job is to help their blind person makes that person seem helpless when they are far from it. The blind people put in the work to play with their dog when the day is done and be their companion for the rest of the time they are together.
People must take the time to realize these misconceptions. Guide dogs have changed lives forever by being loyal companions to the blind and visually impaired. From one story to the next, the lives of each guide dog owner are inspiring and beautiful. It’s due to them that these misconceptions are addressed and explained properly. Playing with a dog may seem like a simple task, but when thousands of people think your dog cannot have any fun at all, it’s quite frustrating. From regular dog to service dog there is no in-between. It’s up to the people to know that guide dogs have playtime and enjoy it too.
Fischler, Brian. “The 10 Biggest Misconceptions About Guide Dogs for the Blind.” Dogster, 13 May 2015, www.dogster.com/lifestyle/guide-dogs-for-the-blind-misconceptions.
Grace, Kea. “10 Things Service Dogs Want You to Know.” Anythingpawsable.com, www.anythingpawsable.com/10-things-service-dogs-want-know/.