I talk a lot about my guide dog on this blog – some might say too much.  But the past week has clearly shown me that no matter how comprehensive a guide dog school’s training is, there are certain things that you just don’t know you need to know… until you need to know them.

1) There will occasionally be times and places you don’t take your dog. On those occasions, it is not appropriate to tell your companions to find the crosswalk, or wait on the bus bench while you pick up your backpack.  Instead, bite your tongue and laugh uproariously at these faux pas, because God knows they’re laughing at you.  I actually found myself doing this when a bus pulled in to a stop, and the instant the doors opened, I just opened my mouth and said “Wait…” and my friend laughed so hard he nearly cried.

2) When you pick up that cane on said rare occasions, it is completely normal to hit posts and benches and garbage cans with it; that’s what it’s for.  But no one prepares you for the head trip that can ensue at moments like these because, oh yeah, you’re dog’s not being naughty; HE’S NOT THERE!

3) How to keep a dog calm after an injury.  On Monday night, Jenny got her tail slammed in a screen door.  Without getting into blood and gore, it wasn’t pretty.  Simply grabbing stuff and acting was an incredibly useful skill… which did ultimately require veterinary intervention…

4) Finding ways to distract your dog when re-bandaging wounds yourself is necessary.  My dog gets stupid with treats, so when it came time to re-bandage her tail, for some reason, a discourse about current immigration practices was all she needed to calmly stand there and let me wrap her tail.  This process took three minutes; previously, just getting the first layer on took 10 unsuccessful minutes of having her lay on the floor…

5) Discerning the difference between vomit and chewed-up “ground candy”.  While I have never experienced this first-hand, when I asked about things they never learned in guide dog school, my friends Lisa and Deanna had a lovely enlightening discussion about randomly discovering doggie throw-up instead of the item they thought they were taking away from their dog’s inappropriate chewing.

6) How to use a “cone of shame”.  I have not yet mastered this skill, but I will… when Jenny’s bandage  is removed and she wants to lick at her tail… Conversely, how to just stand there and laugh as your dog barks maniacally at the vet tech holding the disassembled cone of shame…

7) How to just stop second-guessing and follow your dog.  This has steered me wrong, but it does steer me right if my dog desperately has to use the facilities and can’t find any other way of “telling” me (short of doing her business on a public sidewalk).

8) How to simply enjoy the ride of the good, the bad, and the ugly. For a type A personality like mine, this was tough, but I had a great trainer and terrific follow-up support, and wonderful friends who DO remind me that my guide dog is a dog, and not a perfect, ugly-looking little automaton.

Guide dog school training is definitely comprehensive; they teach the skills to bond with your particular dog, and do prepare you for eventualities, such as distractions, traffic checks, and crazy weather.  But no matter what the training, much of what is learned is learned in the trenches… and that’s OK.  Simply having a sense of humour and acting on instinct when necessary will get any guide dog team further in a pinch than one traveler with a cane (which, by the way, is a completely 100% valid mode of travel).  I do prefer my dog… though, largely because I look much less stupid giving commands to said cane when I break it out and use it…

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