The general public holds a lot of misconceptions about working guide dogs. It’s easy to see a working team in action, the dog clearly focused on the enormous task of keeping his person safe, and wonder if the dogs are ever allowed to just be dogs.
“When we’re at home, there’s no harness,” said Lorri Bernson, Guide Dogs of America’s community relations and media liaison – and program graduate. “That’s the dog’s time. It’s downtime for everybody. At home they’re pet dogs.”
According to Bernson, students are taught the importance of helping their dogs “shake off the day.” When a dog-and-handler team returns home, one of the first things on the agenda is a good play session.
“At the end of the day, we play, play, play. The dogs take off the business suit and play it out,” Bernson said.
Just not with balls. Balls are still off-limits for working guide dogs, especially guide dogs in-training.
“A ball is something a working dog might see on an average day,” explained Bernson. “If a dog is used to playing with a ball, it’s easier to get distracted because he’ll see the ball as a fun thing. We don’t want to tempt them with any more distractions than they already have.”
The same goes with people food. Introduce a dog to the flavors that abound on the human dinner plate, and you’re setting your dog up for a hugely unfair challenge.
“The dogs are trained to not start sniffing around in-harness, but once they’ve sampled human food, it’s much harder to ignore it. Then your restaurant days are over,” said Bernson.