Everything you ever wanted to know about guide dogs – but were afraid to ask, part 2

So, as I start training with my third guide dog – I’m writing an A to Z of guide dogs. This is N to Z
N is for: names
“Ooo, that’s a funny name – did you choose it?” is a question guide dog owners often get asked, especially if their dog has an unusual name.
Guide dogs are born in litters which are all given the same letter) unless the dog is sponsored)
There’s a list of names the brood bitch holder (people who look after the dogs who give birth to the puppies)
They use every letter except X.
Some of the more unusual names include biscuit, slipper, wag and guide – no really!
O is for: obstacles
I’m afraid it’s time to tell you all off again – sorry!
Guide dogs work in what is known as the “straight line principle” meaning they’ll carry on walking in a straight line until given a command to turn right, left ETC.
Guide dog owners have to be able to give a series of commands to encourage a dog to find its way.
So, if you’ve parked your vehicle across a crossing, kerb or on the pavement, the dog has to go round it. This inevitably means the owner is forced into the road.
It’s not only cars which cause problems, street furniture such as a- boards, chairs and tables can be a real nightmare to navigate.
P is for: puppies
Who doesn’t adore a cute cuddly puppy!
The dogs are taken to their puppy-walkers (or puppy parents) from the age of six weeks till about a year old.
These people are integral to a puppy’s upbringing. They introduce the puppies to things such as traffic, trains, buses and shops.
They’re volunteers and their work is absolutely amazing.
If you want to know more, I’ll pop the website address at the bottom of this blog
Q is for: questions
As I mentioned at the beginning of my last blog, a question is only silly if you ask it and know the answer.
I’ve been a guide dogs speaker for 19 years. I go into schools, community groups and anywhere they ask me to talk about the wonderful world of guide dogs.
I’ve been asked questions by young and old – and all of them are extremely interesting.
My favourite was not dog related:
“How do you know what day it is?”
Another one I remember was asked by a man at a train station: “Do you feed and water your dog yourself?”
I can sometimes be a bit mischievous so I smiled and replied:
“Yes, when I remember to!”
Never be afraid to ask a guide dog owner a question – after all, it’s how we learn.
R is for: relatives and friends
It can be life-changing for family and friends of guide dog owners when they see the remarkable partnership between dog and owner. However, it can also be an extremely difficult time, especially for a new dog.
The owner has to bond with the new dog and has to be allowed to do this by themselves.
Guide dogs have had about four people looking after them by the time they get to us – so it’s really important to allow a bond to form between new partners.
So, it’s all about respect really – don’t give the dog commands, try to ask if you can say hello to the dog – and always accept the answer given.
This will make everyone happy!
S is for: sponsoring
It’s a fantastic feeling to sponsor a puppy and name it yourself.
If you have, or raise £5000 you can name a puppy almost anything.
I’ve known people who’ve named puppies after friends, family and even shops.
T is for: true or false
Ever heard the one about the guide dog owner who asked for directions and a man knelt down by the dog and whispered the info in the dogs ear?
Or, the one where a blind man presses his watch, which speaks the time, and someone says: “Goodness me! That dog just told the man what time it was!”
These seem bizarre, but have actually happened.
I have a wealth of funny stories which I share in my blog. Almost every guide dog owner will have some unusual, funny and downright strange things which have happened to them.
U is for: unhappy
I’d like to pretend that having a guide dog is an absolute breeze from beginning to end. However, the reality is that every nine years or so we have to retire our precious paws.
This is a very difficult experience.
Normally a dog retires at about the age of ten.
Then we have to wait until a new dog is matched with us.
I’m experiencing a torrent of emotions at the moment while I get ready to take my Chelly up to Mum’s and then begin training with James.
I’m happy because I know she’ll be looked after and loved. But I’m unhappy because I’ll miss her so much.
V is for: volunteers
Volunteers are a pivotal part of the work of the guide dogs organisation.
From boarders, who look after dogs during their training, to fundraisers who tirelessly raise money.
It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re giving something back.
Why not contact your local centre and ask how you can be a volunteer.
W is for: weddings
Guide dog owners have been part of weddings in many different ways.
At my best friends wedding last year, there were four guide dogs. Her and her husband have one each, I was one of the bridesmaids and one of our friends attended the wedding with her dog.
I was also bridesmaid to my best friend from college and she insisted I took my first guide dog Vale with me.
X… (well, if they miss out X for naming, I can miss it out in my list)
Y is for: yawning
One of my favourite sounds is the gentle snores Chelly gives after a long run in our local park. When she’s dreaming and wagging her tail, I feel so overwhelmed with love that it’s almost like a physical pain.
She’s given me so much – and knowing I can enrich her life by simple things like allowing her to run along a beach, or frolic with her friends in the park is a fabulous feeling.
Z is for: Zeus
Imagine if you had nine puppies with the letter Z? Zimba, Zeus, Zola… can you think of any others?

So, there you are.
Everything you ever wanted to know about guide dogs.
You can follow my adventures with Chelly and new dog James at
for more information about guide dogs visit::

everything you wanted to know about guide dogs, but were afraid to ask – part 1

As a guide dog owner – I get asked heaps of questions about my dog.

None of them are silly, because, unless you know the answer it isn’t a silly question.

So, here is everything you ever wanted to know about guide dogs – but were afraid to ask!

A is for: age

Guide dogs normally start working with their owners from the age of 18 months. It can be later, or earlier depending on whether the dog has had to have any initial training, or has been out to a previous owner.

B is for: breed

Guide dogs have to be certain breeds because of their temperament. The most popular breeds are Labradors, golden retrievers or a combination of both.

However, the guide dogs organisation will also use flat coated retrievers, or German Shepherds

C is for: career

Sometimes a guide dog can’t be used for actually guiding someone. This may be for many reasons, perhaps they’re scared of loud noises, they’re too sniffy or just don’t take to the harness.

Wherever possible – the organisation will try to find alternative recruitment for the dog. Some go off to be sniffer dogs for the police, some have been used for search and rescue – and some just become much loved pets.

D is for: disabilities

Some guide dog owners require a dog to cope with additional needs.

It may be the owner has epilepsy, needs to work the dog on the right (as opposed to the left) or has problems with their hearing

E is for: Escalators. Guide dogs have to be specially trained to use escalators, as they can trap thee dogs paws. So, if guiding a blind person, it’s good to let them know you’re approaching an escalator so they can decide what to do. Some underground stations will stop the escalators so dog and owner can walk up them.

F is for: food

Guide dogs have to be on strict diets. This isn’t only so they maintain a good weight, but also so they don’t eat anything that could harm them. This would in turn put them out of action for a while, limiting or taking away their owners independence.

So, it is really really important to never feed a guide dog, and never to “give it a little biscuit cos it looked hungry!”

David Blunkett put it perfectly in his book – on a clear day:

“You wouldn’t put sugar in a petrol tank would you?”

G is for: gun dogs

Have you ever wondered why guide dogs work on their owners left?

Well, apparently it stems back to how gundogs work.

They traditionally worked on the left – so that if the gun accidentally went off in the owners right hand – it wouldn’t hurt the dog. Again, this could just be myth – but it’s a good story!

H is for: harness

The equipment which communicates information between a guide dog and its handler is called a harness.

Dogs know when this goes on, they’re in “work mode”

My previous guide dog Chelsea hated people saying hello to her or distracting her when she was in harness.

So, another plea, please don’t distract an owner when their dog is in harness.

By all means ask (if it’s appropriate to do so) but never grab a dog/owner/harness when they’re working.

The handle is the most crucial thing to think about here – if it’s being held, invariably the person is working. If they’re by the side of a road and it’s on the dogs back – they’re probably lost – so ask if they need assistance.

I is for: international

Guide dogs are found in many countries of the world – including New Zealand, America, Australia and Canada.

An officer in the German army left his Alsatian with some of his wounded men and realised they were leading the men round.

So, he decided to see if it’d be possible to train dogs to be guides.

They were used in America before the first guide dogs (more later) were trained in Britain in 1931

J is for: Judy

Judy was one of the first four guide dogs to be trained. If you’re wondering what the other names were (in case it ever comes up in a quiz) they were Meta, Folly and Flash

K is for: Kayak

So, K was never going to be an easy one. But, you can do anything to raise money for guide dogs: you could kayak down the Amazon for example (and for all my friends, no – that’s not my new challenge)

A young lad of nine recently completed a trek across the Sahara desert to raise money for guide dogs

L is for: love

Guide dogs give their owners unconditional love. I may put the cat among the pigeons (insert dog phrase) but I think the bond between guide dog and owner is stronger than that of non-working dogs.

We rely on them for safety, security and companionship. They are literally our eyes!

M is for: money

It costs £32,400 to train a guide dog from birth to graduation.

It costs roughly £55,000 for its life-time.

How much do we pay as guide dog owners?

50 P!

So, I’ve had a pounds worth of guide dogs in my life so far and they’re worth every penny.


Next time: What’s in a name, and the truth about chocolate and dogs


You can follow my adventures with retired dog Chelly and new guide dog James at:




me and my guide dog – the untold story

I’m getting my third guide dog! Finally, the months of tears, frustration and waiting have come to an end – or will on the 29th of June!
Many of you know (and to those of you who’ve just started reading this blog, a huge welcome) I retired my beloved black Labrador Chelsea (aka Chelly) on the 31st of October last year.
She was almost ten – which is the age guide dogs usually retire.
I met my “carry on work dog”) guide dog owners rarely like the word replacement) about a month ago, but couldn’t blog about it until I was sure we were a match.
So, who is the lucky dog who’ll be walking in Chelsea’s huge pawsteps?
His name is James. He’s a yellow Labrador and is extremely cute!
I took him for a test drive round Cardiff and it was fantastic.
I felt quite emotional as we weaved in and out of the busy crowds.
I said to my guide dog trainer: “I’ve got a feeling back I never thought I’d experience again when Chelsea retired! James has shown me why we have guide dogs!” I felt safe, secure and filled with a hope that once again, I could get out into the world by myself..
There have been many blogs, programmes and books written about training, working and living with guide dogs – but this blog is different because it all about the transitionary period between dogs. It’s a hard time, a testing time, but one which I want to write about.
I’d like to write about my adventures with James – but I also know you’ll all be wondering how Chelsea gets on.
So, over the coming days and weeks, I’ll post updates on how we’re all coping with the changes coming our way.
There’ll be more ups and downs than a theme park – but I know that by sharing them all – we can let the public know about the fantastic bond between guide dog and owner.
Thanks for reading, and for new people, enjoy the adventures!
You can find out more by following me on twitter at: