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
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly
for more information about guide dogs visit::
http://www.guidedogs.org

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