The Perfect Guide Dog

Guide dog Zoe sitting down on the sidewalk with boots on to protect her feet

Often as I go about my business accompanied by my guide dog, people remark on his beauty, good manners, and say things like, "I wish my dog was as well behaved as yours." They don’t seem to understand that a lot of work on the part of a puppy raiser, a guide dog instructor, and yes, me too, goes into creating the picture perfect dog at my side. He has the same instincts and impulses as the pet they have at home, but he understands that when in harness, he must focus on the job for which he was trained.

However, he is first and foremost a dog. He has been bred for intelligence and carefully raised with the ultimate goal of becoming a guide dog, but even with all of this careful, intensive preparation, he is still a dog. Once my dog and I were matched for strength, walking speed, and temperament, we had to work together to become a team. I’ve had to work hard to keep up the discipline and good behavior with my dogs. Sometimes I’ve wished it was an easier task. Like child rearing, my dog doesn’t achieve that seeming perfect behavior all of the time.

What Makes the "Perfect Guide Dog"

The perfect guide dog never vocalizes in public,
Lies quietly under tables and chairs,
Curls up under airline seats to nap until the plane is at the gate,
Doesn’t sniff or interfere with other dogs,
Immediately gets down to business when asked to relieve,
Stays in one spot instead of circling around leaving a trail of deposits when relieving.

The perfect guide dog doesn’t scavenge,
Doesn’t chew on other dog’s leashes or harnesses,
Doesn’t destroy other people’s possessions,
Doesn’t pass gas,
Doesn’t jump up on furniture or people,
Doesn’t rattle tags scratching,
Doesn’t fall asleep and snore,
Doesn’t shoulder or cold nose people out of the way,
Doesn’t eat food not in its own dog dish even when it is offered,
Doesn’t lunge at, growl at, or bark at other dogs,
Doesn’t smell like a wet dog in the rain.
Oh yes, and never sheds!

I know this is a silly list. I guess that the best we can expect is that they will focus on their jobs and keep us safe. We should realize that even the best trained and normally behaved dog will sometimes forget the rules and behave like a dog. The important thing is that our dog works efficiently and allows us to travel safely with grace and self-assurance. All the rest is gravy and to be appreciated when our dogs achieve stellar behavior. We must deal with problems firmly and quietly when our dogs fall short of the mark.

an adorable black lab dressed as Superdog, complete with cape and S breastplate

My current guide dog works hard to live up to his training and to behave as the product of the intensive training he has received from his puppy raiser, guide dog school, and the example set by the eight wonderful dogs who have walked by my side before him. Each in his or her own way have added immeasurably to the quality of my life. Thank you, Enzo for keeping me safe, making me smile, and lending me the gift of your alert bright eyes. Maybe if I were a perfect handler, I might expect my dog to be perfect too. Personally, despite my best efforts, I find my halo is a bit rusty and a little bent, so I’ll live with my less than perfect, but very lovable, German Shepherd boy because 99 percent of the time he is absolutely wonderful.

Stories of the "Perfect" Guide Dogs

Memoir of a Guide Dog: It’s Off to Work We Go

Sue Martin Pens a New Memoir, "In Dog We Trust"

Top Ten Ways My Dog Guide Assists Me

What Does It Take to Become a Guide Dog?