What to Do if Mismatched to a New Guide Dog?

With September being Guide Dog Appreciation Month, here is a post with a difference. What happens if you feel mismatched to your new guide dog? Peer advisor, Mary Hiland, shares her advice from personal experience to trust your feelings and not to feel you are doing anything wrong.

It’s All About the Match

Instructors at the dog guide schools work very hard to make sure they have found exactly the right dog for each student. My first three dogs were proof of their diligence. Mindy, my first, was a very serious worker, but one of the most affectionate and loving dogs I’ve had. She was great for my first dog, because one of us had to know what we were doing, and it certainly wasn’t me. My instructor told me that he could tell it was a perfect match 30 seconds into our first walk together.

Sherry, my second dog, was a bit of a character, surprising me from time to time with the funniest antics, but she too was very serious about her work. Again, a perfect match.

A seeing eye dog sitting with harness on

Pippen, my third dog, as her name might suggest, was a pip squeak of a dog, and I loved her fiercely. I retired Pippen at age 10, when she finally convinced me that she was tired of working. I cried all day long on the day I sent her away with her new family. I get reports from time to time about how well she is doing and how she loves her retirement, but I miss her terribly. I didn’t keep her for a pet, because I knew it would break her heart to see me go out the door with some other dog every day.

When the Match Isn’t a Perfect One

When I returned to the school for a replacement for Pippen, it never occurred to me that it might not be a perfect match. Although I had many problems with this dog all during training, I blamed myself for his mistakes. His gait seemed odd to me, so I thought maybe I had put his harness on wrong. He wouldn’t pull, so the instructor told me I needed to put more tension on the harness handle. When he crossed streets at an angle, she said it was because my shoulders weren’t lined up right.

He cried incessantly when she was out of his sight, and he wouldn’t respond to my commands to sit or lie down, much less be quiet. By the end of the first week, I was ready to quit and go home. At the time, I didn’t know that you could request a different dog if you knew the match didn’t feel right. But I held out hope that it would get better. It didn’t.

Trying to Troubleshoot at Home

At first, he seemed to settle in, but I had trouble getting him to walk at my normal brisk pace. In fact, he simply refused. He ran me into things and wouldn’t complete a task, like finding a door. I knew the school had been cutting back on expenses, so I did not ask for a trouble-shooter to come out. But after six months of frustration, I finally did.

It was obvious to that instructor that this was totally a mismatch. The decision was mine, but his observations convinced me to call the school and arrange for this dog to go back. I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I had just trusted my feelings.

Not Giving Up for a Happy Ending

All this time, a darling lab/golden cross named Dora was learning to be a dog guide, and just about the time I returned to the school, she was waiting in the wings. At last, it was her turn to strut her stuff, and did she ever. She was smart. She had a terrific memory. She loved to work. She loved to play. She pulled hard and did everything I asked her to. She was born to please me. And she loved me. She still does!

Every night, as we settle down to sleep, I thank God for saving Dora for me. I’m a lucky woman, and she’s a lucky dog.

Mary Hiland's guide dog Dora laying in the floor in front of a bookshelf with a book between her paws

It is heart-warming to know Mary’s guide dog experience turned out well. Do you have a similar experience of feeling mismatched to your guide dog? Please share your story and how you found a solution to your situation, it will really help our readers to know some of these things we face are also problems others are dealing with too.

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