Adventures of Guide Dog Sienna – bing a part of a community

As a relatively new guide dog handler, there are many things that I am yet to learn and this post shares some of the things that I have recently discovered. I will give background and then tell you about a few things I have learned over the last week.

Over the last week, I’ve been unwell with a respiratory illness (Not COVID-19), and as a result, I have been unable to work Sienna for the last six days. A situation like this was not something I had thought much about in advance. I know that some puppy raisers are available to board working Guide Dogs if their handler can not care for them for some time (like recovery from surgery). However, this seems a little bit of an overkill when a Guide Dog handler has a cold.

Some people have family members who can take care of their dogs. However, this is not possible for me.

One of the things that surprised me was just as with most dogs how how much Sianna likes to be out and about whether guiding or enjoying being an off duty dog. She is a very social dog and has a lot of friends around the university with whom she interacts daily. Usually, when they come into my office and she is out of her harness. What I learned from this is how much we both gain from being out and about.

Early last week, our Guide Dog instructor took her for a walk with another dog on her way home which made my day as she was also able to drop off something I ordered from Guide Dogs simultaneously (much appreciated).

The weekend before this one, a friend and I were out at a local garden centre where we met a Guide Dog puppy raiser, her daughter and their two dogs. When I was feeling unwell and unable to wear Sienna out without going outside, I put a note on Facebook asking if anybody would be willing to take her for a walk in the area. So a few days later, Siena had a walk with Guide Dog Ambassador Sam and Wilma. The photo below is of the three dogs in a local park.

From left to right, former Guide Dog puppy Wilma, Guide Dog Ambassador Sam and Siena are sitting under a tree in our local park.

What has also surprised me the is that Guide Dogs tend to notice or gravitate to other Guide Dogs and seem to be comfortable with each other. Similarly, I swear that Sienna can smell a Guide Dog Instructor and their car from quite some distance away and leads me straight to it. When Seena is comfortable with someone and there’s an open car door, she will get in, without being asked or instructed,m. You can see this in the photo below; Sienna jumped straight into Wilma and Sam’s family car as soon as the door was open.

See you in a sitting in the foot well of a car.
Sienna jumped right into the car’s footwell without even being asked to do so.

I need to decide if this trust is the same with everybody or is it just people with Guide Dogs; I will get back to you on that one. I do worry about who she trusts. In some respects, it is also a good thing because she’s not scared of people; conversely, too much trust could lead to dangerous situations.

Also, a shout-out to one of my old school friends Richard, who lives about a kilometre away and offered to take Sienna for a walk yesterday. They went to our local park and I was surprised at how trusting Siana was to go for a walk with someone she had only just met. I guess, like many children, If I am comfortable with the person, she is likely to trust that person.

The last thing I would like to add is being inventive with interactive games. Sienna has a slow feeder, a Kong, And many other toys (yes, she is spoiled). However, they often don’t keep her occupied for long. One thing I did was roll up kibble in a towel for her and it took her about 20 to 30 minutes to get it. After doing this, I posted it on Facebook and am grateful to all the people who suggested other ideas to keep her occupied without any exertion from me. I am tempted to write a blog post on interactive games for dogs at some stage.

Sienna with her nose in a rolled-up towel. Trying to figure out bow to get the kibble i hid there.

In a nutshell, I have learnt a lot this week, mainly things I had not planned for or thought of solutions in advance. I believe that one of the main things that have stuck with me is just how much of a sense of community there is between people who train, puppy raise and Guide Dog handlers. I am very grateful for Is to be readily accepted by people in the Guide Dog community around where I live.

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