It’s a great way to get out and about and keep fit but you have to be very alert and realise that you are often significantly unaware of things going on around you.
Your routes are mapped in your head and, even with a bit of useful vision and hearing, the number of clues available to you is limited and often fleeting. a park looks the same apart from a big tree, particular slope in the path, or a building. Likewise streets tend to look the same apart from a brightly coloured house, bus shelter or zebra crossing. Its very easy to get thinking and forget where you are.
Not hearing your dog: Your dog might make a low noise when beginning to be distracted by an approaching dog; it might be chewing something and you don’t hear what is happening. Your dog might be looking at a bird or squirrel instead of concentrating on the job and you don’t see this. It might stop for a good reason, an obstacle, but it might be distracted and you can’t work out the difference. So your response might be inappropriate and lacking understanding what is going on in the dog’s mind.
People and obstacles in your path: I tend to say hello to people in general and when they respond, I know where they are on the path ahead but I never know who they are even if friends or family. But getting precise whereabouts of people and sounds is more and more difficult and my biggest worry is trampling on little children and yappy dogs ahead underfoot.
The weather: Although my hearing aids are wonderful. The wind is a dangerous sounds distraction especially crossing roads. I have walked in front of an almost silent electric car coming out of a side road and I rarely hear cars coming into the side road I am crossing from behind me which is potentially dangerous. Bikes and e-scooters are a nightmare and they come close and fast. Icy roads are a huge safety hazard if you have a strong dog.
On the good side, I love night walks which I have never been able to relax and enjoy before having a guide dog.
The dog as an icebreaker: Since having a guide dog, I find myself chatting to far more people out and about and there is a certain dignity with a fine dog which you don’t get to feel with a long cane. I can walk far quicker and with more confidence than was possible for years in the park and around town and recently staying in a large and challenging hotel was a breeze compared to the old days. I was shown to my 17th floor room amongst the maze just once and, ever afterwards, I was always taken right to my door from the lift with a furry trusted creature poised under the handle of the correct door to my room.
Dog training experience: on my course, 2 of the 6 trainees had poor hearing as well as sight loss and the staff are very able and understanding as dual sensory loss trainees are the norm, it seems. It goes without saying that, for dog lovers, the guide dog brings regular joy and companionship especially where lives could be isolated and lonely.