While I continue to train with the long cane I am also incredibly interested in using a guide dog. I love dogs and really like the idea of having a little buddy with me when I go out.
To progress through the process I attended an introduction day where you get to handle a guide dog and have a little chat with a reasonably new guide down owner.
I arrived at the centre and was met by an enormous german shepherd; quite rare in the guide dog world. It was the largest german shepherd I had seen and we used to have them as family pets! As we waiting for another person to arrive we chatted about guide dogs in general and their capabilities.
After the other guest arrived we headed out to have a trial run with Lola the german shepherd. I was nominated to go first. The instructor had chose an incredibly busy street with a number of obstacles to demonstrate what the dog was capable of and see if I was willing to allow the dog to lead. In order to keep it safer the instructor also had the dog on a leash while I held the harness handle.
With a simply instruction of forward we were off. The first 20m or so felt so strange, the dog moved at a fast pace, far faster than I could navigate alone. The dog weaved in and out of the pedestrians and obstacles and I quickly found it easy to understand the dogs movements and follow along.
The one thing I seemed to keep forgetting to do was praise the dog, you have to constantly reward the dog be it verbally or through a treat to let it know its doing a good job. But apart from that I felt I was doing incredibly well. After a few more basic commands and crossing a couple of roads the instructor decided to release the leash and let me have a go solo.
The dog picked up the pace and we were off zooming down the high street. Lola was able to identify possible obstacles in the distance and noticeable slowed as she calculated the best route. The dog overall performed excellent right up till we returned to the car. As Lola spotted the car she bolted and pulled me along!
I really enjoyed my experience with a guide dog and look forward to hopefully passing my final assessment next week. Then its a case of waiting a long period of time (upto 18 months) to be matched with a dog.