This morning the usual routine in our household took place. The alarm went off at 6:40 followed by groans of protest from both me and my wife (neither of us are morning people). My wife made us tea while I fed my guide dog, opening the door to the garden so that she could go out and relieve herself once she’d finished eating, as we returned to bed to drink our tea.
As the tea was brewing I could hear my wife telling the dog to “get busy” which is the command that guide dogs are given when they should go to the toilet (they are trained to do this on command). But my wife became quickly exasperated as the pooch simply returned to her bed with no intention of going outside.
“Just leave her” I said, “she’ll go when she’s ready.”
“She’d better,” my wife said, “I don’t want her to stop half way to the station for a poo.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “She’s just being awkward – give her five minutes and she’ll be out there.”
So we drank our tea, washed and dressed and as we were preparing to leave, the dog was still in the same position, flat out on her bed without a care in the world.
“Come on now,” I said, adopting my authoritative ‘no shit please’ – or rather ‘please shit now’ voice. “Get busy, go on, get busy!”
Reluctantly, the dog stood and stretched lazily like we’d got all the time in the world and slowly stepped outside. Then she walked a few steps and promptly sat down.
“She’s not going,” my wife said.
“Hey,” I said, going outside myself, “come on now, get busy, we’re going to work!”
This time, she took another few steps and this time she lay down. When she does this, I know I’m on to a losing streak because that’s her effectively giving me the middle finger. But usually, if I call her inside and then send her straight back out again, she knows I’m not messing around and will then go to the loo because she realises we’re not leaving the house until she’s been. Because I’m the boss, right?
But not today. Inside she came. Outside I told her to go. Straight back to her bed she went.
“For fuck’s sake!” I said, knowing that we needed to leave soon or we’d miss our train, but thinking that maybe she really didn’t need to go after all, I gave up and got her harnessed up and ready to go.
Less than 5 minutes in to our walk to the station, what did she do? You guessed it. She slammed on the brakes and proceeded to do a big fat crap right there on the pavement. Which meant that a clean-up operation ensued, with lots of under-the-breath swearing from me.
Guide dogs are amazing animals – there’s no doubt about it. And the people who train them to do what they do are just as important, including all the wonderful volunteers who host them as puppies and donate money to the charity. I’m on my second guide dog, having gotten my first when I was 20. She retired when she was 8 after being attacked by another dog while she was working, after which she was never really the same and so withdrew from working life a year or so later. I had the space of one weekend before I was given my new dog, which couldn’t have been a better service from Guide Dogs UK and to be honest, I’d be lost without one now.
If ever I have to go out without my dog or a sighted guide and have to rely on my white cane, I hate it and feel completely out of my comfort zone. My current dog will be retiring at the end of this year, coinciding with us leaving the UK for an extended period and I’m going to be so sad to give her up.
But none of that for now.
So I thought, in the spirit of this morning’s toilet fiasco, I’d take the opportunity to tell you about some of the funny/naughty/cringe-worthy things my guide dogs or those of my friends have done over the years. As the title of this post says, even guide dogs will be dogs.
Food Faux Pas
On one occasion, my previous guide dog who was food mad (as most Labradors tend to be) thought she’d help herself to something off the shelf in Tesco when I went in there to buy my lunch at work. I didn’t realise this until we had left the shop and returned to my office and only when we were standing quietly in the lift did I notice the “chomp, chomp” noise she was making. Curious to know what she was eating, I opened her mouth and put my fingers in, to find that she had stolen a Cadbury’s cream egg, which was now stuck, foil and all, to the roof of her mouth. It was one of the grossest things I’ve had to do to scrape the mangled foil, chocolate and toffee off the roof of her mouth and from around her teeth, with her desperately trying to lick it all off my fingers. My colleagues thought it was hilarious though!
On another occasion, the very same dog accompanied me to a picnic in the park – again with the same colleagues. We’d bought lots of nice food with us, including a tray of sausage rolls and when we all became distracted by a wasp which was flying around, the dog dove straight in and hoovered up the lot before anyone could do anything about it!
And that’s not all! On a work trip to a trade fair, we were all sitting outside on the grass eating lunch. After standing in a very long queue to get some food, a colleague of mine put her tray down on the floor while she got herself settled – bad move! In the space of time between the tray hitting the floor and my colleague sitting down, my dog helped herself to the yummy cheese burger which was now within easy reach of her mouth.
My current dog once helped herself to a colleague’s sandwiches out of his bag while I was standing by his desk having a conversation. The bag was on the floor and she took the opportunity to have a little extra lunch. My colleague wasn’t very impressed.
She also once walked straight up to me and took a sausage off my plate at a BBQ.
A colleague and friend of mine has a guide dog who is notorious for stealing food. This time, I was the victim when, at our team Christmas meal, the dog ate my Secret Santa which was a packet of luxury hot chocolate. I hated that dog that day!
The same dog not so long ago ate an entire box of dark chocolate and had to be rushed to the vets to get her stomach pumped and my poor colleague regularly has to replace the lunches of her colleagues after the dog goes into their bags and takes their home-made sandwiches.
Guide dogs can be tricky characters when it comes to their toileting habits, even though they are trained to go on command. They sometimes develop strange habits, or refuse to relieve themselves on certain surfaces.
My first guide dog flatly refused to go to the toilet on concrete. This was a nightmare for me as we lived and worked in London and so there was often very little green space in the area around our office or where I was living. The amount of time I spent walking around trying to find a patch of earth by a tree, or the narrowest strip of grass!
On a work trip to Glasgow once, I was staying in a hotel in the city centre. Not a patch of grass or a tree was there in sight and I walked around for a full hour before I went to bed, trying to encourage the dog to go for a pee in the gutter. Would she? Would she hell! So at midnight I gave up and went up to my room to bed. In the morning as I woke up, the dog jumped on to my bed. While this wasn’t encouraged obviously (just in case anyone from Guide Dogs reads this), she sometimes did this in excitement, first thing in the morning and I just assumed that this was just one of those occasions. That was, until she started urinating all over me, the bed and then – when I pushed her off – all over the carpet! The poor cleaners got more than they bargained for that day, but I did offer to pay for the clean-up as I was mortified!
The same dog – clever thing that she was – worked out that we were about to get on to a train once and, even though she’d again had ample opportunity to go beforehand, went for a big wee in the middle of the train station.
The same dog when I was training with her, on a new route to a new office, decided to stop in the middle of Westminster tube station and do a big number 2. I had to stand there, again in mortification while the dog trainer who was with me went off to find a station cleaner and everyone stared and tutted – lovely British public that you are.
My current dog once did a massive wee in Tesco, for no apparent reason at all. We had just been for a walk and she’d had plenty of opportunity to relieve herself, but she decided to wait until we were in the supermarket and it went on, and on, and on.
My current dog also defecated in the office once, which is the sin of all sins in the guide dog rule book. There had been no indication that she needed to go to the toilet – no pestering me or whining. But when she was allowed to run free as was sometimes the case on a Friday afternoon (there were 2 guide dogs in the office who would race each other across the floor), she galloped off and then stopped suddenly by a colleague’s desk and did a huge dump. I can only think she didn’t much like him…
I was on the phone to a good friend of mine the other day, who also has a guide dog. We were chatting away and then all of a sudden she started yelling “No! No! nooooooo!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed and thinking that one of the kids was doing something they shouldn’t be.
“The dog’s just pissed all over the floor,” she said in a voice so tired from cleaning up after kids and dogs and in the middle of having a single-storey extension added to the back of their house.
“I’ve got to go, I’ll call you back” she said with a sigh.
Puking in Public
And finally, last but not least, there’s the puking. I don’t think people realise that dogs vomit, but they do. Oh they do.
They vomit in the middle of the lounge when they’ve eaten their breakfast too fast.
They puke on the train when they’ve found something dodgy to snaffle from the pavement on the way to the train station.
They hurl in the office when they’ve found something dodgy to snaffle off a train floor on the way in to work.
I’m telling you, dog sick is one of the worst things to clean up.
But not the worst…
What’s the most embarrassing experience you’ve ever had? You might be wondering at this point. Don’t worry, I’m about to tell you (put whatever you’re eating down – it’s going to get bad.)
One lovely evening back in 2010, I had gone to visit some lovely friends of mine who live in a very, very nice house in Notting Hill. This was before they had kids, when their house was beautiful and pristine and when the only thing they had to worry about was not spilling any red wine on their very expensive Zeisel carpet.
Of course I had my guide dog with me. And as always she was being as good as gold – quiet and lovely (this was my previous one – my current one is a whole load of trouble).
After we’d eaten dinner, my friend suggested that we go to the pub for a couple of drinks. But it being a Friday night in Notting Hill, I knew it was going to be busy and noisy and not really a place where my guide dog would want to go.
“Is it ok if I leave the dog here?” I asked.
They didn’t own any animals and so I intuitively clocked a look pass between them and the shortest of pauses before my friend’s partner said, “sure providing she’ll be ok with being left alone.”
“Of course,” I said with the utmost confidence. “If we leave the radio on she’ll just chill out and go to sleep.”
So, radio on, dog settled, we left the house.
Around two hours later, we returned and I went straight in to the bathroom because I was dying for the loo. As I sat there, I started to hear a commotion outside. A sort of frantic whispering that turned in to something like, “Oh my God. Oh my fucking God. What the fuck? What the fucking fuck? I’m going to throw up. Oh Jesus.”
Oh no, I thought. Oh dear. Something’s happened. Something bad has happened. Something very, very bad.
For a fleeting moment, I wondered how feasible it would be to try and escape out of the bathroom window, the possibilities of what could have happened running through my mind.
She’s eaten their favourite pot plant – I thought.
She’s chewed up his favourite slippers.
She’s decided to get on the sofa for a snooze.
She’s weed somewhere.
Stealing myself, I flushed, washed my hands and opened the door.
“Everything ok?” I said tentatively.
“No,” said my friend in a strained voice.
“No, it’s not ok.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, starting to think the dog had died or something.
“Your dog,” she said, “your dog has…. She’s…”
“What?” I said in panic.
And then I smelt it.
“Oh no,” I said quickly, “She’s done a poo. Don’t worry,” I said, getting ready to spring in to action, “just show me where it is and I’ll clean it up – sorry about that.”
“No, you don’t understand” said my friend. And after that she seemingly lost the ability to speak and just left the room.
“It seems she’s eaten something that didn’t agree with her”, said her partner, stepping in to fill the silence.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“It’s pretty bad” he said, “about as bad as it could be.”
It turned out that the dog had had a spell of the worst diarrhoea possible. All over their very expensive carpet. From one end of the lounge, to the other and everywhere in between.
I spent the next hour on my knees with a bucket of hot, soapy water and multiple cloths trying desperately to get the liquid shit out of the very absorbent carpet while my friend sat tearfully in the kitchen and her partner hopped nervously from one foot to the other, evidently trying to calculate how much a replacement living room carpet would cost. Then at their request, I took my dog and left. And then I sent various apologetic texts. Then I offered to pay to have the carpet professionally cleaned.
As it happens I’m seeing them again in a few weeks time. They’ve now had a baby and if that kid pukes, pees or craps anywhere in my house, they’ll be given the same treatment – ha ha ha!
The thing about guide dogs is that people think they should be impeccably behaved 100 per cent of the time and never put a paw wrong. And most of the time, bless them, they are. But while you can put all the training you want in to an animal, you can’t turn them in to robots.
So yes, while guide dogs are wonderful and valued creatures, they are sometimes just dogs – with all that taking care of an animal entails!!! If you don’t want any mess or embarrassment, stick to using a white cane. But if you do want joy and love and a whole different level of independence then they’re worth every minute.