Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do You Prefer A Guide Dog or Cane?

One thing people often ask me is; if I prefer my guide dog or would I prefer to use a cane?

Bearing in mind that this answer is a personal answer, my own personal view  and if you are blind or know a blind or visually impaired person, they have their own opinions on the matter.

I used a cane for about four years, it worked for me as I no longer fell off sidewalks or walked into trees. As a tool it was useful and still is. In the recent hot weather I have fallen back to use the cane when temperatures soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I hate being out in those temperatures so I feel Leif my Guide Dog would hate working in those temperatures.

Eight Months On

It is now just over eight months since I met Leif for the first time and we did get off to a sticky start. I was nervous of a strange dog, not wanting to spouil or break him. But that fear soon disappeared as he showed me just how clever he was. He did this by guiding me around several obstacles, but choosing a route which gave him  much to the laughter of our instructors at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). I definitely have to say this dog is smart. Way smartewr than me.

Guide dogs are much more work than a cane, I have to say. You don't just get to a destination and fold them away and forget them. A guide dog must be groomed several times per week. A guide dog which appears dirty can be refused entry to public places, restaurants, buses or taxis. They also need to be fed carefully. Leif gets three cups of dry food per day, two cups in the morning from which his treat bag is filled and a third cup at night with any kibble remaining in his treat bag. I also have to make sure he is allowed lots of opportunity to pee and poop. As a caring  guide dog partner I also make sure I clean up his poop in public places too. You need a regular supply of good poop bags when you are out and about together.

Work though is pretty boring stuff, so we love lots of playtime together. Leif loves a game of tug of war, either with his rope or a Go-Nut toy. I recently bought him a new Go-Nut ttoy shaped like the number 8. He loves that as much as his rope and will bring them both to playtime. So there is a lot of fun time to having a guide dog.

Having a guide dog is also more social than having a cane. People rarely interacted with me when I used my cane. Now with a guide dog people comment on how nice Leif is, they ask to say hello and pet him. Life definitely becomes less solitary with one of these beautiful animals at your side.


Having a guide dog from GDB also brings with it a great support team. GDB in San Rafael have a support team of instructors, an alumni association and a call center on campus operated by trained instructors and vetinarians who can help with a myriad of problems. If needs be, they can even send an instructor to your home to help with particular problems. This service was much needed in the few weeks after returning home after graduation.


Having a guide dog is a constant learning process. Once you master a cane it is easy to just walk and almost forget about it. Working together with your dog is very different, it is hard work, your guide dog guides you across streets, around obstacles and you hjave to give your dog the trust he or she needs to go with them. But all the time you are the one guiding your dog to and from place to place. You have to work on knowing where you are at all times that is hard.

Something Special

In the end, a cane is a great tool. It's simple and it works just fine. But there is a magical feeling to working with a dog, which a cane never gives you. A dog is much more than a tool, it is a living breathing creature which a lot of people have put a lot of effort into training and raising and it just makes you feel that bit more independent and free to be given the chance to work with them,.

Cane or dog?

It's a dog for me.

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