After retiring my guide dog Sandie I received an e-mail asking if I would be prepared to consider a German Shepherd as they have very different temperaments and need different handling to the two labradors I have had before. I said I would as I had always wanted a shepherd as a guide dog ever since I had heard about their work.
At my matching visit this huge dog came sniffing round my house. It was very strange as I am used to a tiny 26kg labrador. We had a chat about her issues and what needs work and then we went out for our matching walk. She is a very fast paced little worker with lots of initiative and very good stamina. We walked about 2 miles which was great for me to be able to see how she does in different conditions. I decided that as her only real issue is doing big busies on walks and that I have had Sandie who has IBS I would take her.
Connie is a beautiful long haired black and tan German Shepherd. She weighs 32kg but is very long and tall. She is very chilled out and likes her cuddles and licks your hand to say hello. She has a wild side and likes to throw toys at you, play fetch and puppy play.
We started training from home 2 weeks ago doing routes around my local area. I like training from home in some respects because you get to learn routes that you do on a day to day basis. I dislike the fact you don’t have support from others who are going through the process. Connie enjoys our local routes as she can really stride out on long stretches of pavement with no kerbs to slow her down. She needs lots of praise in her work and because she is nosey she someties needs to be told to ‘leave it!’ as she is too busy watching what is going on rather than where she is going.
We did the route to work and everyone thought that she was beautiful although my colleague Vici is very scared of Connie’s big teeth. She seemed to enjoy looking around the building and sniffing her bed. I think she thinks ‘that bloomin’ labrador gets everywhere’.
How is working with a labrador different to working a shepherd? Shepherds do emergency stops at kerbs whereas labs slow down and then stop to give you warning. Shepherds also leave the kerb very fast when you give them the command. Shepherds are very smooth and you don’t feel much bouncing in the harness. Their obstacle avoidance is very smooth and they only nip in and out if they are doing crowd work. Usually you don’t notice they have guided you round something. They are also incredibly focused on where they are going if they know the route. Labs are always very pleased with themselves whereas shepherds seem to be quietly pleased.
I thought I might get less attention having a German Shepherd but actually people often say that they have never seen the breed used as guide dogs. In actual fact they were the first breed to be used as guide dogs.
Connie and I qualified on Wednesday, the manager followed us in the car. They say it was because two people walking behind might be a distraction but I reckon it’s because they couldn’t keep up. roflol I think our walk was a true reflection on what a good partnership we have made already but also how far we have to go.
I have my shepherdess as my left hand lady now and we are both getting to know each other and settling in which will take up to a year. Their will be laughter and tears but most importantly love and trust between us. I am sure she will make a fabulous guide dog and I am loking forward to spending many years with her.