• Leigh Hay

Guide Dog Training: Breakdown to Breakthrough

The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.’

Karen Salmansohn

I discovered a simple truth

on the first day of guide dog training; being out of our comfort zone happens

to dogs too!

Little did Dindi, my new

guide dog, know that to feel unsettled and anxious to be left in the company of

a stranger – ME, would shift dramatically within only 24 hours of being


I knew it was about giving

our ‘friendship’ time but for my guide dog, she was way out of her comfort zone.

Here we were, in an unfamiliar shared space at the Guide Dog accommodation

centre. Like in a hospital where midwives aid a new mother to adjust to her

baby, I felt the guide dog trainers in those first few days were our

‘doggy-midwives’ helping a group of us to settle in and adjust to being patient

guide dog handlers.

In the first hour, when Dindi’s

trainer left our room, my guide dog fretted.

‘Hey, Dindi!’ I said gently,

trying to get her attention, she simply cruised around the room with head and

tail down.

I knew that she was taking in the newness of it all and so I let her wander around as she observed the room from her amazing sence of smell. It seemed to give her a feeling of security to work out her new surroundings. At one point, she snorted so loudly from underneath the door, vacuuming up any tell-tale molecules of scent from the corridor, my trainer Eamon told me later, Dindi’s deep inhalations sounded like a creature out of Jurassic Park!

On my side of the door, she panted, she sat facing the door – waiting... ready to escape. My heart felt for her. Poor girl. I coaxed her to sit by my side where my hands gently travelled over her back in calming massage movements. I accepted these first hours were more about staying calm for her sake, to give her time to adapt and adjust. And then it happened – Dindi’s breakdown to breakthrough moment!

Best Friends

When I awoke at 6am the

following morning, a warm tongue licked my outstretched hand.


It was as if we were saying

hello for the first time. Her tail wagged, making a friendly thumping sound on

her dog bed. She licked my hand again and my heart melted –she had gone through

the dark night of her ‘doggy-soul’ and was ready to accept me as her new found


All the first week of our

guide dog training, apart from learning how to give specific commands to our

working dogs, it was even more important to use every opportunity to PRAISE our new guide dogs when we

succeeded in achieving true teamwork.

Within 24 hours,

Dindi was lying quietly on her bed. When I moved a foot, Dindi rose to greet

me. And within only a few days, my beautiful Dindi and I were developing a

special bond. Her stress had vanished, and in its place, came the spritely

spirit of a loyal companion, eager to help me learn about becoming competent

communicators as a working guide dog team.

After the first week of

training and ‘bonding’ with our guide dogs, clients were given the weekend to

go home while our dogs would be cared for in the kennels. It was hard emotionally

to leave our new dogs but the weekend went quickly and was a welcomed pit-stop

to catch up with family and friends.

More Surprises

On arriving back at the centre, my trainers escorted me to my room –to meet Dindi again. After settling my exuberant Labrador, I noticed my trainers were hovering in my room. Then Eamon said quietly, showing me the packages poised on my desk ‘These were delivered to your room today. They are a gift from Dindi’s puppy raiser’.

I stared at him in total

surprise. Christina and Eamon smiled as I touched the packages, one hamper of

goodies for Dindi and one for me?

‘There’s even a message on the package for you.’ Eamon said, and he began to read, I began to cry...

‘Dindi loves to chew on Nyla bones, She loves a game of tug-of-war,

She loves to chase that

donut, rolling down the hall,

Her favourite treats are all

onboard, for her to enjoy.

We wish you well on journeys together, And hope you have a ball.’ Mandy

In only a week, so many

blessings, so many surprises – and with so much support from our guide dog

trainers, my next post gives an insight into how being out of one’s comfort

zone, for human and canine alike, is mastered with positive strategies – one

skill at a time.

Becoming an effective guide

dog team is knowing the system; everything we learn has a reason, a tried and

tested program that creates successful teams of human to their beautiful guide dog.

You might also like:

Preparing for Guide Dog Training

Audio: Courage on a Mission


© Maribel Steel 2019

first published on

7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All