21 January 2011

Why I Chose a Border Collie for My Guide Dog

Recently there was an Assistance Dog blog Carnival. I thought I would write on the Decisions topic to start off my blog.
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As a deafblind incomplete quad my view of the world is obscured by reduced sensory input. I'm one of the lucky ones though. The things many might just dream of, I get to experience through the eyes of Thane. Thane, a red and white Border Collie, is my guide dog. 

If you know anything about Border Collies, you're probably thinking the same thing the rest of the world does- a hearing dog perhaps- but a guide dog, isn't that going against their very instincts?

Besides the fact that Thane is in-training to also become my hearing dog, breed instincts can be very beneficial to me in a guide. As a herder, Thane is much more apt to glance one way or the other when people are around, or there are events out of the ordinary. It's not to a level of distraction that would wash a dog out for my needs, but it gives me insights into the world around me that a cane and tactile mini guide could never provide. It makes the world crisp instead of like that of a flat object. This glancing to and fro, is part of a herding dogs make up and most especially noticeable in a dog like Thane who comes from strong herding lineage. 

An additional great asset I have come accustomed to in my Border Collie guides is the ability to backtrack so easily. I have never had to train this, but the advantage with my disabilities is just awesome!  I frequently get disoriented. It can come on due to MCS, vertigo or simply a loss of proprioception. With Thane at my side, I never have to worry about the outcome. He will never fail to stand by me in this manner, by simply finding our way back. Sometimes this means finding the way home by travelling safely along a known route without the direction cues most guides are accustomed to receiving. Sometimes it occurs in a store or mall requiring Thane to find the exit and not just any exit either. Sometimes just getting me to the max or bus stop is all thats needed. 

Though other breeds can learn to do what Thane does for me, I have the most confidence in his breed to give me the hearing and guide dog skills I require to flourish as an independent spirited person.

Of course, it helps that I love the breed! I have ever since we had a BC mix when I was a child. To me, there was never any question what breed of dog I would train when I took on the task of owner training. They take a lot more accuracy in training (or living with the consequences), they learn at lightening speed (so be careful when you click), they can have a stubborn streak (now how can that be an asset? really it can!), they bond intently with their person, but need an experienced trainer who understands the mind of a Border Collie. I'm getting to be the latter thanks to my two Border Collie boys: Met, Thane's predecessor and Thane have taught me all about the Do's and Don'ts in training and working this breed. 

And every time I begin to contemplate another breed for a successor, I find myself coming back to my love for working this breed- no matter how difficult the process has been to get where I have. There is just nothing like a Border Collie!

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