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Why Do You Use a Dog Rather Than a Cane?

If you read my last post on Why Do You Use a Cane Rather Than a Dog 

You may be wondering why, with all of the responsibilities and inconvenience associated with working with a dog, anyone would do it. It ultimately comes down to a personal preference, and these are some of the reasons that people give for using a guide dog.

  • Less stressful. While you certainly have to pay attention when working with a dog (they don’t come with cruise control), at least in my experience, it doesn’t require the same level of intense concentration I have when working with a cane.
  • Speed. Even the most skillful cane traveler would have to admit that you can walk far faster with a dog. In fact, unless a dog has slowed down due to age, the typical handler walks faster than most sighted pedestrians. Being able to walk at the speed you want gives you a freedom of motion you can’t get with a cane.
  • Traffic. The most unique, and arguably the most valuable, feature of a dog is their work in traffic. Normally, the dog is trained to execute the handler’s commands: forward, left, right, come, etc. However, when following a command would jeopardize the safety of the team, the dog is trained to ignore the command, what is called “intelligent disobedience.” Hopefully, this is an extremely rare occurrence – I’ve only had this happen once in thirty-five years – but, when it does, the dog provides a margin of safety you can’t get with a cane.
  • Commands. Dogs can be trained to do some things such as finding an empty chair in a crowded waiting room that, while they can be done with a cane, are done far more easily and less obtrusively with a dog.
  • Credibility. A dog is part of how you present yourself to the public. In the same way that your dress and general deportment enhance how you are seen by others, a dog that is well-behaved aids your general credibility with the public. To choose to get a dog for this reason alone, however, is an extremely poor decision. Conversely, a dog that is poorly handled, and, unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience, is a real liability.
  • Safety. A few people find that simply having a dog adds to their sense of personal safety. By itself, this is a terrible reason for getting a dog, but, for someone living in a high-crime area who would be getting a dog anyway, it can be an added benefit. The dogs are not trained to protect the handler, but there are times that their mere presence can make a bad guy think twice.
  • Companionship. I’ve never cried at a Disney movie, referred to my dog as “my baby,” or had the slightest desire to have my dog sleep with me, and yet I’d willingly acknowledge that the bond formed with a guide dog is far more powerful than that with a pet. If you’re serious about working with a dog, you really do become a team in the very best sense of that term. The connection you develop with the dog can only be understood by another handler. Companionship, by itself, is another awful reason for getting a guide dog. If companionship is what you want, you’re far better off getting a dog from a shelter. Most schools are pretty circumspect about revealing how much it costs to train a dog, but the most recent unofficial figures I’ve heard range from $15,000. To something north of $65,000 so a guide dog is an extremely expensive pet. If, however, you not only love dogs but love to work with them, a dog may be an excellent option.

Even for those of us who use a guide dog, there are still times we have to use a cane. Some situations aren’t appropriate for a dog, and there are times that the dog is at the vet’s (if you’re not using virtual veterinarian software and take your dog to a real, live vet) and can’t work. The better you are with a cane, the better dog handler you’ll be. In the end, whether someone uses a cane or a dog is a matter of personal preference. What works well for one person may not be the best choice for someone else.

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