Guide Dogs or Guard Dogs

Charli Saltzman

I want to tell you a funny story. One day, back when I was still in high school, my Braille teacher and I were trying to figure something out on the computer. Now, you must know that math is not one of my strong suits. I actually have a love/hate relationship with the subject, but most of the time it’s hate. Anyway, I was in a personal finance class, and my teacher and I were trying to work with Microsoft excel. We were struggling with it, me unable to understand some of the math formulas, and my teacher unable to understand why the Microsoft excel program wasn’t cooperating. We were not getting upset with each other, but in frustration, we were raising our voices. My guide dog, Errol at the time, was sitting in a corner beside the individual desk where I sat to do my work, so he was not beside the computer where my teacher and I were sitting. As my teacher and I continued to express our frustrations with the computer, my teacher suddenly stopped talking. Gently, she said: “Charli, reach your hand out.” When I did, I felt Errol standing between my teacher and I. He wasn’t agitated or upset. He didn’t bark or growl. He just stood between us. I think Errol mistakenly thought that my teacher and I were yelling at each other, and he had to protect me.

When my teacher and I think back on that day, it always makes us smile. So, was Errol being protective? Many people ask me if owning a guide dog makes me feel safer, and I usually say it does. First of all, I like the fact that I’m not alone while walking when it’s dark or waiting at the bus stop. Many people will talk to me, saying what a beautiful dog I have. However, I feel like people who might otherwise try to harm me stay away from me because of my dog. Joba does not look threatening at all. He is a big sweetheart, a cuddly teddy bear who would never hurt anyone. Still, people who do not know that and are not comfortable with dogs stay away. However, even though a guide dog could be perceived as a guard dog, the job of a guide dog does not include that sort of protection.

I was told a story one time about a person who received a German shepherd guide dog. When the person received the dog, the dog would bark and growl at the instructor if he tried to approach the blind student. Because of this, the German shepherd was released from the guide dog program and became a police dog. Any guide dog, whether it be in training or was transferred to a blind guide dog owner, is not to display these type of behaviors. Of course, some dogs startle easily, and if you would walk up behind a guide dog team, the dog may let out a brief bark and growl, but nothing else. This, for the most part, is harmless, but it becomes a problem if a guide consistently barks, growls, or lunges at anyone who approaches. But isn’t it true that any dog, whether it be a pet or guide dog, will react negatively or viciously towards anyone who tries to harm their master?

It seems to me that this is true. Dogs love their masters. Naturally, when a dog becomes part of someone’s family, they are going to perceive their new family as a pack. While dogs should never be the leader of this human/dog pack, wild dogs in nature will do anything to protect their pack. Dogs always stick together, not including those occasional loners. So, if a dog senses that a pack member is threatened or in danger of harm, whether that be the leader or another member, that dog is going to react, no matter what sort of training he or she had. If I’m honest, this sort of comforts me. I have never been in a situation where someone has attempted to harm me, and I hope I never will be. That would not be something I ever want to experience. And I honestly don’t know if Joba would do anything if something of the sort would occur. However, as I said before, dogs love their masters. Joba loves me, and even though his job is strictly to guide and protect me from running into obstacles or moving cars, I believe my faithful companion would protect me in any situation. That’s just what dogs do.



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