12 months ago, I started a journey which involved giving up late morning lie-ins, the use of my left hand, wearing pretty shoes and having clean floors. It also involved learning Italian commands, making friends, getting more active, setting new routines and embracing the new little being that had not only taken over our home but also our hearts. Hund “Qweela”.
Right from day one it was apparent that Quila was a special dog. Specifically bred to become a service dog, she possesses the perfect character traits … a soft, gentle nature, intelligence, obedience, friendliness, a strong desire to please, a calming presence and extreme loyalty. The calming presence however is specially reserved for “at home” and “while working” and is N-E-V-E-R present when greeting neighbours, playing with other dogs and walking in the forest.
I often used to question whether our daily walks through the forest were hindering her training and wondered whether more disciplined walks would be better for her. I mentioned these concerns to my trainer on more than one occasion and his response was always the same … “Why would you want to change that? What a beautiful life!”
Puppy socialising classes developed into obedience training sessions where one thing became clear … Quila L-O-V-E-D to play. At first, I didn’t think it was a problem, after all, she was a puppy and puppies love to play however as time went on we realised that Quila’s love for play was different to the other dogs around her. She even started to realise that she played differently to other dogs and that out of all of the dogs that crossed her path, Labradors were in fact the most fun and made the best play-mates … she would recognise a passing Labrador in a train station and try to reach out to them for a game of tag and when that didn’t work she was equally content to play with the stray pigeons that flew in from the open platforms or anyone who happened to make eye contact with her as they walked passed.
As Quila got older, we started to realise that her need to play was a coping mechanism for her anxiety. As my trainer explained to me, there are four responses that dog’s have when dealing with stressful situations … Fight, flight, fidget or freeze and Quila’s response was to fidget. She was literally playing with everything in order to feel ‘safe’.
When training in and around the city, Quila will often show signs of anxiety and I find myself being led in a completely different direction to the path I have chosen due to a strange looking statue, a noisy street sweeper or a busy construction sight. At home there are also certain triggers that send her running to hide under the bed, however these are easier to recognise and manage. She loves to watch TV but this too can be scary. The other day I was watching ‘The Crown’ and those pesky little horses had her running to hide behind the Christmas tree.
Throughout this process, the one thing that became perfectly clear is that the Guide Dog Association will never force a dog to do something they don’t want to do. A guide dog needs to absolutely enjoy every aspect of their training and eventually their ‘work’. At every stage the dogs are closely monitored and if at any point the training is proving to be too much then it is stopped.
At a training session last week, Quila had to take part in a Gun Test. Our trainer stood approximately 15m away from us and fired 6 shots into the air. A guide dog should not respond to the noise but rather continue to walk calmly with its handler. Proud Mamma over here thought that she handled the situation really well because she didn’t run for the hills, but simply kept looking over her shoulder to see where the noises were coming from. (I do think, however, that at this point, if Peter had taken one step in her direction that she would have bolted.). This was not the desired response and unfortunately Quila was removed from the guide dog training programme.
Quila is no longer an “Allschwili”, the affectionate term given to the Guide dogs from Allschwil, Basel but rather a “Monticelli”, officially one of us, and my heart can’t stop smiling.
Roger A. Caras said, “If you don’t own a dog, at least once, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”, but I think my trainer Peter said it best …. “What a beautiful life!” and I get to share it with her.