Every once in a while someone, like a taxi driver, or waitress or random person on the T will ask me, “Does he ever get to be just a dog?” Does Tom ever get to be just a dog?
That answer is both yes and no. And I guess depends on what you mean by “just a dog.”
Does he get to have play time? And social time? And family time? And lots of love and attention with his harness off? Yes. Quite often actually. Being a guide dog in public can be stressful, so I feel it’s not only important but critical to my guide dog’s overall well being to have time when he’s ‘not on the clock’ so to speak and can do doggie things like sniff and run and swim and get petted by my family. Tom has learned when his harness is on he needs to keep is focus on his guide work and ignore others except me, and when it’s off and I cue “ok go play” or “ok go visit” he is free to be social and do his own thing. To a degree.
The to a degree is the no portion of the answer because even when he’s off the clock there are some rules Tom is asked to follow that maybe other people don’t have for their dogs. Like he’s not permitted to take food from other people unless I specifically cue him that it’s ok to do so, if they tell him it’s ok to take it but I haven’t he isn’t allowed to take it. And he’s not permitted to take food off the floor if someone drops it, or if someone calls him over to ‘help clean up the floor’ he isn’t to listen to them. And if I’ve asked him not to cross a boundary, like at my aunt’s lake house when we arrive before I take his leash off I remind him he’s not allowed to go up the stairs that lead off the deck, he’s not to go there even if another person tells him it’s ok. Basically the ‘no’ portion of Tom having time to be just a dog involves him ignoring other people telling him to do things and remembering what I asked him to do or not do even if someone else is telling him something contrary. And it involves his behavior around food.
The other part of that is even when he’s off the clock, Tom prefers to keep an eye on me himself. For example last night we were at a family gathering at the lake house. Tom and Zora came too, and were off leash roaming around the deck area with us all. Being social, swimming, getting petted, visiting with people and the like. But anytime I moved, Tom checked where I was and where I was going. When I was in the lake, he wanted to know where I was. When I came out, he wanted to know where I was. If I changed seats he wanted to know where I was. He checks in with me, gets a bit of a pet, and then goes wandering off to socialize with others once more. And when he’s done with socializing, he comes and finds me.
So yes, Tom gets to be just a dog. A civilized dog with healthy boundaries, but time to be just a dog all the same.