Visiting France with a Guide Dog

Richard Wadwell and his guide dog Ralph

Podcast interview with Englishman Richard Wadwell who visits France often with his guide dog Ralph. We talk about what it’s like to work with a guide dog and some of the things he enjoys about France as well. Listen by clicking on the play button. To listen to more episodes go to


Dog Talk

Dogs and Communications

Dogs know how to communicate with each other. Once in a while you meet a mean (abused?) dog who will behave erratically and it’s hard to know what they’re thinking, but most anyone who’s worked with dogs can tell you that they make their moods and intentions very clear to each other and to people too, if we just pay attention. In other words, they know how to « talk ». They don’t talk like we talk, but it’s communication all the same. I am delighted to see that more and more research is being done in the arena of dog communication and I hope that eventually we’ll get to the point where most people can be taught what dog talk means, it will not be the exclusive arena of dog trainers and dog fanciers. Here’s an interesting article in the Washington Post.

Are Dogs Moral Beings?

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Dogs and Communications 1

Awwww, couple marries after meeting through their guide dogs

Guide dogs are good at doing all sorts of things for their person, but I think what they are best at is breaking barriers between the sighted and sight-impaired persons. If I see a blind person with a guide dog I will probably go up to them and say « Hello, what a nice guide dog you have, what’s his name? Can I pet him? » If I see a blind person with a cane I won’t say anything at all and will try to stay out of their way. The social isolation of blind persons without a dog must be really hard to live with.


And to illustrate that point: yesterday at Igor’s follow-up at the guide dog school in Toulouse I met a man who was getting instruction on how to work with his dog, a nice Golden Retriever who just completed his training. This man looks like he is 45 years old, tall, very healthy and nice looking, but mostly blind and mostly deaf (as a result he doesn’t talk well either). Trying to interact with him was really difficult, but I’m glad I got to shake his hand and tell him how lovely his dog is. I hope this dog will utterly change his life for the better, because people will approach him more, and the dog will give him the drive to get out and be more visible in society.

Also this helped me understand why Igor must have 100% recall with his whistle. I’ve been teaching it to him, and his recall is 50% with the whistle, not great. I didn’t see the point so I didn’t push it. Especially since Igor’s recall when I call his name is very close to 100%.

What I hadn’t considered is what happens if he’s placed with a person who doesn’t speak well or not loudly enough? He must learn the whistle and (on his trainer’s advice) I’ll teach it to him with the best training device known to man and dog: the hot dog!

 Article here.

Adorable Rough Housing

This is what happens to your 10 year old dog when you bring in a puppy: they rough house and have a grand time and the old dog gets a new lease on life. We were just settling in the sofas for a bit of TV watching when the dogs decided it was time to lie on the exercise mat and do something more interesting than what was on TV.

Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


Igor and Luna rough-housing
Igor and Luna rough-housing


And on and on they go for about an hour and then they sleep.

You Won’t See That Anywhere Else

Ha! Told you he pooped in the gutter! Look closely, you won’t find that kind of quality photography anywhere else 😉

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And yes, that dog’s an alien. I love him anyway 🙂

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Gutter potty training

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Potty training is a big thing for a service dog. These dogs need to be 100% trustworthy when it comes to holding it while in stores, airplanes, restaurants, while their person is at work or at school, etc. They must learn to go on command whenever their person can give them a potty break. Guide dog must know how to go potty on leash which most dogs despise because they like to roam around to find a good spot, right? A guide dog cannot do that most of the time.

A guide dog for the blind must learn to go in the gutter so that their blind handler doesn’t have to pickup. Makes sense, right? Don’t ask a blind person to pick up dog poop, that’s a recipe for disaster. He must also learn to do his business quickly because the blind person cannot walk them all over the place looking for the ideal potty spot. Would you let your dog roam looking for the « perfect spot » if you had to do it with your eyes closed? No way! AND, get this: male dogs must never lift their leg so there is no chance that they’ll pee on their person or on something valuable that the handler cannot see. Oh my!

Potty training falls mostly on the family that raises the pup, this is one area that I’m going to have to get 100% as well. Today I’m here to report that we’re off to a good start.


I had been told about the gutter thing, as a matter of fact the Toulouse Guide Dog school puts it right in the initial application and it’s one of the first things the trainer mentioned during our first phone call. We live at the end of a private dirt path, the nearest gutter is 50 yards away, so that was a concern. The trainer said it’s easy: when you get the pup out of his kennel in the morning, carry him all the way to the gutter, place him in the gutter and encourage him to do his business there. He’ll pee first, and then will poop soon after, but sometimes it takes a few minutes. Do not let the dog get out of the gutter until both businesses have been done.

The implementation was difficult at first. It rained non-stop the first few days Igor was with us, the gutter was full of fast-running water. So I did the next best thing: I made him do his business a cemented area right by the gutter, yet not the sidewalk. It’s a spot where I have to pick-up, but I don’t mind. So for about 2 weeks Igor did his first business of the day on that cemented area and I thought we were doing fine so long as it wasn’t grass. I was wrong.

At our second follow-up with his actual trainer Laetitia (we hadn’t worked with her yet because she was away placing a fully trained dog with a blind person) she told me that cemented area wouldn’t do. He HAS to learn the gutter, not cement nearby, not gravel, gutter. She would crate him until he did his business in the gutter when he’s with her. Dang that’s harsh, but she’s right, and she’s in charge. I have to change Igor’s mind about the gutter.

I normally get up at 6:15 to fix Marianne breakfast before she takes the bus to school. To accommodate Igor’s potty training I set the alarm for 6:00 and spent 15 minutes walking him along his cemented area, but I don’t want to stay out there any longer than I have to, honestly I feel like a fool half way dressed with my dog pooping on cement when we have a perfectly good yard!–so I always rushed through it. Laetitia said you can’t do that at the beginning. Take the time, make him stay in the gutter until he goes. If he pees but doesn’t poop, bring him back to the house in your arms, crate him with his food and water, and give him another chance an hour later. Don’t let him do his first pee and poop of the day anywhere but in the gutter no matter how long it takes. She said he’d cry and fuss because he’s used to the cemented area by now, but don’t mind him, short leash, gutter.

And today that’s exactly what I did! It’s Saturday morning, I have more time, so we’re on Igor! Laetitia was right, he did cry, he really wanted to go back to the cemented area, jumped out of the gutter many times, but I put him back, then he peed within 2 minutes, and 5 minutes later he pooped IN THE GUTTER!!! I praised his so much and so loudly I probably woke up some neighbors, but I don’t care 🙂

You’re probably going to ask can he EVER go in the grass like a normal dog? Yes, but not the first business of the day. The rest of the time he can go where he likes. We don’t know where he is going to live eventually, country, maybe city, he has to do either easily and on command. How will I train him to not lift his leg? I have no idea. Laetitia said that’s why we nutter them at 7 months on the dot. She’ll explain more I’m sure. How am I going to do this when Igor gets too big to carry? Leatitia says carry him as far as you can, then put him down and run the rest of the way to the gutter. OK, that’ll be a spectacle all in itself, but I’m game.

But for today I have to say I’m so proud of Igor! He’s going to be the biggest, baddest guide dog ever! Here he is with his litter mate India and an older guide dog in training.

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Potty training

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The second Igor arrived in our home (once he got done sniffing Luna and meeting the bellicose cat) he took a liking to our huge coco door-mat right inside our front door. And by « liking » I mean he peed on it. Twice. Within a few minutes of each other. That’ll humble a person. You thought you could handle a puppy, eh? Well try me he said! The thing is when he pees you can hardly see it, he bends his back legs slightly and lets it go. His bladder must be the size of a thimble so he has to go small quantities several times per hour. Plus he’s part Labrador and drinks constantly. Dog trainer said remove the coco mat, so I did. Now we have mud outside (a lot of rain this winter) and no coco mat. Our floor may never recover despite considerable scrubbing on my part. If you like clean floors, don’t raise a puppy!

But he’s a happy puppy and quite clever, and with kind persuasion on our part the « accidents » are getting far and few between. This is good because the first 12 days he peed inside 3-4 times per day. On day 13 all of a sudden he started holding it and peeing bigger quantities less frequently. Yeah for Igor!

What’s the secret? The one thing the trainer told me that I’d never heard before was don’t let the dog see you cleaning up his mess. Otherwise he thinks it’s cool that you’re paying attention to what he did. So a few times a day when Igor peed in the house I blocked him off in another part of the house and cleaned up when he couldn’t see me do it. Also there’s the obvious, when the dog pees and you didn’t catch it in the act, don’t yell, don’t make a fuss, don’t say anything actually, the dog will not understand. However when you do catch it in the act, yell NO and grab it in your arms and put it outside where peeing is encouraged, and when the dog goes praise with enthusiasm. Dog will not pee while in your arms (I’ve tested this many times, it’s true!) So here we are, Igor has been with us for two weeks and potty training is going great. So, am I done with potty training? Nope. Next time I tell you about the specific complications having to do with potty training for the guide dog, not as simple as what a family dog needs to learn.

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