Editor’s note: After obtaining her first dog guide, Alexis realized she did so because her peers had dog guides. Alexis reminds others who are blind or low vision who are considering dog guides to think through whether a dog guide is a good fit for their current season of life.
Dog Guide Peer Pressure: When Other Voices are Calling the Shots
Have you ever wanted to do something just because all your friends are doing it? This happens to all of us, and it’s called peer pressure. The popular media may describe peer pressure as only related to using drugs or alcohol, but my personal story is about peer pressure concerning my choice of what mobility tool to use.
In 2005, I met a woman with low vision who would change my life in many positive ways. We eventually became roommates in 2006. I learned many life lessons in the time we spent together. This individual had a dog guide from a well-known program.
Back in 2000 when an ophthalmologist made the pronouncement that my eye condition was progressive, I knew I wanted a dog guide but had no idea about the process of obtaining one. At that time, I was an undergraduate student in college and put the idea of a dog guide out of my mind. I had other things to consider such as my vocational goals and what my next step would be after graduation. I also had a significant fear of dogs.
My Friend’s Decisions
Moving in with my friend rekindled the idea of getting a dog guide. It seemed as though most of my friends at that time were training with new dogs. I saw many blog posts and other social media posts about dog guide training. With all this peer pressure, I thought I just had to have a dog guide.
Thus, in 2006, I applied for a dog and had a home interview with a field representative from the school where my roommate had obtained her dogs. Unfortunately, it was determined that I would not qualify due to my lack of orientation and mobility skills.
After receiving orientation and mobility instruction for the next several months, I felt I was ready to have a second try at that home interview. Another field representative came out to do the assessment and determined that I was ready for a dog guide. I received my acceptance letter a week after his visit.
Prior to these two home interviews, I did not do any research into the various dog guide schools. I only applied to the school my roommate used. She had told me how wonderful this school was and how good the training was. I didn’t consider how different schools are better or worse for different people. This should have been my first red flag. I applied to only one school without doing my own research. I didn’t talk to individuals from other schools, nor did I explore other schools’ websites. I caved into the peer pressure to apply only to this school, and it turned out to be a poor fit for what I needed.
Making a life-changing decision, such as whether to train with a dog guide and which school to attend, should not be based on what peers are doing. It was only in 2011 when that first dog guide retired that I realized I had made decisions based on peer pressure.
Making the Decision Right for Me
In 2013 after being hit by cars three different times, I knew I wanted to revisit the dog guide lifestyle. By this point, I knew that my 2007 experience had been dictated by peer pressure, so I wanted to do things the right way this time. When I began a new job in a new community in 2014, I used that fresh start to begin the dog guide process authentically and intentionally.
I completed my first year at the new job and felt confident in my professional capacity. I learned my way around the new community with an excellent orientation and mobility instructor. By August of 2015, when I closed on my first home, I knew I was ready to apply for a second dog guide.
Between my move to the new community and my decision to apply for a dog, I researched various schools. Although I discussed training impressions with peers in the blindness community, I did not rely solely on their experiences as I had in 2007. I carefully considered everything I was being told about the schools, dogs, and training methods to make a well-informed and appropriate decision for my needs.
Having considered three schools around the country, I chose to apply to a school in New York that would best meet my needs. This school had experience with individuals with multiple disabilities, which was one of my criteria for choosing a school. I was less concerned about the training methods, contact with puppy raisers, or whether the graduate owned the dog after training. My main concern was how the school would treat individuals with various exceptionalities in addition to blindness or low vision.
In November of 2015, I had a home interview with a very kind field representative who answered all my questions. I felt comfortable with how training would proceed at the new school and how staff would assist individuals one-on-one if needed.
Being accepted to train with a dog at the new school was a great feeling. Ultimately, my positive experience at the new school helped me realize that I decided to train with a second dog guide for all the right reasons. There was no peer pressure in this decision-making process. I felt much better emotionally.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel as though you are making a decision based on peer pressure, pause and revisit it when you have time to think things through. You should never feel pressured to make any decision in your life, whether it is big or small. I feel much better realizing that my original decision to train with a dog guide was made for the wrong reasons and that I corrected that my second time around.
To learn more about Alexis’ approach to finding the right dog guide school for her (considering her additional disabilities), read: When Blindness Isn’t the Only Barrier in Dog Guide Training – CareerConnect (aphcareerconnect.org).