Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with other dogs. On the one hand, there are my doggy sisters and other doggy friends. Then there are dogs I’ve never met and who I encounter when mom and I are out and about.
When it comes to my doggy sisters and other doggy friends I know I am allowed to be a dog. I can play fight with them, chase them around the garden and be chased in turn, or just snuggle up with them and sleep. And I love being able to do that – after all, it’s part and parcel of being part of a family of dogs.
But, when it comes to dogs mom and I encounter on a walk, well, that’s a little different. Because I know I’m working and need to focus on what I’m doing so mom and I can be safe. Sometimes those dogs try to distract me by barking or by trying to run up to me, even if they are on leash. And that’s okay. I know I just have to maintain my focus on what I’m doing and mom and I will soon be past them.
I wish it were as simple when it comes to squirrels. But somehow squirrels just engage my chase instinct and I have to struggle against the compulsion to abandon my guide dog training and just run after them. It’s really hard for me to fight that instinct and mom can obviously feel the battle that goes on in my body, making me shake with restrained excitement as we walk past.
Mom is very understanding when this happens. She ensures she has a firm hold of my harness and soothes me with gentle words. And that really helps me. But sometimes it feels like an eternity before we’ve walked past that squirrel.
So, basically I wish squirrels were just like other dogs so I could easily ignore them when we walk. And then get back to my doggy sisters so I can have a rowdy game!
Considering what mom said in her last post it’s probably a good thing that it’s my turn to share an article with you – it gives mom just a little more time to re-gather her energy.
Today I want to tell you about an experiment I tried a few days ago.
A few days ago I took mom and dad to Peddlers on the Bend, a restaurant in Constantia that has an amazing beer garden. It was a beautiful, warm evening with little wind, so we sat outside under the majestic oak trees. A few other dogs were there and came across to chat and drink from the water bowl the friendly waitress brought me. Much to my joy the water bowl even had some ice blocks in it, which I crunched happily.
You know how they say you ought to walk a few miles in someone’s shoes before judging them? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about squirrels and pondering the state of war that exists between me and them. I was quietly lying there in that beer garden, crunching away on my last ice block, when it suddenly occurred to me how I could try that whole walk in their shoes thing.
So I grabbed an acorn and started chewing it, just like a squirrel…
Then mom told me to stop. At least she seemed to understand the philosophical experiment because she asked me if I thought I was a squirrel and I tried to say yes. But I’m not sure she understood because she just laughed and patted me.
On the whole I’d say that I learned that acorns don’t taste very good. I also realized that squirrels and I are just different and that it’s unlikely I’ll ever understand the things they do and eat.
I have no idea whether that means my experiment was a success or not. Perhaps I’m just not cut out to be a philosopher.
Cape Town is a beautiful place. Anyone who’s been here will tell you that. And it’s not just visitors who feel that way – as residents we know it, too! But sometimes it’s easy for us to take that beauty for granted since we’re constantly surrounded by it.
Unlike Durban (the city I grew up in), which has a fairly uniform climate, Cape Town has very distinct seasons which impacts on life in Cape Town– in both what we wear and what we do. Naturally, the change of the seasons affects Fiji and I as much as it does everyone else.
Now that the autumn coolness has started settling into Cape Town my morning walks with Fiji have taken on a slightly different character. Gone are the unpleasantly warm summertime walks that see both Fiji and myself heading for a long cool drink of water on our return home. Gone are the days we dash from one teensy piece of shade to another, desperately trying to stay out of the blazing sun as much as possible. Gone too are the days of gusting wind that make it hard for us to walk since we can’t hear the sounds of approaching cars.
Thankfully those problems generally pass with the summer. Instead we’re able to walk down the road with comfort and ease. In fact, the walks are so pleasant that I often find my mind wondering as we progress, with the gorgeous scents of the lush vegetation enveloping us as we pass. Of course, every now and then my mind is snatched back from whatever pleasant reverie it’s stolen off to because Fiji has seen, scented or heard The Dreaded Enemy – yes, autumn is a busy time for squirrels in our neighbourhood – but even Fiji doesn’t seem to be as manic about trying to chase them as she does earlier in the season.
Today as I was breathing in the scent of a lavender bush I took a moment to reflect on the beauty of the moment – standing there with a keen and happily wagging young guide dog, the scents and sounds of nature all around us… despite the occasional car or train that flashed past us – and I was once again reminded that Cape Town truly is an extraordinary place to live! Now, if only the winter rains would come and break the drought…
Have you any idea how odd you humans appear to us dogs?
When my mom said I could write a monthly guest article on her blog, I thought I could use it to show you the world from my perspective… and hopefully that will give you paws for thought!
My name is Fiji and I’m a blonde Labrador cross Golden Retriever. I was born on 30 August 2014 in Johannesburg. More importantly, I’ve been working as a guide dog since March 2016 and have had lots of exciting adventures with my mom, Lois Strachan.
Before I start telling you about some of them, here’s a few of my most and least favourite things in the whole wide world:
I love working with my mom, running with my dad, playing with my doggy sister Emily, food, jumping in the sea or vlei, and chasing squirrels… not necessarily in that order!
I really don’t like being left at home and…well, that’s pretty much the only thing I don’t like… Oh, and being Top Spotted with yucky stuff to make sure I don’t have fleas…but that’s about it.
Mom advised me to keep my posts short and, since I’ve already been for a walk with mom and have had breakfast AGES ago, I’m going to find my doggy-sister Emily and see if she wants to play
Goodbye till the next Paws for Thought!
Q: Why did the guide dog cross the road?
A: Because she saw a squirrel and her brain switched off
To be fair to Fiji, I need to assure you that over time she’s learned to control her instinctive reaction to squirrels. Yes, I’m still able to tell from the way her body quivers with restrained excitement that she has seen a squirrel and is hyper-aware of it’s every movement. But she controls her excitement with unbelievable self-discipline – at least, she does so nowadays
A year ago, when Fiji and I had been working together for a few short months I had to stop her from just rushing off after squirrels – dragging me along behind her. It happened quite a few times. To be sure, I admit that once or twice her response was entirely justified – like the time a squirrel scampered past us down the road and proceeded to climb up a tree and throw twigs at us. That’s simply too much to ignore, even for a well behaved guide dog!
I guess her new-found restraint has as much to do with familiarity – we see squirrels almost every time we walk at this time of year – as it does to Fiji’s awareness that she cannot simply scamper off in hot pursuit when she’s working. I’ve also become more proficient at managing the situation. I used to stop walking and try to calm her down, but after numerous dismal failures realized that stopping at the point that the squirrel is in her direct line of sight was only adding insult to injury… or should that be adding opportunity to excitement? So now I simply brace myself and continue walking, telling Fiji to find the way to keep her attention as much on the road as possible. And generally it works pretty well.
Now it’s time for Fiji and me to go and run the squirrel gauntlet once again – wish us luck!
Here’s another Fiji video – this time of when she and I went walking in Tokai Forest.
It was a beautifully warm morning. In fact, at over 32 degrees Celsius it was verging on being a little too warm! The sky was clear and there was a gentle breeze keeping it from becoming stifling. It was a beautiful day to walk in the forest.
I did have an ulterior motive for wanting to walk there – I wanted to assess Fiji’s dog and squirrel distraction levels in a safe environment. Occasionally I’ve noticed her being a little too eager to go and play with other dogs and with squirrels… though I’m not sure that chasing squirrels counts as playing – at least, not if you happen to be one of those squirrels!
Naturally, Fiji behaved perfectly when we were in Tokai Forest. Yes, she may have looked at a few dogs and noted when two squirrels sped past her, but at no stage did she veer off course or pull towards them. I was really proud of her as I know it must be hard for a dog to so totally ignore what their instincts are telling them. Well done, Fiji!
Hope you enjoy the short video of Fiji and I walking down the forest path…