There are days I just have to step back and marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team. Dogs don’t naturally walk in straight lines. They don’t naturally refuse to chase other animals or deny themselves food lying on the ground. Most dogs don’t want to spend their days forging a path through pedestrians on crowded sidewalks, locating curbs, and playing in traffic… and yet these dogs do. They love their job, and most, if not all guide dogs, seem to realize at one point or another that they aren’t just doing this for the food reward. These are the sort of dogs that Guiding Eyes breeds, raises, and trains, and I feel so blessed to be able to experience life with now two of them.
Prim had a number of things thrown at her today. It is only our sixth day together and we had two major traffic checks, plus a skateboard check (yep, skateboard. You read that correctly), escalators, crowded, narrow sidewalks, indoor work, and major distractions in the dog food isle at CVS. That “major distraction” took the form of my class supervisor (who is also Oleta’s trainer and my instructor from 2011) tempting Prim with all sorts of very appealing squeaky toys while we did puppy push ups (sit, down, sit, down, sit, down, sit). It was pretty hard not to look, and she definitely did struggle to listen to a couple of my commands, but we got through it well enough. Honestly… can you imagine trying to concentrate while people danced around you with Chic-Fil-A and gift cards for pedicures and the latest technology gizmos, or whatever tempting treat might strike your fancy, and be expected to keep working at the same high performance without ever lunging for one of those waffle fries or gift cards or iPhones? Mm… Chic-Fil-A… I discovered today that Chic-Fil-A doesn’t exist in this area, bless their hearts. Anyway, what was I talking about?
Prim handled it all very well. I was impressed with the way she dealt with the traffic checks. One was on the left side of the street with a legal right turner. She saw it coming ahead of time and stopped about ten feet away from the car. The second was a car turning very illegally on the wrong side of the road. That was slightly more startling to me as it was completely unexpected, but Prim just came to an abrupt halt, let the car pass, and continued to the curb. It didn’t seem to throw her at all. She got a cookie and lots of praise upon reaching the sidewalk. She did her job very well.
Prim loves escalators. I am sure that her trainers used a great deal of positive reenforcement with them, as they can be scary for some dogs at first, but I think Prim also just likes the ride. She did very well pulling me to the edge of the metal plate and showing me exactly where the escalator started. She is brilliant with targets. When she hears the name of a familiar target (like the steps in this case) and recognizes it, she is there and fast, and she doesn’t stop pulling until we are all the way on top of it. Since I have practically no vision, this is extremely helpful for me, because she makes it very clear where whatever I am looking for is, whether it be the curb, the escalator, the door, etc.
We are still working on slowing down a tad in certain situations. For example, when we entered the CVS in the afternoon, we were moving so quickly the automatic doors didn’t quite have a chance to open all the way, so I got clipped by the still slightly closed sliding door. We also had to slow in the isles so as not to knock any displays or innocent bystanders to the floor. On our way back from CVS, we had a slight sniffing distraction with some trash cans (which, in her defense, did smell very strongly!), but as my instructor observed, Prim seems very responsive to my voice and a “Prim, leave it” was all she needed to get going again.
Shortly after that we crossed a street, made a right, and then I felt Prim angle over to the left a bit toward a building. She approached the wall of the building, then made a quick right and continued along the block. I wasn’t sure what had happened, until my instructor came up from behind to inform me that Prim had seen herself in a glass wall. Apparently, Prim got all puffy and upset like, “who’s that over there?!”, until she realized it was her own reflection, got embarrassed, and quick changed her direction like, that didn’t just happen. We laughed all the way back to the White Plains building. There are days you have to marvel at the incredible phenomenon that is the guide dog team, and then there are days you just have to laugh… and with Prim, that’s every day. This dog cracks me up.
Thursday morning I got to do obedience with a real dog! And it was great. Padawan did wonderfully. She was remarkably responsive and didn’t make any mistakes. Granted, it is a low distraction environment right now and we are working individually with instructors at this point, but it’s still been less than 24 hours. SHe’s a pro.
Healing up to breakfast was a tad bit challenging, because she was so excited and she got up quite a lot during the meal, but in the van and at lunch she laid quite positively still. We had our first walk around 10 this morning. Padawan was on it. She found every curb perfectly and navigated around people and carts and cars flawlessly. We even had a mini traffic check. We were crossing one street when a car turned in front of us. She slowed to allow it to pass then sped up, got to the curb, and all was well. She started out a bit quick even for me, but we ran it off and got a little bit slower as the morning went on.
On our second route, Padawan’s pace was perfect. She found every curb and the only thing I could fault her for was stepping into the street a bit too early. She did slow to look at a pigeon at one point, but looked back at me quickly and kept working just fine. There was another car that pulled in front of us at an active driveway. She stopped for it, then waited for me to listen and give the command to continue.
I really was not expecting to have such smooth routes today. I am sure we will run into challenges, but when my trainer asked if I had any questions at the end of our second route, all I could think of was, “where are her flaws?”. Apparently she has them… but all I can see so far is that we need to work a bit on staying and waiting. She is go go go all the time, and I love it, but sometimes we do have to stand still for a little while, unfortunately.
In the afternoon, I attached Padawan to her tie down so that I could lay down for a few minutes between lecture and dinner. Padawan saw me lay on my bed and immediately leapt to join me, only to find that the tie down was a little too short. So, she settled for standing with her front paws on my bed, bouncing at me and licking me. My heart melted. I wasn’t expecting her to want to be with me that badly… so I got up and sank to the floor with her. She wiggled and jumped to put her paws on my shoulders. I got face kisses, and she rolled and wriggled herself around until finally coming to a rest draped over me with her bum on one of my legs and her head on the other. We cuddled like that until we heard the announcement to go to dinner, and even then I took my time getting up. It was too sweet!
Later that evening I got to play with Padawan for the first time. We went with our instructor into Alumni Hall and I got to sift through a crate of various toys to see what she might like. The bone wasn’t of interest to her, but she ran joyfully after the tennis ball and played soccer with a big bouncy frog that did not really fit in her mouth. It was absolutely adorable. She makes me laugh.
I also heard Padawan’s bark for the first time. She was laying comfortably still beside me in the student living room as I worked on blogs. Padawan saw/heard a fellow classmate and her dog in the hallway and suddenly leapt up with a loud “woof woof woof!”. It scared me at first because I was so focussed and she had been so calm, but she was, I think, just excited to see her friend and wanted to play. With a firm “quiet” and “down” command she went easily back to resting, and I got back to work.
Friday (Friday already?) we have the same routes in White Plains and a lecture on grooming. We’ll check in with you then.