Guiding Eyes Training (September 2017), Day 6|The Afternoon Mystery Revealed

Saturday morning brought the first obedience session with some level of distraction.  Our class supervisor tried to catch Padawan’s attention by bouncing a tennis ball all around us while we concentrated on our commands.  She did look once or twice, but got refocused quickly.  Everything this dog does is quick.  She is like a jack-in-the-box when she sits up during obedience.  She takes off like a rocket when she is working.  She spins around and throws herself to the ground in seconds when I tell her “close” (which is the command to lay between my feet under a chair).  She does everything enthusiastically and virtually nothing halfway (hahaha, other than when she doesn’t want to lay down, that is, and remains for a minute or more in the downward dog position in order to trick me into thinking she’s all the way down).

We had a route in White Plains in the morning.  It started out as a relaxed Saturday morning route, with little traffic and fewer pedestrians, but we soon ran into several challenges.  The first was the construction.  A fence blocked off an entire section of the sidewalk, so Padawan had to stop and show me the fence before we could go around to the curb.  She did so, but when we arrived at the curb there was a loud engine being used in the construction zone and I could not hear a thing in order to make the decision to cross the street.  My trainer helped me so that we wouldn’t have to stand there all morning.  Padawan didn’t seem bothered by the noise.  A block or two down, Padawan approached the curb and veered a little to the right.  I was not sure we had approached it correctly until my trainer informed me that there were two pigeons standing right where she would normally have stopped at the curb.  She had treated them as an obstacle so as not to get in trouble for going after pigeons.  She is too cute!!!

Evidently, she did not have the same reservations a block or two on from that when she glimpsed a pair of dogs ahead of us.  Her pace increased to warp speed.  Needless to say that when the next curb arrived, we both ended up with our feet in the street, rather than the sidewalk, by the time we managed to stop for the curb.  We walked back several paces and approached the curb again with a steady command, and she fixed her mistake.  Later though, Padawan was in a sit waiting for a fellow classmate to go on ahead of us (we tend to catch up with people) when a pigeon landed about a foot away.  She thought it was great fun to watch him, but didn’t move a muscle to chase or lunge at him.  Good girl!  I was also very pleased with her reaction to a complicated traffic situation at one crossing.  There was a bus at a bus stop, and a mail truck was pulled up behind it waiting to make a delivery.  That placed it right to the left of us as we approached the far curb on the crosswalk.  With that on our left and turning cars on our right, it got a bit narrow and Padawan ran for it.  I did not treat her for it since she missed the curb, but honestly I was just glad she got us out of there.  My trainer and I agreed that it was a fairly appropriate response given everything going on.  I love working this dog.

In the afternoon, our mystery work was practice with the clicker/targeting as well as a supervised grooming session.  A clicker is a small plastic box with a button that makes a loud popping sound when pressed.  The dogs have learned to associate the sound with food.  It is used as a marker during training to indicate to the dog that, at the moment of the click, they were demonstrating a desired behavior and will receive a food reward.  Targeting is teaching a dog to recognize and target a certain thing according to it’s name.  For example, Padawan has already learned generic targets like curbs, doors, and steps.  If they are in the general vicinity, she can recognize a door and take me to it when I say, “too the door”.  If taught, she can also target particular doors and other objects.  Yesterday we worked on my dorm room door specifically.  I placed my fist on the door and told Padawan “touch”, which prompts her to bop my fist with her nose.  This helps her to understand that I want her to target the thing under my fist.  When she response to the touch command, I click and feed.  After a few repetitions, I added in the word “door”, and then took away the touch command all together and only said, “door”, still clicking and feeding when she bopped my fist.  After a few times doing that, I backed up from the door, picked up the harness handle, and told her, “too the door”.  We continued like that several times over,backing up further and further first in one direction and then in another, until it was pretty clear she knew exactly what I wanted from her.  I have to remember to slow her down a bit with the “steady” command, because we get going so quickly it becomes difficult for her to turn and target with so much momentum.  She LOVES targeting and I can’t wait to see her show me her awesome skills with other things as well.

Seven Things I Have Missed About Having a Guide Dog

I have been a guide dog user for six years now, and it’s become a way of life.  My guide dog is a mobility aid, and so affects the way I travel, but she also affects my schedule, personal interactions, thought processes, financial decisions, clothing choices, etc.  For the last while, a lot of those things have been absent from my life.  These are some of the things I’ve missed most since retiring my first guide.

1. That Glidey, Free Feeling of Working a Guide Dog

If you have never worked a guide dog, you may not understand what I mean here.  When you pick up the harness handle and tell your dog forward, your dog leans into the harness, you lean back, and you take off.  It’s a smooth, exhilarating sensation that I can only describe as a sort of flight.  Having worked with a guide that has not really pulled into the harness for years, I have not experienced this feeling properly in a good long while, and I cannot wait to experience it again.

2. Excessorizing My Guide Dog

Oleta’s drawer in my apartment is full of brightly colored flowers, bows, ribbons, bandanas, and collars that coordinated with my outfits.  My guide dog is, in a way, an extension of my body, and therefore, also fashion, and right now, I’m missing my canine fashion extender!

3. Interacting Regularly with a Dog

I love the nitty gritty mechanics of the guide dog team.  I am a dog person, and I love being near them.  Learning to communicate with my dog, improving obedience and work-related skills, and watching my dog put those skills into action are all things that give me joy, and that I miss having as part of my everyday life.

4. Interacting with the Public

When you take a dog everwhere with you, you get noticed.  Suddenly everyone wants to shower you with compliments, pester you with questions, and tell you long detailed stories about their childhood labrador Rex who was their best friend, could open doors, slept with them every night, saved their sister’s pet rabbit from a fire, etc etc.  Sometimes it can become overwhelming, but in general I enjoy those conversations.  I love sharing about my guide dog, the amazing work that she does, and the organization that bred, raised, and trained her.  More even than that, I love how the presence of a dog seems to normalize my interactions with others.  Instead of viewing me as “that blind girl”, they think of me as “that girl with the dog”, which honestly I prefer.

5. Going Out Early Every Morning

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually kind of like being awoken at the crack of dawn to park and feed my starving canine.  I am an early riser anyway, but there’s no staying in bed with a hungry labrador in need of a potty break bouncing all over you.  I love having that motivation to roll out of bed, no matter how groggy, and go out to greet the new day, whether that be freezing wind and rain or sunshine and birdsong.

6. Always Having a Good Excuse to Talk to Myself

Sometimes verbalizing my thoughts helps me process things, okay?  With Oleta, people assume I am talking to her… which I may very well be.  Right now, with no dog, I just appear unstable.

7. Spacing Out On The Walk Home Because My Dog Knows Exactly Where Home Is

Guide dogs are not GPSs.  I  can’t just say, “Juno, take me to Walmart.” and then find myself magically at Walmart 20 minutes later.  Still, after directing my guide dog home over and over again, day after day, my guide dog starts to understand that when I say, “Let’s go home.”, I am about to tell her forward, left, to the curb, forward, right, etc.”  Basically, she becomes a bit of a GPS.  Of course I can’t totally space out.  I still need to keep track of where I am, and make safe traffic decisions, but I can, for example, work on memorizing music for my voice lesson the next morning the whole walk and still do it completely safely (I can do that with my cane too but I usually miss more turns).

What I’m trying to say is my dog knows where dinner is.  My cane, on the other hand, doesn’t care.

Today marks one day before Dog Day, and one day before I get to reclaim these and other elements of the guide dog lifestyle, and I can’t wait!