Before discussing my first day of guiding with my dog let me explain why I am not yet revealing his name. I have discussed previously the puppy raisers who give so much of their time to raising these wonderful dogs and who teach the dogs basic commands and how to behave in public. Puppy raisers give from a year to fifteen months of their time to each charge. The results are well behaved confident dogs who then go back to Guide Dogs for the Blind where they are trained to guide and do the work everyone sees. Most people never see what goes on behind the scenes with the puppy raisers. Most people never experience the strong emotional ties created between the raisers and these dogs as they grow.
We all want the puppy raisers to hear first who get to receive the fruits of their labors. For that reason, we do not give out the names of our dogs until we know that the puppy raisers have heard that their former charges are in class. Once I am notified that the word has gone out to the raisers I will reveal my dog’s name to the world.
Up and at em at 5:45AM. By 7AM dog has been fed and taken outside for relieving. No relief here. Is he going to attempt to beat Klondike’s record of three days before relieving? Exciting times ahead.
At 7:30 we headed into breakfast now with fed, watered and, uh, relieved dogs. The animals all seem to get along well although they all do not know each other as they were housed in different kennels.
Now, by 8:15am we were in lectures and discussions talking about guide work such as the proper way to turn and stand with a guide dog. Footwork and body positioning are all important as the dog keys off how we are positioned. As I have said many times, “the guide dog is NOT the brains of the outfit”. “The guide dog and handler both have jobs to do to make an effective team function well. The handler is most definitely the leader of the team. I need to know where I am going and how to get there. The dog’s job is to help get us somewhere safely.” I cannot emphasize this too strongly. Sighted people totally misunderstand how a person who happens to be blind operates. Whether or not I use a guide dog, whether I sometimes walk sighted guide with a person who happens to be able to see or whether I use Aira it is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL that I oversee where I am going. A guide dog helps me travel efficiently just as a sighted guide might do, but in the case of a guide dog I do and should make all the decisions. This can be more difficult with a sighted guide, but we won’t spend more time on that here. Aira also demands that I be the decision-maker which is as it should be.
We finally get to leave the dorm and head by bus to the GDB lounge in Gresham at around 9:30AM. This is so exciting. How will new pup walk? Will I be dragged around or keep up? Will he properly stop at curbs and such or will we have work to do? All good questions.
We arrive at the lounge. Sandy will be the first to go out with Nancy on a well-controlled rout. I spend my waiting time further bonding with puppy. He seems to love to interact and play. The lounge has beanbag chairs into which he loves to jump and nest. He is quite the hoot.
Finally, close to 11AM it’s our turn. We received our harnesses earlier in the day. After some adjustments to straps we are off. My new colleague walks at a fast pace and with confidence. I like this. As George C. Scott would say, “I don’t want any cowards in my army”. (grin) This dog goes right up to curbs and stops on a dime. It takes a bit of adjustment on my part after having Africa who would slow down well before curbs or miss them completely.
We have an eight-block rout which Dog works well. I couldn’t be happier with his performance.
After lunch we repeat the process. First, however we take dogs out to relieve themselves. My friend seems due to repeat Klondike’s performance. At first, he seems not interested in doing anything. Nancy suggests that we take him to a place outside the normal student relieving area. The new place is where he was relieved while in training. This does the trick. IT WORKS! I finally have an empty dog after the process. This is, as you can imagine, a relief for me. (Pardon the pun.)
Our afternoon walk which takes around 45 minutes goes well. All the way along the route I provide lots of food rewards whenever Puppy does something well. The idea is to tell him whenever I approve and to help not only reinforce training, but it also helps build up my credibility bank account with him. Food does wonders for a lab.
Around 3:45PM we head back to the school and dorm, so we can feed, water and, here we go again, relieve our dogs. Mr. Silly Dog eats well all be it slowly and again does not relieve.
I should discuss food rewards a bit. GDB has used food rewards since the late 1990s to enhance training. It, along with the clicker which I will discuss later, has permitted the process of training a dog to be cut from six months to around 3 months once they return from the homes of their puppy raisers. By providing food rewards during our work at the school and then after we return home we have a very powerful tool to help teach our new guides what we expect from them and to show them what makes us happy. Over time we will decrease the use of food for common tasks as we do not want the dogs to expect food every time they do something of which we approve. We will continue to use food rewards to help emphasize something or when we are training the dogs to do a new task.
We eat dinner at 5PM tonight and then have another lecture on playing with our dogs including a talk about which toys the school deems safe and the ones of which it does not approve. Small balls such as tennis balls are a no no both because they can be chewed up easily and because the dogs can tare off the covers without difficulty. Nylabones are great play-thins. We each also get a set of three interconnected strong rubber rings for tugging with our dogs. My dog is quite the tiger as I discovered.
At 8:30 we relieve our dogs and this time Mr. Wonderful does his job. Perhaps we are making progress!
It has been quite a busy day for us. I drop into bed by 9:30PM and fall right to sleep. I have had opportunities to call my wife, Karen and I have shared photos of the new guy with her. Over the next week and a half, I am now sure we will bond and that that bond will help the new fellow fit in at home.