It is hard to believe that I have known my new pup now for almost a week. In some ways he is different than all previous dogs and, in some ways, there are tremendous similarities. It all goes to show progress I guess.
Similarities include basic command structure and footwork. When telling a guide dog to go “forward” the user moves the left foot out to near the front of the dog to provide a good body cue for the dog. Then as the handler gestures forward with the right hand the command “forward” is given. Of course, the user is holding the harness and leash in the left hand. Especially with new dogs they snap right out and briskly go down the street or wherever. Of course, every dog is different. Some move out faster than others depending upon the pace of the person and thus the dog.
As I write this I am sure some are asking “what about left-handed people where the harness would thus probably go in the right hand”? Good observation. Some dogs are indeed trained to walk on the right side of the person. It’s all in the training, but the appropriate footwork and operations are adapted.
Other similarities include keeping the dogs on a regular feeding, watering and relieving schedule. (Ya that worked for this pup the first two days when nothing came out. At least we didn’t end up with a recording of non-compliance. 😊)
Much of the walking and working process is the same. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
I have already discussed differences. Clicker training and food rewards are relatively new. The effect they have on a dog’s work and, in fact, the team’s work is incredible. As Puppy and I began walking this week with Nancy following close behind she clicked with the clicker EVERY time Mr. Dog stopped at a curb. I immediately gave a food reward to drive home our approval. Now by day five Nancy no longer clicks, but we stop right at EVERY curb. In fact, Pup goes right along at his normal relatively fast pace and suddenly stops right at the curbs. Fear not. I have plenty of clues we are approaching a curb, but the point is that the dog has understood that he and I do need to stop at every curb. He does not distinguish between regular curbs and even flat curbs. There can even be a very gradual down ramp to the curb, and Puppy stops right at the edge of the street. Even Roselle, Meryl and Africa did not do this nearly so well. Better and improved training techniques make the difference.
After the usual wonderful breakfast at the usual time we met in the Fireplace room to discuss dog distractions and guide work. It was a bit of a drizzly day, but by 9:10 we were in vans heading down town. One of our classmates took sick earlier in the week and has not been with us. GDB takes any illness EXTREMELY seriously and isolates the ill person. We had been using a small bus for transport, but with a sick person the school has taken the bus out of service until it is deemed to be disinfected. I hope our classmate is back today. We miss her smile.
While walking from the dorm to the vans we were presented with, guess what, a good dog distraction. Nancy brought her 13-year old pit bull who is quite the love, but who is a great potential distraction to all the dogs. Every dog got caught and had to be shown the error of their ways. One new technique to regain a dog’s attention, especially when distracted and not responding to simple verbal commands is what GDB calls a “timeout”. In this process we drop the harness handle, pull the dog right to our side with the leash, tell the dog to sit and then say absolutely nothing for about ten seconds. Then we pick up the handle and tell the dog to go forward to get out of the distracting area. Once past the distraction we stop, praise and reward the dog for moving on and regaining attention to us. This process works well and lessens the need for harsher leash and collar corrections.
After getting downtown we walk the same rout. this time will be our last one before moving on. At the end of the rout I go into iCandy, (I said Eye Candy earlier), and buy a stash for the team for weekend consumption. I discover that Nancy likes chocolate-covered gummy bares. Good to know.
After lunch we discuss the plans for next week’s work. We then return to the dorm to have meetings with the veterinarian staff. First the head of the medical staff talks a bit about the vets at the school and tells us general topics of interest. We then each go down to the clinic and meet with the vets to discuss our individual dog’s records. Puppy has had a pretty good record over all. He did react just a bit to the diet change when coming back to GDB, but nothing serious. If he is like my previous labs he will outgrow any sensitivities to different foods. After all, as we all know labs don’t taste their food as they are too busy wolfing it down 😊. Seriously, this dog eats slower which can be a good thing. I have no worries about his condition and medical history.
After dinner we have a lecture about ear cleaning and brushing dog teeth. We all clean our dog’s ears and we brush their teeth even without getting a hand bitten off. The dogs really love all the attention and have no problems with ear and teeth stuff.
All too quickly the day is over, and it is off to bed. Tomorrow, Saturday, we travel to Portland for building work, walks on escalators and elevators. It should be a fun day.