“The Accidental Tourist” – Day 4

 In Human-Animal Bond, Training My New Guide Dog "Africa"

Saturday, November 15, 2008, 8:21 PM

Today was the fourth day of training for Africa and me. In a regular class environment training occurs Monday through Saturday. There are a few exceptions. Students arrive for class on Monday. The actual training process begins on Tuesday. First-time students come for four weeks graduating on the fourth Saturday of class. Retrain students come for two, three, and sometimes even the entire four weeks of class depending on their needs and desires.

In-home training is more intensive and lasts for one to three weeks. This training also permits the focusing on specific areas of interest to the handler as well as working with the new guide dog in the more realistic home environment. Of course, since in-home training requires a dedicated instructor spending time with only one student is more expensive for GDB to provide. Students with active lifestyles involving work or school often find that in-home training is the most viable option. I’m very glad that GDB began offering it a few years ago. For me, training with Africa at home has allowed me to spend more time observing her in our actual environment. I think that we have been able to begin a more effective bond since I have the opportunity to begin training her right from the outset here in Novato. I am very blessed that in-home training was offered to me. Besides, if we were training as part of a regular class we would never be able to go on some of the interesting routes we have seen and will see over the next week.

Todd showed up as usual right at nine o’clock. We went off to Novato and Costco. There were a few purchases I had to make, but the main reason for going to Costco was to observe Africa and to give us the opportunity to work together in a very busy store environment. It doesn’t get more active than Costco with all the hustle and bustle and people going every which way not necessarily watching where they’re going.

We arrived at Costco at about 9:30 a.m. We walked around the store quite a bit. Along the way we picked up the things I needed to buy. I had no concerns about Africa’s ability to guide in the store. What I was more interested in seeing was how she behaved while walking behind a shopping cart. Rather than using the harness and letting Africa guide I asked Todd to steer the card from the front while African I pushed from the back. Africa had no fear of the shopping cart nor did she deviate in order to snag any loose items of interest from the floor. She heeled well and worked exactly as I would expect her to in that kind of environment.

After Costco we drove to downtown Novato for another visit to Dr. Insomnia’s coffee shop. Again we walked around downtown with no difficulties and finally arrived at Powell’s candy store. This shop has very narrow aisles and is usually crowded as well. Today was no exception.

Africa did a good job of working through the store and waited patiently while we scooped and bagged some malted milk balls for me, some gummy bears for Todd’s wife and daughter, some candy fruit slices for Karen, and some chocolate covered pretzels for emergency purposes. The reality is that most of the candy will end up in our freezer and stay there for months. In our house out of sight really is out of mind.

We paid for our stash and then return to the van for the trip back home. After relieving Africa and Roselle we were ready for our next sortie. Todd, Karen and I boarded our minivan for a trip to our favorite winery, Gloria Ferrari. We didn’t expect this to be a strenuous trip nor did we expect it to be very challenging for Africa. What was unique in Africa’s experience was that she would be spending time walking beside a power wheelchair. Karen uses an electric wheelchair both in home and when she travels outside. If the two of us go somewhere together mostly I will walk behind her chair holding onto handgrips on the back of the chair. Typically I would not expect my dog to guide but rather to walk it heel. My interest this trip was to see how Africa handled the presence of the wheelchair outside the home. She had, of course, already been around the chair since her arrival last Wednesday. This would be her first time walking with the chair.

Before going to the winery we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and small tourist area across the street from Gloria’s. Lunch was enjoyable and Africa behaved well as usual. I am very impressed with the fact that she does not like to pick things up off the ground. I should say that even if she does like to pick up and eat things she resists temptation well. This is a direct result of good food rewards practices.

After lunch we spent some time walking around some gardens near the restaurant. It was then time to go off to the winery for a little wine tasting.

Gloria Ferrari makes regular wine and sparkling wine sometimes called champagne. If we are to believe the French the only sparkling wine that can be called champagne comes from the Champagne region in France. However, many of us reject the notion that champagne has to come from France. As members of the Gloria Ferrari wine club we get complimentary tastings of a number of their wines. We especially like one of their champagnes. We each stuck with only one glass and thus did not imbibe to excess. Africa did a good job of working through the winery and avoiding obstacles.

We returned home a little after 3 p.m. having spent another good productive day of training. Since we get Sunday off Todd informed me that he would be at my door on Monday at 9 a.m. sharp as usual. He continues to say that he’s very pleased with our training and our progress. For my part I am quite pleased. Next week should bring some other interesting adventures. I know we will be spending more time in San Francisco. We will also be practicing some rural routes.

I hope that you who are reading this find my experiences and journal interesting and informative. There is plenty more to come. Stay tuned.

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