“Miss Congeniality” – Day 1

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

11/12/2008, 4:28 PM

Todd and Africa showed up at 9:00AM. We picked up right where we left off on October 27. Africa spent several minutes running around the house finding all of Roselle’s and Fantasia’s toys. She even discovered our cat Sherlock. That meeting went a lot better than I had expected. Sherlock’s philosophy is why stay when you can hide. He didn’t run away from Africa which is really a good sign. Also, Africa did not try to chase him. Some positive avoidance can be a good thing in the beginning of a dog-cat relationship.

After going over all the equipment that was issued in order to work with Africa including her harness and leash, some booties we will use during escalator work, her gentle leader sometimes referred to as a Haultie or head collar, some new toys immediately discovered and snatched by Roselle, and a clicker which I will discuss more later in my training, we left for our first walk. Typically in class this would be a very short get acquainted kind of walk. However I was doing in-home training and I had 44 years of guide dog experience to rely on so we decided to extend the usual 10 to 15 minute walk.

Todd, Africa, and I drove up to Novato where we spent the next hour and a half walking around downtown. We found a few good unusual travel areas including an offset sidewalk and a street with an island in the middle of the crossing where we had to stop and wait for a second traffic light. Another interesting thing about the island and the curbs on both sides of the street was that all of the curbs were flat. Africa did a great job of stopping even at the flat curbs. These curbs are so constructed such that the street and sidewalks meet without any step down or ramp from the sidewalk to the street. Guide dog training has advanced so far that these incredible dogs know about these flat curbs and stop for them just as they do for any other curb. I was appropriately impressed.

Along the way we stopped at Dr. Insomnia’s coffee shop for a spot of tea for me and a cup of coffee for Todd. On the way into the shop we passed an outside table where three dogs were lounging. Again, Africa did a great job of ignoring these dogs. She took one look and then as soon as I said “hop-up” she refocused and headed straight for the door into the shop.

The only real challenge we faced during this first walk was that there were a few places along the way where some bushes is stuck out on my right side and which Africa failed to pass without me brushing against them. When she is guiding perfectly I should not hit these bushes. Instead Africa should’ve moved a bit more to the left so that I would avoid them. After a few corrections she recognized her mistakes and worked flawlessly the rest of the way.

After out nearly 2-mile walk we got back in Todd’s van and decided to continue the day in downtown San Rafael. We drove to the Guide Dogs lounge on 4th St in San Rafael where we parked the car and decided to walk on 4th St down toward A Street where there were several restaurants we could explore for lunch. We finally decided on Barney’s burgers which was passed A Street still on fourth going toward Lincoln. Todd and I decided to sit outside both because the day was nice and because I was curious to see how Africa would do with all the distractions of sitting at an outside table. As I have come to expect she did a great job.

After our turkey burgers Todd and I walked back to the lounge where we boarded the van for the trip home. In all it was a great first day. I couldn’t have asked for a better workout. I was very impressed with the level of Africa’s performance especially not for knowing me other than for one brief walk two weeks before.

Africa and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other better in a relaxed home environment. She discovered Fantasia’s squeaky ball and proceeded to run around the house with it. Thus far she and Roselle have not played much together but I am sure that will come. It will get even more interesting once Fantasia returns home. I expect we should see some real competition for the squeaky ball.

Already I think the potential for a really strong match exists between Africa and me. She has more of the personality that I seek in a guide dog then did my previous dog. Meryl was much too serious and didn’t handle stress well. It was because of her inability to deal with stress that I had to retire her. I learned yesterday that she has gone back to live with her puppy raisers in Nevada. Good for Meryl! She deserves a more sedate life. She has earned it.

I have spent quite a lot of time on the first two entries in this journal because I want to make sure that I document the processes I encountered along the road to receiving Africa. A lot went into preparing both of us for this day. All the preparation is what will make it possible for us to form a good solid bond. It is my belief that it takes up to a year to form our bond and for each of us, human and guide dog alike, to become so comfortable with each other that we get to that state where we can intuit the other’s feelings and state of mind. Creating a bond with a guide dog is just like building any worthwhile strong team except in the case of the human-dog team building process I am working with a creature who thinks and communicates in a completely different manner than does any human. As I am fond of saying in my speeches I have learned more about teambuilding and team relationships from working now with seven dogs than I have ever learned from all of the management theory courses I have taken and all of the Ken Blanchard and other management experts’ books combined.

10:00 PM. It is now late in the evening and time to go to bed and prepare for tomorrow. What a great first day this has been with Africa. I will report on developments tomorrow after we returned home from our travels.

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