11. Unleashed from My Trainer

Now that I am posting less often, I will be giving you daily summaries and progress reports, with a bit less training psychology and rationale. As I said earlier, I just don’t have much time to write.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday, I got caught up on the grooming and obedience work that I missed due to dog re-issue. Now we will be practicing obedience several times a day on our own, starting in a quiet location such as our room. As we are ready, we are to organize small group obedience among ourselves. We will also be doing group obedience with more and more distractions throughout class.

Friday was also an introduction to traffic awareness. This is to acquaint us with how our dogs behave when a vehicle crosses our path of travel. We were still tethered to our trainers, and a school vehicle was driven close in front, crossing our path. The dogs are taught to stop for the vehicle. There will be more traffic work later in class without tethers and without warning, including from a Prius electric car. For those who don’t think about such things, electric cars are particularly dangerous for the blind, because we can’t hear them. Thankfully, our dogs are taught to watch for traffic situations. “Trust your dog; follow your dog” is the mantra. “L” did great!

Friday afternoon, I had my first walk with the trainer unleashed from us. On our own – yay! Tina still walked in what is called “trainer position”, which is just behind and off my left or right shoulder. She can still give tons of feedback and can intervene if necessary, but I was “the driver”. “L” and I did great. We both made some mistakes, but we are doing well; the mistakes were minor. This was still a simple route in downtown Rochester, but it was longer and partially along a busy downtown street. I tend to push “L” left, crowding her on her left turns – I must work on that; she also is learning how I walk, and learning to push back to correct me. We are learning each other, and the dance feels great so far.

We finished the afternoon with group obedience. Only 13 other dogs and people for distraction. “L” did great and made no mistakes! Good girl!

Saturday, February 24

Saturday morning, we stayed on campus. Each of us had a touch-base session with our trainer to discuss our progress – things that are going well, things we need to work on, any concerns, specific things we want to accomplish during training, etc. We are doing well. I must work on not pushing “L” left on left cut-back turns (likely an old habit) and slowing my pace for curb approaches and walking turns so that I don’t force her to overwalk and miss them. My bad.

We were then introduced to the outdoor play pens and learned about appropriate play with our dogs. (One dog, one person per pen.) We can use the play pens any time we want. Fun! “L” likes her Kong toy, and was bringing it to ME, not her trainer. Our bond is progressing nicely.

Balls are discouraged, because it is very easy to create a ball-obsessed, chase-oriented dog – this can easily transfer into ball distractions around parks, and chase distractions around critters like the quail we have at home. Rope toys and fabric toys are a no-no as well, because they can cause choking or major gastrointestinal problems when parts are ingested. Approved toys are Kong toys and large Nyla bones, and similar toys that won’t create health or work problems. Dog parks are not recommended for our dogs, because of the risk from other, possibly aggressive dogs. Guide dogs get enough stimulation through their work and through safe play at home. Yes, they can play with other dogs, but only under our supervision with dogs we know to be of good temperament. A bad encounter with an aggressive dog can ruin a guide dog.

Saturday afternoon we walked on a long bike path – no curbs, no turns; just a straight shot walk. The trainers were stationed along the route, watching our progress and helping those who needed a bit of extra help. It was a great opportunity for the dogs to burn off some energy. “L” got distracted by a squirrel, and she only needed verbal correction to regain focus; then she needed lots of encouragement to get going again. (This is part of her being a sensitive dog.) She will gain more confidence with me as we get to know each other better. Just a slightly sprained ankle on my part when “L” veered off the path onto the grass to avoid another team coming toward us – not really her fault; I should’ve slowed the pace when passing – bad me again.

In the evening, there was a class bingo game with prizes all dog related – Kong toys, treat pouches, etc. This is a bit of a stress reliever for students, but also a social setting with lots of comradery to expose the dogs to. Earlier in the week, two students had a bet on the women’s gold-medal hockey game – if the one person lost, she was going to cluck like a chicken and do a chicken dance at the bingo game (what a dog distraction); if the other person lost, he was going to sing the American Star-Spangled Banner (he’s Canadian and doesn’t know the words) – we were treated to a hilarious rousing effort of the American anthem. Laughter, applause, singing, general fun – they are all training opportunities for us to control our dog’s behaviour. We don’t want the dogs to join in, so no whining, barking, or doggie accompaniment is allowed. Our dogs need to be well behaved in public, and this was another opportunity to reinforce good behaviour. Lucky me – I won a $10 gift card for the Leader Dog gift shop on the black out game.

Sunday, February 24, 2018

Sunday is a day off from working training routes with our trainers, but it still requires doing all the dog care, obedience, grooming, TTouch®, heeling, and spending bonding time with our dogs. It is a day for both dogs and students to rest and adjust to the many changes of our new partnerships.

In the afternoon, we toured the state-of-the-art Canine Development Centre where All Things Dog happen– the area for breeder moms and dads where dogs come in for breeding; puppy land with slides, walking surfaces and toys for early exposure and stimulation; kennel suites for dogs in training; vet clinic. Everything is so immaculately clean and sanitized, complete with disinfectant mats for shoes in transition areas and hand sanitizer stations for visitors and staff. Air quality is carefully monitored, soft classical music plays quietly to help calm the dogs, and the floors are heated and non-porous for cleanliness. At every stage, volunteers handle and care for the puppies with grooming, play and stimulation. It is an amazing facility. Here is a video that shows just some of it:

Leader Dogs Canine Development Center

Then we went to the Leader Dog gift shop to buy some merch. Money raised through the sale of items in the gift shop helps support Leader Dog programs. Of course, I used my newly-won gift card and took my credit card! Stuff for me, Bode and “L”, and a Leader Dog coffee mug for Jim. Love the merch!

I will post again in a few days with another update. We are doing well and have had people tell us we look good together. Routes and exposures will get more challenging this week, and I will update later as I can.

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