13. Obstacles

After yesterday’s details about doors, today I want to write about the work that “L” and I have been doing for the past couple of days.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Three people taking the Leader Dog Orientation and Mobility program joined the residence this week. This is a one-week program that teaches a blind person how to travel safely and independently with a white cane. They are not in our class, but we will see them around the residence. Heeling our dogs in the hallways is now just a bit more challenging with white canes in action.

On Monday morning we went to downtown Rochester again. I did a longish route to work on slowing my curb approaches and not crowding “L” on left turns. A guide dog should always go all the way to the curb and stop; never just cruise around a corner before going to the curb. Once stopped at the curb edge, then the handler directs the dog to go forward across the street or to make a left or right turn. In downtown situations, making these left and right turns from the curb edge are usually straight forward, but in residential areas, they can be tricky.

A sidewalk that meets the street in one direction but requires pedestrians to backtrack to continue with a left or right turn

See how the sidewalk goes all the way to the curb but has grass on both sides? If you are standing at this curb edge and you want to stay on the sidewalk while making a turn, you must back up first. This is called a cutback turn.) We did a lot of right cutback turns where the intersecting sidewalk was set quite far back from the curb line where “L” stops. It works like this – stop at the curb; give the “right” command; “L” turns 180 degrees and heads back the way I was coming from; I then tell her “left” to complete the original right turn. This is a case where you must go left to go right!! Currently, I tend to crowd that left turn, so we are working on it. I’m getting better.

Monday afternoon, we had an introduction to obstacle work. We worked partial and total barricades, making sure to follow our dogs as they worked around obstacles. If “L” can choose a clear path and stay on the sidewalk, she does. If she cannot make a safe clearance, she is supposed to stop and show the obstacle to me (I then reach out with my hand or probe with my foot to locate the obstacle); then I tell her “forward”, and she should choose the best safe path (left or right) to go around the obstacle, and then return to the sidewalk and our original straight line of travel. “L” is smart – she saw the path around something and made her move, but our trainer made her go back and show it to me first. We also came across some unplanned obstacles at a construction site where the city was finally taking down their Christmas lights. She did very well.

We had two lectures on Monday. The first was from the puppy department, and we learned where our dogs were raised, their birthdays, who their parents are, and if their raisers can come to puppy night next Saturday. Interestingly, there are 5 prison-raised dogs in our class. Unfortunately, I won’t have a puppy raiser at puppy night, but I can send a note to her raiser through the school. I will not have direct contact with her raiser.

We also had a vet lecture, in which we learned about how our dogs have been screened for health issues to this point, and general vet care that we should be doing once we get home. We also talked about the many ingestible things that are poisonous for dogs (and there are a lot of them). Individual one-on-one vet consults will be done later.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

This morning, we worked two 6-block routes with the trainers standing on corners or across the street supervising and watching our progress. This was a nice opportunity to work “L” without as much direct supervision, yet trainers were observing and ready to help as necessary. “L” and I did great. We both made errors, but she did well ignoring the squirrels playing on the sidewalk.

This afternoon, we did routes tailored to what each of us needs to work on. I worked an 8-block route more closely with my trainer, where we encountered both obstacles and lots of natural distractions – dogs, people, and kids calling to her. If she is distracted by something, then a verbal or leash correction must be used to regain control and focus. This is not fair when she is taunted by people, kids, or uncontrolled dogs. I will write a lot more about distractions on another day.

Work errors are expected at this point in our training. When “L” makes a work error, it is important that I show her the error and rework it so that she gets it right. If I ignore a mistake and simply carry on, then “L” will soon learn that it doesn’t matter if she misses a curb, cuts a turn too short, or brushes me too close to something. Right now, work errors are mostly us learning to read each other. For example, if “L” cuts a corner or misses a curb approach, I bring her back and show it to her, remind her what is expected, and sometimes back up and rework it. Then Lots of praise when she does it right! When we get home, you may see me reworking things or showing her things; this is all part of us learning to work together, and her maturing as a guide dog. Every mistake is an opportunity for learning, and we will be life-long learners together.

The last exercise we did today was to practice “meet and greet”. Our dogs had to remain quietly sitting beside us while we enthusiastically shook hands with passing trainers. When we greet people, once home, “L” must remain quiet and under my control. Just because I say hello, doesn’t mean she can.

That’s it for today. I will write more in a couple of days.

Go To chapter 14: Country Travel, Overhead Clearances, and Shopping

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