14. Country Travel, Overhead Clearances, and Shopping

I’m a bit behind with daily summaries. Here is what I have been doing…

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday morning, we worked on country travel using a technique called “indenting”. This travel technique is used when walking on country roads with or without shoulders, or in suburbs when there are no sidewalks. In any situation like this, we are taught to walk along the left edge. The left edge is our safe reference point. Because there are no curb stops for orientation, we must use “indenting” to know when we are at an intersecting road. When we get to an intersecting road, the dog stays left, following the left edge around the corner. Once I feel the change of direction, (which is the corner,) we stop, turn and cross the intersecting road, and follow the new left edge around and back onto our original line of travel. If we just walked straight across as sighted pedestrians do, we would have no idea that we had come to a corner – which can be both dangerous and disorienting.

When working country travel, it is important to periodically check the left edge to make sure that we haven’t drifted out into the road. “L” stopped for and worked around a parked car and numerous drains and grates. We work around them just as we did with obstacles, but in this instance, we always work out to the right into the road and then direct the dog to immediately find the left edge again. Going around to the left when we are already on the left road edge could put us in danger – there could be open ditches, drop-offs, private yards, or roadside clutter to get mixed up in. “L” did well; I got a little marble-mouthed with the “left, left, follow the shoulder” command.

The roads on our island do not lend themselves very well for this technique, because we only have one square corner on the whole island. The roads blend so gradually, that it is virtually impossible for me to sense the change of direction that indicates an intersecting road or corner. However, I do have other tools to alert me of an intersection such as talking GPS. Talking GPS, however, is only an aid, and it is crucial that “L” and I establish safe working skills that are not reliant on technology.

For those who know Bode, you have not seen us using “indenting” on our roads. But you will likely see “L” and I using this technique. In the beginning, it is very important that we do things by the book to establish a good working foundation. Over time, just as with Bode, we will develop our own style for PI, but that will come in time. Until then, if you see us going down a side road when you know our intention is to go straight, don’t panic. It is all part of working that left edge for both safety and orientation.

Again, an alert for islanders. I will ALWAYS move to MY left when I hear you approaching. Whether you are approaching from in front or behind, whether you are driving a car or golf cart or riding a bike, this is what I will be doing. If “L” and I have drifted to the right, I may be crossing your path. Slow down and be careful, for everyone’s sake. Thanks.

Wednesday afternoon, I got to work doubles with another student. This is when two students with similar walking speeds are sent out together, and we take turns being in the lead for each block. The dogs are competitive, and the dog behind often wants to rush and pass the team in front. Working doubles is a good exercise for us to control our pace. When the dogs are competitive like this, they pull harder, and we have to work to steady the pace and keep proper posture and positioning – normally, my left hand holding the harness should be even with my hip; if I let the harder pull extend my arm forward, I will be out of “Master Position”, which results in me stepping on “L”’s feet and not following her well.

During this longer walk, I was busy encouraging “L” at one point when she was unsure, and voila, they gave us a traffic check. I didn’t hear the car coming because I was focused on “L”. But she stopped for the car. Good girl “L”!

“L” was scent distracted a few times and made some errors, but then so did I. I am working on posture when I talk to her – I tend to drop my shoulder and bend toward her, which gives her mixed signals. Overall, though, we are doing very well. She is starting to correct my left tendencies, and we are communicating better each day.

We also worked on overhead clearances. The dogs are taught to watch for obstacles at head level such as low-hanging branches. Overhead clearances are hard for the dogs – when you consider the height of a person versus the height of a dog, “L” is having to watch for things at three times her height. She missed them each time but got them perfectly when I reworked them. She will do fine with overhead clearances with a bit of practice. This is all part of experience and maturation.

The last order of business for Wednesday was giving the dogs their monthly NexGard for the prevention of fleas and ticks, and Heartgard for the prevention of heartworm disease. Once home, we will follow the recommendations of our local vets for these regimens.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Thursday morning, we went to Target to practice indoor travel and shopping. Practice shopping? Yes, but not the way you think. Blind people shop in different ways depending on whether they have any useful vision or not. I don’t have any vision, so I either shop with Jim or get help from store personnel to find what I need. In this case, I asked “L” to follow my trainer so that I could pick out items. I also practiced having the trainer pull a shopping cart with me heeling “L” and holding on to the push handle of the cart. That’s what Jim and I often do if we are shopping together. Some dogs are skittish around the carts at first, but “L” was fine. While in stores, it is important that we make sure our dogs don’t sniff the merchandise, including items in the dog aisle. I bought some regular training treats and some high-value training treats, just so that I could finish today’s training exercise of going through a checkout counter. “L” needs to sit quietly between me and the counter while I finalize the purchase. She did great.

There was a nor’easter storm blowing this afternoon, so it was nice that we were on campus for the rest of the day.

We met with people from the Client Services department to go over aftercare and support once we are home with our dogs. We can call Leader Dog at any time for advice; if a problem can’t be solved over the phone, then a trainer will visit us in our home areas to work on any problems. The school really does stand by its graduates, providing follow-up support at every stage of our working partnership.

We also had one-on-one vet consults to go over any concerns we might have with our dogs before going home. “L” is one pound over her target weight, which isn’t bad; she was 6 pounds over when I received her – transitioning to us as their new blind handlers is stressful for the dogs. They really emphasize weight management, as obesity is so common especially with Labradors. It is nice to know that she will be going home with me at the end of next week with a clean bill of health.

The final event of the afternoon was individual photos for ID cards, class photos for the Leader Dog news letter, and interviews for media releases. Leader Dog is a charity, so it is nice to give them permission to use our photos and stories for promotions. Along with the formal-type photos, they wanted a cute photo for the school annual graduate poster – it’s amazing how kissy a dog can get when you put a dab of peanut butter on your cheek!

Go To chapter 15: Distractions

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