Friday, March 2, 2018
On Friday, Rochester was cleaning up after the winter storm that blew through on Thursday, so we stayed on campus for part of the day and then went to an indoor mall to avoid snowy and icy streets.
Friday morning, we went over dog tooth brushing. Rather a messy and slimy process, but it definitely helps with doggie breath. Yum, chicken-flavoured toothpaste!
We also practiced “targeting” using the “touch” command. “Touch” is when I hold out my right hand and the dog touches its nose to my hand. They are taught this “touch” command so we can use it to teach our dogs new things. When I am teaching “L” to “target” a specific location such as a particular chair to return to, a pushbutton pole, a room door in a hotel, etc., I will use the “touch” command together with a process called “back chaining”. Today we worked on target training our dogs to find our assigned chairs in the dining room and our room doors in the residence. Here’s how it works for teaching the chair: I first locate the chair, then put my right hand against the chair, and ask “L” to “touch” my right hand with her nose – then lots of praise while using the word of the object or location – “Good girl “L”, good chair”. Then I take a few steps back, and tell “L” “forward, find the chair”. At this point I know exactly where it is, and when she moves to the chair, again, lots of praise. I gradually increase the distance away and ask “L” to find the chair. Note that I must be in the vicinity with the item visible to her; I add directional cues if I know them to help her.
Having the starting place of the “touch” command, and then with lots of practice of “find the…”, “L” will be able to learn how to find many places and things for me. Once home, I will be using this targeting technique to expand “L”’s vocabulary – find the mailbox, find the bench, find the counter, find the ferry, find home, find the stairs, find the pole… – anything that we regularly need to find. You will likely see us doing this – identifying something, moving away from it, and re-approaching it with lots of praise and positive reinforcement. “L” will learn places I regularly go and things I regularly need to find. At times I may also use a white cane to first locate an item so that I can teach it to “L”. She won’t automatically know things, and she won’t know what Bode already knows. She has the basics, but targeting allows me to customize her skills.
Friday afternoon we went to Lake Side Mall and worked on stairs, escalators, and elevators. This was also a great opportunity to work through a busy environment with curious children, wandering shoppers, a food court, noisy fountains and music, and glass railings that can be confusing for the dogs.
“L” did great. She stopped for all the flights of stairs, and only had to rework one clearance error. We also went over how to properly protect and position our dogs when entering and exiting elevators. We don’t want to block people getting off the elevator while we are waiting to get on, and we don’t want our dogs stepped on or hit by closing doors.
We also worked going up and down escalators, which “L” loves! However, escalators can be especially dangerous for dogs, because they can get their feet caught in the teeth of the stairs. Whenever possible, it is advised that we use stairs or an elevator instead. It is nice that she can use an escalator if we must, but for her safety, I will avoid them when I can.
This is how “L” and I will do escalators if we must. To make it as safe as possible, “L” must be moving as she gets on and off. I approach the escalator using the “find the escalator” command; “L” stops at the metal plate; I reach out with my right hand and locate the rubber handrail. It is important at this point to pause; this creates some space between me and anyone that got onto the escalator in front of us (this pause tends to upset impatient people behind me). I can then either heel or work her onto the escalator, letting my right hand extend out along the handrail ahead of my position, and putting one foot up on the next up step (for going up), or a toe at the edge of the step I am on (for going down). When I feel the handrail begin to tighten and the steps begin to flatten, I know I am nearing the top or bottom. I then start walking heeling or working her off. It is important that her feet be moving to minimize the risk of her getting her toes caught. Without that initial pause to create space in front of us, we would not have room to be walking as we reach the top or bottom. Sorry people, you just have to be patient if you’re behind us.
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Saturday morning was spent on campus covering some odds and ends. We started the day with touch-base sessions with our trainer to discuss individual progress. I still tend to drift left when I walk, pushing “L” off course; I need to really be aware of that and try to let her just guide me. (I should point out that everyone has a natural drift left or right when walking; sighted people correct this tendency automatically and likely aren’t even aware of it happening.) “L”, on the other hand, is starting to learn to compensate and push me back to the right. We are both still learning and adjusting. Overall, though, we are doing well.
For those who will be crating their dogs as an alternative to using tie-down cables, we learned about various types of crates (some not recommended) and had our dogs go in and out of crates. We also practiced car entry and exit – the dogs are never allowed on vehicle seats, and we learned the best and safest ways of having our dogs on the floor of a vehicle and making sure their tails and paws are tucked in before the door closes.
I also tried out a Gentle Leader® headcollar with “L”. A Gentle Leader fits around the dog’s nose and behind the ears; it is NOT a muzzle. “L” can sometimes be scent-distracted, and I must correct her for sniffing while working. The GL will give me more control of her head – by keeping her head up, I can then praise her for not sniffing, reinforcing the positive behaviour instead of always correcting for the negative sniffing distraction. Corrections are never given with the GL headcollar, because a leash correction with a GL can cause injury to the dog’s neck; it is a head control tool only. Eventually, as she matures and we get to know each other better, the GL may not be needed. But until then, it is another tool in the doggie toolbox. It is something I can use if I feel we need it.
Saturday afternoon we went to Birmingham to work a route with a lot of distractions. It was only a 6-block walk, but it was intense. It went around a park and along a very busy street in a busy shopping area. Trainers were stationed on corners supervising our progress. There was traffic to listen for, people and dogs in the park, people letting their dogs out on flex leashes on the sidewalks (ugh), people meandering in groups, and poles, bushes, street signage…and those are only the things I know about. “L” got distracted at times, but she did well. I did better not pushing her left as much, and she did better correcting my left tendency. We are finding our rhythm.
Honestly, this walk was a bit scary. This was the first walk where I had to really start trusting “L”. There were lots of distractions, and there was no trainer nearby to interpret the environment or help us read each other. It’s one thing to know a dog is trained, but it’s a whole other thing to trust that dog with your safety and your life. When “L” makes a move, I must decide is she distracted and making a work error, or do I go with her and trust her judgement. This is all part of the bond and trust we are developing; trust doesn’t come right away. Full trust WILL come. Walks like this are what we need to forge that trust. It was a great walk!
Saturday evening was puppy raiser night, where students and puppy raisers have an opportunity to meet each other. Since “L” is a prison-raised puppy, I won’t meet her raiser, but I have written a letter to be forwarded expressing my thanks and gratitude.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Sunday is a day off for both of us. We have nothing planned and will spend our day relaxing together doing doggie things of course.
Just a few more days before we go home. Next week will go by quickly. Stay tuned for just a few more updates.