Tuesday, March 6, 2018
There was bad weather coming, so we went out Tuesday morning to get some good walking in before the snow really started. We did solo walks in a neighbourhood where we had good practice with controlling our dog’s pace and working with distractions. When the air is crisp, the dogs are excited and want to walk faster, plus we wanted to slow them down in case of slippery patches on the sidewalks. There were quite a few barking dogs for distraction as well. Another nice walk once we got going. “L” did great steadying her pace down and not being tempted by distractions. She did miss one overhead clearance, but she got it perfectly on a rework. Good girl!
Once back on campus, we did group obedience with distractions. Over the past weekend, Leader Dog hosted a monthly “puppy class” for puppies being raised by their volunteer puppy raiser families. Lots of puppies together means puppy bathroom accidents, and we had to keep our dogs in a sit stay and not let them go down to sniff the carpet with all its wonderful smells. The trainers then introduced all kinds of ball and toy distractions and added in clapping that can sometimes excite or startle some dogs. They also walked by with two strange dogs – a strange dog is just a dog that our dogs don’t know, and some dogs may be particularly dog distracted. Throughout all of this, we had to keep our dogs in a sit-stay. “L” did very well; she loves her obedience.
Tuesday afternoon we went to Lakeside mall. This is a very large mall all on one level, and it gave us a chance to work in a highly-stimulating area. It had lots of distractions including walking past a kids’ play area, a food court, lots of loud music, and lots of people. It was very challenging, and “L” had to work around people with strollers and walkers, and regular shoppers meandering at all speeds and in various directions. For those who know it, it reminded me of the lower level of West Edmonton mall on a Saturday afternoon. Thank goodness our Woodgrove Centre mall isn’t nearly this busy.
In malls, some dogs choose to walk around the perimeter, which is nice, because the store line provides a point of orientation; it is easier to recognize store entrances by sounds and smells, and then confirm store names by asking store personnel or other shoppers if necessary. Some dogs prefer to choose a path down the center of the mall, which is more difficult for orientation, because there are fewer audible or physical landmarks. I don’t know what “L”’s preferred style will be, as we worked both left and right sides of the mall.
“L” did well at the mall. However, when she feels unsure of her situation or possibly is a bit overwhelmed with all the stimulation, she tends to become uncertain and shuts down, slowing her pace. I need to really encourage her and build her confidence back up at that point; kind of like cheerleading her to let her know she is doing a great job. Near the end of our mall walk, she had had enough– hey I’m with you “L”. I hate malls. Seriously, she did very well, and she will be a great island girl.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
This morning we went to Oakland University to practice “patterning” and “back chaining”. Earlier, I described how I used “targeting” to teach “L” to find my chair in the dining room. “Patterning” is just like “targeting”, but it is used for identifying locations that I might want to return to on a regular basis such as a favourite coffee shop or where I get my hair cut, etc. It works the same way as targeting. I first locate the door or destination, move away a short distance, work up to it, then keep working up to it from further and further away. Starting at the destination and gradually working back to a starting point is called “back chaining”. It allows me to teach her “that” door, not just “any door”, or whatever specific destination I need.
“L” will learn places I regularly go over time, but patterning and back chaining allow me to teach a location to her in a single day rather than perhaps over weeks. Once she knows a location, she will “show” it to me in passing even if I don’t want to find it – she simply is indicating a place she knows we go to regularly. This is not wrong. In fact, I will praise her and thank her, and then just carry on if I don’t want to go there.
Patterning is a very powerful guide dog skill. One of the first patterning exercises I will do when we go home is teach her to “find home”. This just might come in handy if I get lost. When she is experienced and knows “home”, I should be able to give “L” her head and ask her to “find home”. Over time, she will be able to “find home” from further and further away. Note that I still use the normal directional cues along the way if I know them. Some dogs are better at this than others, but “L” did great today patterning to a specific door at the University.
This afternoon was a lot of odds and ends stuff. Here is what we covered:
- Revolving doors. — Revolving doors are another hazard for guide dogs. I will avoid them whenever possible, especially the electric ones. The hazard with revolving doors is impatient people who push the door either as I am trying to locate it and properly position my dog, or who push the door faster as we are going through. The dog can get its head hit, paws pinched, or tail caught, making it forever fearful of doors. If I absolutely must use a revolving door, “L” will go on my right at the widest part of the door section. I keep her head and nose as close to the forward glass as I can, while I slowly push the door around; “L” walks out as the door opens up.
- Dog boots. — We practiced putting Pawz boots (good for salt) and Ruffwear boots (good for snow and hot pavement) on our dogs. I likely won’t use boots, but if I do, I will use the Pawz boots that look like little balloons to protect her feet from salt that is used for winter ice.
- New Harnesses — We received our brand-new harnesses that our dogs will go home with. Up until now we have been using used equipment. Now we can enjoy the beauty of brand-new leather!
- Public Access. — Unfortunately, there are times when we, as guide dog users, are refused access to public places because we are accompanied by a guide dog. Americans are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). In BC, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act states that “a guide dog team, service dog team or dog-in-training team may, in the same manner as would an individual who is not a member of any of those teams, enter and use any place, accommodation, building or conveyance to which the public is invited or has access …”. Along with rights come responsibilities; our dogs must be kept under control and be well groomed. Access rights are NOT extended to emotional support animals.
- Roleplaying — In light of the ongoing need to advocate for ourselves to protect our rights, we went through roleplaying exercises of being denied entry to a restaurant and being denied accommodation in a hotel. For those who have never experienced this treatment, it is very demeaning. For fellow classmates getting their first guide dog, it was a sobering experience.
- Airport Security. — Travelling with a guide dog by air is also a very trying experience. Most of the time, I need assistance from airport staff to find where to go, because, obviously, I can’t read visual signage to find where to go. Personnel at the security checkpoints often have no idea how to deal with either the dog or me as a blind person. We practiced how to take charge of the situation, giving them options that keep both us and our dogs safe, while still respecting the job that the security agents are doing. This was a great learning exercise for the first-time guide dog users in class.
- Airplanes. — Lastly, we practiced a mock-up of an airplane, learning how to cram our dogs into the tiny space in front of our seats. Their mock-up was rather generous, as it felt like first-class leg room, plus we actually got real snacks handed out!
So, a busy afternoon, and an important one. There is always a role for public education and self-advocacy when using a guide dog.
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