Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Before we get to Juno, some class news. Trainers at Leader Dog apprentice for three years before writing exams and qualifying to become GDMIs (guide dog mobility instructors). As part of their apprenticeship, they go under blindfold for three days and experience learning to navigate the residence, experiencing Juno, dog issue, and working a dog for a short time. We had a blindfolded apprentice trainer join our class this morning.
The Ins and Outs of Juno
Juno also must eat and go to the bathroom. This morning, we reviewed feeding Juno so that Juno doesn’t jump and lunge for food. We reviewed “park time”, and learned how to know what Juno is doing, and how to pick up after Juno. Here’s the scoop (no pun intended)!
In class, food and water are strictly regulated so that the dog is on a predictable relieving schedule. This is important as the dogs are under a lot of stress transitioning from kennel life into a house-like setting again. We are essentially re-establishing good relieving habits, as it has been a while since they were in their puppy raiser homes. Food and water will continue to be monitored in a similar manner once we are home. Eventually, we can move to free water access, but this depends on our particular dog and its drinking and relieving needs.
Guide dogs are strongly discouraged from relieving themselves while working. For “park time,” we stand still with the leash in its extended long leash configuration. We tell the dog “park time, go park …”, and let the dog sniff around to find just the right spot. With practice, we learn to feel what the dog is doing through the leash (like feeling a fishing line). Instructors will be prompting us and telling us what the dogs are doing, and we will start to recognize our particular dog’s posturing and body movements that signal we’ve hit the jackpot! When it is a pee, we can often hear it (easier with males), or we can walk up on the dog and touch their flat back for verification. (Not all dogs like to be touched while parking, so we work on that as necessary.) When it is a poop, we can walk up on the dog and touch their back to verify the rounded curved posture of pooping. We then point a foot toward the tail, and when the dog moves, scoop up the prize with a plastic bag on our hand. Voila! As long as we don’t have a dog that walks and squats, we’re all happy; a blind person has a hard time finding poop when it is scattered – if the dog is a “traveller,” we work on that behaviour to hopefully get the dog to stay in one place. Although I’ve picked up after dogs thousands of times, it will take time to learn to know what my new dog is doing in the moment. At Leader Dog, the dogs in class relieve on pea gravel (or should that be pee gravel) – again, no pun intended!
We spent time heeling Juno, learning how to use verbal and physical corrections for excessive pulling. We also went downtown to work Juno. We used the same basic route as yesterday, but this time worked on left turns. Again, voice inflection, posture and positioning, footwork, and praise. But this time Juno wasn’t always good. We reviewed the “steady” command to slow the pace, and the “hup-up” command to speed up. “Hup-up” is also used if the dog has stopped short of something and we can’t identify what is there with a foot probe or hand sweep – sort of like a gentle request to move up, get closer. We reviewed how to rework work errors such as when the dog misses stopping at a curb. Distractions can be a major problem – dog, human, food, etc. Of course, there is the “no, leave it” command. If verbal redirection doesn’t work, we reviewed proper use of leash corrections to regain control and focus. Corrections are NEVER given in anger, and the least amount of correction is used to regain control or focus. When we get our dogs, our trainers will be helping us learn the kinds of praise and corrections that work best with our particular dogs.
Any command that involves movement such as “forward,” “left,” “right,” and “find the…” are actually “REQUESTS”. The dog assesses whether it is safe to proceed, and if so, carries out the command appropriately. If the dog refuses, there is no correction; we reassess the environment and repeat the “request”. Refusal to carry out a command when it is unsafe to proceed is called “intelligent disobedience”; more on that later. Obedience and other commands such as “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “heel,” “come,” “steady,” and “around” are commands and must be obeyed immediately.
Dog Point of View
Tomorrow morning is dog issue!! I already know some of the characteristics of my new dog. For example, I am told that it is a hold over from a previous string (not uncommon), that it is a bit sensitive and will not need big corrections, yet it will need to be managed; of the two they had in mind for me, this one was chosen because it best matched my pace, and they feel I have the handling ability… From here on, trainers will be individualizing instruction, tailoring everything to each specific handler/dog team. We will all do the same routes and have the same exposures, but how each of us handles and works with our dogs may be different.
To prepare for tomorrow’s big reveal (of which the dogs know nothing), our lecture today was about the dog’s point of view.
From the dog’s point of view, it definitely WON’T be love at first sight. The dogs have gone through many transitions over their lives so far, and despite US being excited for this to happen, THEY have no idea what is about to happen. All they know is that this is new and exciting, and they don’t understand why THEIR trainer isn’t paying attention to them anymore. And who is this new person anyway?
Dog issue, first bonding steps, and first walk on campus happen tomorrow.