Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Lots of nervous anticipation and not much sleep for any of us last night. Breakfast is over, and ………
I received an 18-month-old female black lab named “W”! For my blind friends, she is very short, coming up to only the top of my knee. She is stalky like the English lab – deep chest, shorter tail, wide ears and a shorter body. She is 65 pounds and is at her target weight. And she’s fast, spunky, and a fire pistol!
Just as we did with Juno, we start with the very basics with our dogs. We spent the first hour in our room with the dogs on leash, just hanging out and getting to know each other a bit – no commands, and no corrections other than if the dog jumped up or did anything egregious. Remember the Dog’s Point of View? “W” wasn’t very interested in me and was just trying to figure out this new world. What are those sounds in the hallway, where did that trainer go, when can I go back to the kennel, etc. Lots of petting, talking and just being together – she seems to be a cuddler and sat in my lap and then wanted a belly rub or two – the very beginning of bonding.
Before lunch, we did our first walk heeling throughout the building. For first walks, the trainer tethers a second leash on the dog’s collar to help with dog control. They are also right there to coach us on timely correction and praise, and to make sure we get off to a good first start. I felt all thumbs. Of course, I accidentally praised for a nice few good steps of heeling just as she started to pull hard again. Ugh – timing is everything. She is a smart dog and is trying to guide on leash.
Lunch in the dining room was very chaotic. Now we have 14 people and 14 VERY excited dogs who don’t care a hoot who is on the other end of the leash. Let me try and recreate the scene. (and this is very normal for day 1!)
Me: Sit down. ““W”, sit. “W”, down. … Good girl.”
Trainer walks by, “W” jumps up.
Me: ““W”, sit. “W”, down. … Good girl.” Pick up fork and take a bite or two.
Another student enters the dining room. “W” wants to know who, and stands up.
Me: ““W”, sit. “W”, down. Stay. … Good girl.” A few more bites. … Reach down and touch dog to check its position.
Another student’s dog sees its trainer and jumps up. “W” thinks that might be fun.
Me: ““W”, sit. “W”, down. Stay. … Good girl.” A few more bites.
Another student doesn’t notice what her dog is up to, and her dog sneaks across under the table to visit. “W” is starting to think that might be fun and is showing interest.
Me: “No. Leave it. “W”, stay. … Good girl.” Eat a grape or two.
Throughout lunch – Trainers (to Students who are learning to be dog aware): “(insert student name), Check your dog.”
Honestly, “W” was very good, and only jumped up maybe six times. She didn’t show interest in food on the table, which is excellent. It was actually a very calm chaotic lunch for a first meal with 14 new dogs and 14 new handlers.
Outside looking in, it might look as though these dogs aren’t trained and won’t listen, and don’t know their work or home training. But rest assured that they most certainly do. Right now, in THEIR minds, they have absolutely no reason to work or do anything for us. They may have been model puppies in their puppy raiser homes, and they may have worked brilliantly for their trainers, but that doesn’t automatically transfer along with the leash. Our job now is to develop a bond, establish boundaries, and use clear communication with our dogs. When the dogs start to bond to us, then the dogs will start responding more and more to us. We’re not there yet.
In the afternoon, we took our first walk on the practice course on the Leader Dog campus. This is a simple course with sidewalks, curbs, and street crossings. They aren’t real streets and there is no traffic; it is a simulated safe place to practice without distractions or extra pressures of the real world. (Except for the stray cats we came across! “W” ignored them. Big praise and a treat for that.)
Again, Tina was right beside me, walking with a tether leash on “W”’s collar. She gave me feedback on the environment and helped me read “W”’s body movements. Every dog feels different in harness – different gait, different pull, different feel of movement, different reactions. It is the “feeling” through the harness that tells me what she is doing and tells me what she is communicating.
Wow, very nice to have a harness back in my hand again. “W” is very strong and has a harder pull than Bode. She stopped on a dime for curbs, ignored the cats, and basically did a bang-up job for her first walk with me. Me, well, I called her Bode and stumbled over her name, which didn’t phase her for a minute. I’m not used to the stronger pull after gentle Bode, and I felt off balance and awkward. I tended to step on her feet a bit, but she seemed unphased. Her gait and style are very different than Bode’s. Again, a huge adjustment for me as I learn to read her body signals. From here on, I will not compare to Bode. Just to know that I now need to learn this NEW dog’s communication style and feel.
Dinner was much less chaotic. “W” only got up once. That’s how fast progress can happen. But then it might backslide tomorrow. There will be many ups and downs, good days and bad days, good outings and bad outings both for humans and dogs throughout training.
Our evening work is heeling through the residence on our own. Trainers will be staying overnight for the first few days to help as needed. It is recommended that we all (dogs included) go to bed early. It has been a big day for everyone.
And here is a rather “cute” song about a guide dog’s first day with its new handler. This is a parody of Call Me Maybe, performed by a class at a different guide dog school.
I’d say a very successful first day.