Right now, I’m an utterly exhausted owner of Pat the guide dog. The flu has sure sapped my energy, but the “utterliness” I feel is more from the intense emotional work with a new guide dog, which is exhausting in and of itself, and then spinning all the other plates on top of that. Steve and I talked a bit yesterday about the in-residence training versus the home training programs. I told him I’m very happy with the home training, but I have come to appreciate the big advantage of going away into a program where you don’t have to do anything except focus on your relationship with your new dog.
“Would you rather have done the in-residence training?” Steve asked.
“Absolutely not, this home training was excellent for me,” I told him. “But doing the training while also juggling Trace and all the home stuff has been exhausting. I would never recommend home training for a first-time guide dog user.”
“Actually,” Steve said, “we won’t do a home training for a first-time guide dog user.” Steve said he doesn’t think any of the guide dog schools will. There’s just too much to learn. I could never have made such good progress with Pat in little more than a week if I hadn’t already known how to work a dog.
I had to get used to a few new things — every guide dog school does some things differently, has some different commands, and uses some unique terminology. As in Leader Dogs’ “park time” and GDF’s “busy time” euphemisms. And, of course, Steve's baseball, although I suspect that’s a Steve thing rather than a GDF thing. He's a real stickler for keeping that left elbow in good position, as if holding a baseball between elbow and side while leaving the lower arm and wrist flexible to follow and respond to the harness handle. After a week of that baseball, I can’t NOT visualize it in correct position every time I align myself for the off. It really works, too. My arm doesn’t get so tired and tense, and it really does pick up the handle movements better.
Another difference is that when I went to Leader Dogs for April and Trace, “Heel!” meant to walk quietly at your left side, while GDF has taught Pat that “Heel!” means to get in position at the left side, and stay there. If I want Pat to walk with me in heeled position, I tell him, “Walk!” I like this. The advantage of separating the “Heel” and “Walk” functions is that you can get the dog into heel position without having to walk around.
As I did at the table yesterday morning when we were going through the “graduation” paperwork. Pat was lying on the floor perpendicular rather than parallel to my chair, so that he stuck out in the traffic pattern. “Just stand up at your chair and tell him to heel,” Steve said. I did, and Pat settled right into position parallel and close to my chair. Nice!
After the paperwork, we did our “around the block” short route. I learned that I need to give Pat a longer busy time in the morning and make sure he does a good solid dump. Otherwise, he will need to stop in the middle of a route, as he did yesterday. I always clean up after my dogs, but really, it’s better to keep him on a consistently regular relief schedule. This is the main reason why it’s so important to feed and water your dog at the same times every day. This way, you know what goes in and when, so you have a good idea what’s coming out and when.
Getting used to a dog’s body signals for relief needs takes time, but after a few more weeks I’ll know Pat’s better. I’m just beginning to figure out that when he whines in a certain way, he needs busy time. (April would whine, too, and sometimes pull me to a door. Trace’s signal is the best. He comes up and nudges my leg with his head in a certain way. No noise at all. I have no idea if his puppy raiser taught him that or if that’s something he just came up with and kept doing because I gave him the response he needed.) I’m very happy that Pat dumps it all in one place — much easier to clean up. April was good that way too. Trace is awful: he starts his business in one spot and then wanders about, dropping bits of his load as he goes. A major hassle to clean up after.
Like parents with children in diapers, guide dog users can seem obsessed with all things excreted by their dogs, particularly poop. When you have to clean up after your dog in public, nice firm turds deposited in nice neat piles are highly desirable. A neat pile of firm turds is easy to pick up in a plastic bag-covered hand, and once you’ve got the goods, simply turn the bag up to enclose the contents, knot it and toss into a trash can.
Pat is trained to relieve on gravel, concrete or grass, and to relieve while on leash. We are trained to always take the harness off, extend the leash to its full length, and rotate it from one hand to the other, moving from front to back while the dog circles around you as you stand still and firm at center. Sometimes it’s hard not to get dragged out of position, but when I pointed this out to Steve, he simply said, “So you’re in Manhattan, and you let your dog pull you out of position so he can move from the gutter right into oncoming traffic, and he gets run over.”
“OK, OK, I get it,” I said. But now I wish I’d just told him, “This is Sacramento and my yard, not Manhattan and a street gutter.” Ah well.
So, enough already with dog turd aesthetics.
On the home stretch block of our route, a dog started barking as Pat and I walked by, and my mind filled with lurid images of a lunging crazed horse-sized canine foaming at the mouth, drool flying off saber-sharp fangs, eyes blazing hot coals of demonic fury, baying worse than the Hound of the Baskervilles. But wait … after a few seconds I could tell it was a yip-yappy little ground hugger dog kind of bark, not a Hound of the Baskervilles dooming bay. Pat was cool. I think he might have pricked up his ears a bit, but basically he just ignored it. (I wish he’d ignore Patches and Bella like that.)
I don’t know how they train the guide dogs not to bark, but it never ceases to impress me when my guide dog calmly ignores frantic yip-yapping and ferociously frustrated booming big dog barks without a sound.
I was hoping we might come across the little old lady with her big bad German shepherd so Steve and I could have a talk with her, but no joy. I really am worried about that dog going after Pat someday.
Still it was a good workout, all the more better because it was short. I was glad we didn’t do one of the long routes. I’m not feeling nearly as bad as I was a couple days ago, and the Sambuccol and Oscillococcinum do seem to be helping. But I felt like I’d just run a marathon when we got back to the house. Steve didn’t seem too full of pep, either. (Pat, of course, was just fine.)
So we went over to the Riverside Clubhouse for a quick lunch before tackling any other projects. I learned another useful command. “Pat, Down, Under!” And dang if that dog didn’t hit the floor and then squeeze himself under my chair. Not the table, but my chair. In future, however, I will have him go under the table or stay in heel position next to my chair. I was at an awkward distance from the table but I didn’t want to move my chair, as I usually do when I’m at a table, or I would have shoved Pat about. (By the time I figured this out it was easier to stay where we were and deal with it than it was to move.) But what a useful command when I'm in a tight space (and don’t need to move the seat). Like airplanes. I’m not sure Pat is small enough at 62 pounds to go under airline seats, but April at 51 pounds could. Of course, at 80 pounds, Trace is hopeless for doing anything like that.
Lunch was a good break but still wasn’t quite the recharge I had hoped for. When Steve asked me what I wanted to work on after lunch, I could think of lots of things … fist-target Pat to the sunroom, take a nap, work one of the longer routes, take a nap, work on Pat’s cat behavior, take a nap, work on Pat’s whining, take a hot bath and then take a nap, were just a few of them.
“To be honest Steve, I can think of a bunch of things but I’m so tired I just want to go take a nap.” He wasn’t feeling up to par, himself, and if his flu is the same strain Andy and I are hit with, he is going to feel worse before he feels better. We were both coughing a lot as it was, so we called it a day. I think Steve was relieved at the prospect of getting a little additional down time to rest up before his flight out this morning.
It was a shorter training than either of us anticipated, but I am comfortable with the progress Pat and I have made together. The one big problem I have is his cat behavior, but with Andy’s help I’ll get that sorted out over time. I have a minor issue with Pat's whining. Thankfully he’s not doing any of the pitiful puppy sobbing he did the first night. The issue we had on the first day with squirrels and other street varmints sort of dissolved on its own as we began to settle into our groove. I have a feeling that as I continue to ignore him when he whines or simply stick him in his crate and walk away, that will dissolve itself too.
I feel good that Steve says that Pat and I are one of the best matches he’s seen, and that he’s enjoyed working with us. The feeling is definitely mutual.
I went to bed early last night, and when I woke in the wee hours to use the bathroom, I discovered Andy had left Trace in the front house. When I brought Trace into the front bedroom with Pat and me, he happily crawled into Pat’s crate and Pat just as happily slept on the floor next to my bed. Andy found them that way this morning when he came in to check on me. They did the same thing when I took a nap this afternoon. I’m pleased they are so comfortable with each other, and even more pleased that Pat’s excellent obedience makes it easier for me to survive the constant tangle of black beasts stuck to me like cockle-burrs. If someone comes to the door, I can put Pat in Sit-Stay away from the door, and he stays there, regardless of what Trace does.
Pat’s level of experience and skill at three years old is excellent. But he’s still a rambunctious puppy when he’s excited (witness his cat behavior). I’m not sure I could have handled Pat well as a rambunctious puppy. I considered taking the whole day off and not working Pat at all today, because I am so tired, but he was going stir-crazy. I decided to take him to out on short route, and he calmed right down, did stellar guide work as usual, and by the time we got back to the house I was actually feeling a little better for the exercise, too.
Steve set up a three-way conference call early this evening among him, me, and Pat’s puppy raiser. It was a nice chat and I think we’ll stay in touch. Steve apparently warned her that I’m calling her puppy “Pat,” because she started off by saying “I understand you’re calling him ‘Pat’?”
“Yes, I hope you don’t mind,” I told her. She said she was fine with it, and I asked her why she called him “Patsy” anyway. Turns out she named him after her uncle, who was a Pat (or maybe a Patrick) and everyone called him “Patsy.” “Well that makes sense,” I said. “But I’m still calling him Pat!” I thanked her for doing such a good job raising Pat and told her he is truly absolutely the best dog for me.
“I kinda thought you might say something like that,” she said, chuckling. "I absolutely love that dog!” And it was obvious she really did. She also said she loved hearing that Pat is doing such a good job for me.
For privacy reasons GDF makes sure that both puppy raiser and guide dog user really want to keep in touch and gets written authorization from both sides before they will release contact information. Once all the signed approvals are obtained, GDF will forward our contact information to each other. If she wants, I’ll send her these Guide Dog Journal entries
The first phases of Pat’s life are now come full circle … from puppy raiser to guide dog training to his ultimate user — me. And once again, my heart is full with the gift that Pat is to me, from his puppy raiser, from his trainers and even his first handler who gave him back to GDF so that he could come to me. .
Life is good.