Steve said training a guide dog to avoid even looking at cats (or squirrels or other varmints) no matter what isn't a good idea. Cats and squirrels are all over the neighborhood, and if one walks across our line of travel, we don’t want Pat averting his eyes and possibly running me into an obstacle in the process.
I’m getting the hang of clicker training, too. The clicker is a simple little plastic box with a springy piece of metal in it that you can “pop” or “click” with your finger to make a sharp and resonant clicking sound. The dogs are trained to associate the click with their favorite thing in the world: food. By clicking at the exact moment the dog shows the desired behavior, and then rewarding the dog with food, the dog learns the desired behavior faster.
So … at a specific street light on Riverside Boulevard, where I usually cross the street to get to Vic’s Coffee and Ice Cream, there is a pole with one of those buttons you push so the light will change to stop traffic and allow pedestrians to cross. I want Pat to take me right to that pole. Steve taught me the “fist training” technique to teach Pat to do this. Standing in front of the pole and holding Pat on my left, I put a kibble in my right fist, and bump my fist against the pole right under the button, saying “Button!” At the instant Pat touches his nose to my fist, I pop the clicker, and then I open my fist (keeping it againtthe pole) and let him have the kibble. After I do this a few times I push Pat back about two feet back using my hand against his chest. Now I bump my fist (with no kibble) against the pole, saying “Button!” At the moment Pat touches my fist with his nose, I pop the clicker and then (and only then) I reach into my right pocket and pull out a kibble reward, but Pat doesn’t get it until the back of my hand is on the pole again. After repeating this a few times, we step back a few paces, I take up Pat’s handle, and command him, “Forward, find the button!”
At this point we ran into problems. Pat kept taking me toward the pole and then veering off from it. Steve figured out what was happening. Pat is trained to regard poles as obstacles to keep me away from, rather than take me to. So we ended that clicker session, and this afternoon we worked on fist-training Pat to take me to the breakfast nook bench. This time the process was magic, even when I flubbed the timing or called him “Trace” sometimes. Part of my homework tonight was extending that session so that he would take me the bench from the hallway as well as the kitchen. Pat will now take me right to the breakfast nook bench from the family room, the kitchen and the hallway. Eventually we’ll go back to that pole, after Pat and I hone our teamwork and he’s more familiar with his new stomping ground.
I was glad we didn’t start until 10 a.m. today. Pat did well in the crate last night, and I didn’t need to use the blanket over him, either. If he did cry I was blissfully unaware (there ARE some advantages to being deaf). I actually got a decent night’s sleep, but still, It wasn’t easy getting up this morning.
I knew i’d have more energy earlier than I would later, so the first workout session was our long one. Beautiful day for getting out and about — everything fresh and clean from yesterday’s rain, and bright sunshine to warm the chill out of the winter day. It was a good workout, even though we didn’t have the best results training Pat to take me to the street crossing button pole. And I was disappointed we didn't get to reward ourselves with a nice little pit stop at Vic’s. When we got there, four or five pesty little yip-yappy ground huggers were hanging around. Steve said at least one of them was not on leash. We decided this was not the time to subject Pat to a pack of pests, and just did an about and started working our way back home.
That route has changed since I last worked it with Trace more than two years ago. I didn’t recognize many of the sidewalk corners, because they’d all been changed, some of them within the last few months. They used to all be nice and distinct with identifiable characteristics. Some curbs were quite high off the street, others were cracked in a certain way, and still others had distinctive grass or gravel at the corner. Great for blind folks, of course — we look for those distinctive edges to keep ourselves oriented — but impossible for the wheelchair folks. So now all those nice crisp corners are ramped down to the street so you can’t find the curbs anymore. And worse, instead of nice crisp 90-degree angle corners, they’re all gently rounded so it’s a challenge to stay aligned when you’re crossing streets.
Still, Pat did stellar work, and again, he did not blow a single curb. There was one street crossing, though, where he just didn’t want to take me in a straight line to the ramped up-curb. He kept moving me over to the right so that I had to step up onto the curb, and then work him to the left to get back into my line of travel. Steve and I couldn’t figure out what was going on there, but eventually we will.
I was tireder than I realized when we started our second workout in the afternoon. Good thing it was a short one, too, because I was seriously wobbly by the time we got back home. I even forgot where I was at one point and started turning right a block too early on the home stretch. I took some ibuprofen as soon as I got home — I ache all over — and now that Pat’s had his final relief time and is settled in his crate (and NOT whining!) for the night, I’m gonna go take a nice hot epsom salt bath and hit my pillow early.