Wednesday, October 29

Gucci update

Greetings. Yes, for those paying attention, I've just given you the name of my new dog. I mentioned it in one of my last posts in the Dog Blog in September, but it was toward the end of the post. I figure that we're past the initial "breaking in" period and it's okay to throw her name out there. I'm told that when she is laying down with her paws straight out in front of her and her head off to the side, that she looks very classy, lady like and regal. For those that I work with or who I may stay with or see every so often, I would still request that you not use her name when she's working. Actually, when introducing her to the masses at work when we got back, I said that "... her name's secret." Evidently, this has stuck and now many people at work call her "Secret" when they see her in the hall. Upon reflection, I'm fine with this nickname, mainly because it sounds nothing like her real name, so there's little chance of her getting confused or distracted.

As for her work around the training center, it has gotten better by the week. I was able to arrange during my trip to Jersey, for a Seeing Eye field trainer to come and visit me after I got home. As it turned out, this didn't happen until the secodn week. In a way though, I was glad so that Gucci and I could go through our initial settling in time. It also gave me a chance to see what things we needed to work on and thereby optimize the time I did spend with the trainer. Jonathan, the trainer, was very good and even though we didn't have as much time as I thought we would, we still got lots done. When we were through he asked me if there was anything else, and my response went something like, "Well, sure there are. But I think most things will work themselves out in time," and they have.

It seems like at the end of each work week, I can look back and see the progress that Gucci has made during that week and overall. For instance, she initially was unsure of how to handle canes. Keep in mind that since I work at a training center for the adult blind, canes, many canes, are a daily occurrance for us. Anyway, she handled ones that were off in a distance or in the middle of the hall just fine, but when people popped up in front of her, or got their canes underneath her, she totally stopped. That created some awkward situations with people telling me things like, "Looks like you need to work with her some more." With Jonathan's help and through the past few weeks, her decisions and confidence have both gradually increased. Now the only time she will stop in front of a cane is if we're coming around a corner and someone pops up in front of her that she didn't expect, like if we're turning left when we come out of a stairwell and someone just happens to be right there. That particular incident happened this morning. When they do happen, I drop the harness handle, talk to the person, and gradually we will pass each other. When the other person has passed me, I'll pick up the handle and encourage Gucci to go on.

The way she goes around people has also gotten better, both those with canes and those without. I think she's finally figured out that people outside the Center will freely get out of her way, but those inside will not. In fact, those inside might just stop where they are, sometimes in the middle of the hallway and sometimes on the sides. She just navigates around them though and goes on. I'm beginning to realize what other German Shepherd dog guide owners told me before I went up for training, that their dogs would see things from 30-50 feet away and already start to problem solve how to get around them.

Gucci is also becoming more confident in her decisions. The big thing remaining for us to fix is for me to correctly interpret her stops or swerves for obsticles. When she swerves to the right on a sidewalk, is it because she's going around something, or because she wants to go to the right because she recognizes the area that she makes her daily deposits at? Or, is she just goofing off and distracted from another dog or a person? All these things go through my mind when I work her, and I'm guessing when any guide dog handler works their dog.

Some say that you can relax when using a dog, and this is ttrue. In some cases not as much thought is involved as when you use a cane. However, this lack of thought is made up for in other ways, such as interpretting the dog's movements correctly, offering corrections when they don't do something right, and keeping them on task. And being aware of the environment you're in so you can correctly direct the dog. It took me a long time with my first guide to accept that my role was the navigator and my dog was the guide. I can give her instructions, but if she chooses not to obey them, like not turning left when I ask her to, then she may be preventing me from running into something. Believe you me, plenty of guide dog handlers, including me, can recount times when they didn't listen to the dog and stepped off a curb into a puddle, or banged into a sign, and then realized that this was why the dog stopped or wouldn't turn.

Anyway, a month and then some has gone by since we got back from Jersey and I think we're making good progress toward being a good working team. We're not there yet, wherever there is, but we're on our way. I wonder how things will be and what they will look like in another few weeks/months? Time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment