Dogventures Day 4: 4.0 Just Might Keep Me

Now that we have our dogs, we have a very set and regimented schedule that we keep throughout the day. We get up at 6 AM and park, feed, water, and once again park the dogs. Parking means allowing them to relieve themselves. After that, we go to obedience. Breakfast is at 7, and we’re out of the door by 8. We spend all day at White plains, walking a route in the morning and in the afternoon. We have lunch in between those routes and then head back to the campus. We feed, water, and park the dogs again, and then go in for afternoon lecture. Dinner is at 5, the dogs are watered and parked at 7:30, and then parked again at 9:30. Needless to say that the days are full and I am tired.


During obedience, we have the dogs practice sitting and staying, giving them treats if they do so. We also practice recall and having them stay when we tell them.


As we continue this regimen, it will be full of distractions, such as loose dogs, food, and likely other scenarios that I cannot even imagine. 4.0 did an excellent job and was rewarded appropriately.


We headed to the lounge where they finally peed and pooped after having held both for 24 hours. I wasn’t worried–they were going to have to go eventually. When they offloaded their environmental software, I cheered.


We walked a longer route today and 4.0 did a wonderful job. They constantly check in with me, slow down when needed, negotiate obstacles, and did perfectly when a bicyclist cut in front of us. It was a beautiful day in White Plains and everyone was out and about, but that didn’t stop 4.0 from navigating through the crowds! 4.0 got a lot of compliments on their coat.


We did many street crossings and the instructor had a support leash clipped to the collar so that they could nudge 4.0 when necessary. I am trying not to be impatient, but I cannot wait until the support leash is taken off and I can feel independent as we travel. Being able to fly solo will make me feel like 4.0 is more mine and like our bond is really cementing, but patience is a virtue and I’m trying to cultivate it. It will come soon enough.


After lunch, 4.0 and I walked the route once again where they did even better. They were distracted by a little dog, but with some redirection, they began to focus more on me.


At some point, 4.0 jumped on me while I was sitting down. While I should have told them ‘off’ in a firm voice right away, I was so stunned by that show of affection that I gave them a few seconds as they licked my face before making them put all four on the floor.


We returned to the school and had a lecture that covered different terminology that the instructors might use for us or that we might use on our dogs. We also discussed curb approaches, which 4.0 nails quite well, putting me in position to make a perfect street crossing.


4.0 and I are getting more used to one another bit by bit. They have a bit of a stubborn streak and I am definitely up to the challenge.

I have been greeted with more tail wags and even a little bit of a lean in to me. I am starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, they are starting to like me. As for me, I adore 4.0 and their quirks and personality and look forward to winning them over and proving that I am someone that can be counted on for affection and giving good direction.


Tonight, my instructor took 4.0 and I in to the grooming room to play. I really got to see them be uninhibited and it was a real treat. 4.0 loves tennis balls and squeakies! I look forward to sharing the videos and pictures that were taken of us.


If there is any downside of training, it is that I am in a lot of pain with my knee. My lower back also is hurting fiercely, but it wasn’t as bad as it was yesterday, and tomorrow it will be better still.


As I write this, 4.0 is curled up beside me on a towel. Their butt is on my foot. When I put 4.0 in the crate, they will probably snore like they did last night.


I cannot wait until I can discuss 4.0 in greater depth and tell you all about them!


I keep thinking that on my downtime I will be able to read a book, but I can’t choose anything I’d be able to concentrate on. Sometimes I can barely put the words together for these posts!


If you have any questions or topics that you’d like for me to address, please feel free to ask.


Food report

Breakfast; Pancakes and bacon

Lunch: chili dog and potato salad and something called a black-and-white cookie. It has vanilla frosting on one side and chocolate frosting on the other. I am not a fan. I am a cookie traditionalist!

Dinner: Barbecue chicken, potato salad, green beans, grilled corn on the cob, and bread pudding. Some classmates and I also sang the soulful, stevie Wonder version of Happy Birthday to You to one of the staff members, complete with hand clapping, which riled up the dogs. Oops! Still can’t take me anywhere, I guess.

Dogventures Day 2: Round and Round My Brain Goes

As I sit down to write tonight’s blog post about my experiences in training for and with a new guide dog, I find that I have no idea of what to talk about. Should I discuss the process of how one is accepted in to a school? What about what dog day looks like for our class tomorrow? What transitions does a dog need to go through to get to where they are now? How can I bring all that I have in to this new partnership? I simply cannot decide.


Speaking of being indecisive, my emotions are all over the place. One moment, I am incredibly excited. The next moment, I talk myself down from the excitement and resolve to go in to this with dignity and grace. You know, the kind of calm dignity and grace that I do not have at all. Then it switches to fear of failure, fear of constantly comparing the new guide dog to my previous one, the fear of it not being a good match because of something that I may do incorrectly, and the fear of getting in my own way because I’ve been through training before and I want to be back to my sweet part of partnership with Lester. After that comes the need to reminisce about Lester to all and sundry. Then I switch back to frenzied levels of excitement which suggests that maybe I won’t be getting a lot of good, solid sleep tonight. So, much like this post, I’m all over the place!


Fortunately for me, we have a team of wonderful instructors who give good, informative lectures so that we can learn all that we need to know, or may have forgotten, or discuss new things that we didn’t imagine were possible.


My day consisted of getting up at six AM to head down to alumni Hall for what is known as Juno obedience. Juno, named after what I believe may have been the first guide dog ever, is when the instructor places a harness over their arm and pretends to be the dog. So, we practiced sits, stays, having the dog come to us, having Juno lie down, etc. This is done so that we can get used to what the instructors expect and to help us with our positioning and see how we may give corrections.


Speaking of corrections, we learned about the three different types which are used to get a dog’s attention. None of these corrections hurt the dog, however, sometimes the general public can be unforgiving about what is not understood and often make snap judgments rather than allow themselves to be educated and understand that we do what is best for our dogs and they have gone through extensive training to get to where they are now.


After breakfast, we headed to White Plains and to what is known as the Lounge. This is an area where we can relax and wait for our turn to go on walks and work with our instructors and our new dogs. There are sofas, chairs, exercise equipment, and plenty of places to simply relax until it is our turn. There is also a restaurant-style eating area complete with tables and booths so that we can learn early on how to position our dogs when we are in such settings.


When it was my turn to go on the Juno walk with an instructor, I was very excited. We do these walks so that the instructors can figure out our pace, how we move, and our corrections style as well as probably a bunch of unmentioned considerations as they finalize the matching process.


Halfway through the route, I was able to walk with a guide dog that may be a potential match for me. I was not given a name, and I will not give the breed or gender of the dog, however, I have to tell you that putting the harness in my hand after two years of using a cane was like coming home. It was a wonderful, freeing feeling that I really didn’t understand how much I’d missed until we were walking down the sidewalk and the dog guided me around obstacles.


There were some very cute little quirks that the dog displayed, but I want to hold them close until I find out if this will be my new guide dog and when I am able to publicize it.


I’d like to take a moment to talk a little about our class dynamics. There are twelve of us and they are so fun. There are a lot of laughs and jokes as well as great conversation. What a fantastic group of people. I know that we will be a good source of support for one another as we go through this journey together.


After we came back to the school, we had a meet and greet with some of the staff we hadn’t met. I’d like to take a quick moment just to talk about the staff and how helpful and awesome they are to us.

As I have stated before, guide dog training is difficult, stressful work. It is rewarding, but it is an emotional process that requires focus and dedication. To that end, the staff make certain that we don’t have to worry about anything. We are fed wonderful meals, volunteers will go shopping for us if needed, toiletries are provided, fruit and snacks and bottles of water can be easily found, and so many other needs both small and large are often accommodated. This allows us to pour all of our energy in to the relationship and bonding experiences as we work with new guide dogs.


Tonight’s lecture was on transitions. After the dogs reach about four weeks in age, they go with socializers who pet and help with nurturing them. Then at about eight weeks old, they go to live with volunteer puppy raisers who do the preliminary hard work of house training, more socialization with people and other puppies, and instill in them a foundation of obedience. Just when things are smooth sailing at about eighteen months old, the puppy raisers give the dogs back to the school where they are trained by our instructors for five to six months. During that time, the dogs stay in the kennels with kennel mates before being matched with us. This means that the dogs have gone through a great deal of transition in their lives and we are but one more change. That’s a lot to take in!


We have to keep in mind that some dogs may click with their people right away, but that bond may not be there for a few days. every dog is different and every team has different needs. I know that I am reminding myself to be patient with future 4.0 as well as with myself.


After that, a few of us who have had dogs in the past attended a lecture about making that transition from the previous dog to this one. This was such a great talk to attend. The facilitator is a guide dog handler and thus understands intimately the challenges that can come with this part of training. There was something said tonight that has really resonated with me. My memories and bond with Lester is not diminished due to having a new dog. I understood this logically, but tonight it really clicked for me.


I still am a whirlwind of emotions, but I am excited and full of anticipation about tomorrow.


I cannot disclose anything about Guide Dog 4.0 until Saturday, so my posts will likely focus on other aspects of training and guide dog life. I will, however, refer to them as 4.0 until then.


See you tomorrow!


Food Report

Breakfast: oatmeal with slivered almonds and a bowl of sliced melons

Lunch: chicken salad on an oven-baked croissant

Dinner: Pasta with Italian sausage and broccoli. apple pie for dessert.