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.

Dogventures Day 1: Everything Old is New Again

As I sit in my room after a long night of travel and a long day of screwing up my sleeping schedule, I find myself contemplating how prepared I feel in some ways about training for a new guide dog, and how out of my depth I feel in others.


But wait, who are you anyway?


My name is Meka and a few years ago I decided that I should create a blog for reviewing and discussing books, mainly in the romance genre. I set things up, but have only recently been bitten by the blogging bug enough to really make a splash in the water.


I also have had the privilege of working three dog guides and am currently at Guiding Eyes for the Blind to train for Guide Dog 4.0. I am originally from Georgia but reside in the beautiful state of Washington. I am passionate about music and books, and both of these things take a starring role in my life.


I have decided to chronicle my time here so that I can look back and see how far I have come and be able to capture wonderful, treasured memories.


After retiring my third guide dog, a black lab named Lester, I found it difficult to return to the school for a successor guide. So fast forward about two years and here I am!


Why a guide dog?


When I received my first guide in 2002, I was not really a dog person. I went in to that class wondering if I would be a good candidate. I had wonderful experiences with friends who owned guide dogs but at that time, I was still in the ‘ewww dogs’ phase. It is amazing concerning how quickly my mind was changed.


I am a competent, confident cane traveler, which is how many blind people navigate their environment. I wanted to be able to try something new and so the seed of guide dogs was planted in my head. It is a very personal choice. Many do not want to have a guide dog. There are so many responsibilities and changes that need to be carefully considered. For me, the responsibility was totally worth it. I wanted to be able to walk around obstacles like other guide dog handlers. I wanted to know how that close bond with a dog operated. So, I got my first dog and never looked back! It has been an incredibly rewarding decision.


Okay, but what about your day today?


I took a red Eye flight from Seattle to New York, and honestly, I barely remember the morning. I was so tired. Even so, there has been this low level anticipation that has been in the background because in just a couple of days, I will be introduced to my new dog guide.


I think that it is more challenging in some respects to enter class as a retrain student as opposed to someone who is receiving their guide dog for the first time. At the very least, it is challenging in different ways. I have picked up some habits and quirks from working with Lester that I need to correct. I am very familiar with how to care for a guide dog and so I need to make sure that I am still paying attention to lectures and not trying to jump ahead. I am filled with thoughts about comparisons and contrasts. Lester was the best dog guide I have ever had and I constantly have to remind myself that I need to be open to the process. Instead of operating from a blank canvas, I have to turn the page and build on the previous ones and not be frustrated with myself. The new dog will not be Lester and so I need to remind myself that we can build this partnership brick by painstaking brick.


This is a rewarding opportunity, but it is also very difficult at times and can be very stressful, which is why it is so great that this school is like a home away from home. The rooms are spacious with comfortable beds, there is a large writing desk, TV, phone, nightstand, and closets. There is a living room, exercise room, and what will surely be my favorite, a coffee machine. This has nothing to do with the coffee and everything to do with the hot chocolate that this machine is going to provide for me.


Our instructors are friendly and I can’t wait to get to know more about my classmates.


I did some unpacking and organizing and took another nap. Didn’t I mention that screwed up sleeping schedule?


After dinner, we had a lecture about the rules and regulations and discussed equipment. The instructors passed around a leash that now belongs to us for when we receive our new partners. It always comes as a surprise when I touch a brand new leash that has hardly any give.  I have to remind myself that yes, actually, the leash for Lester started out this way.


Now, I am going to do a little more unpacking and try to get some much needed sleep. I know that right now, my blog is wordy but as we go through the process, I will try very hard not to shorten it due to the exhaustion that I am sure is to come. Also, dog day is Wednesday!


And now for the second most important part, particularly of interest to guide dog school grads everywhere.


Food Report!


Breakfast: Bacon and toast

Lunch: tuna fish on whole wheat, chips, and a cookie

Dinner: Grilled chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and a strawberry shortcake ice cream thing on a stick


If you have questions, you should be able to comment and I will address them. Until tomorrow!