There are stark truths about guide dog school that only a guide dog handler can fully understand. One of those truths is how you can have an amazing day one day and then something small can seem like a huge deal in the moment, exacerbating anxiety and making you question yourself, your actions, lack of action, and beating yourself up a little as it goes through your mind continually. It is during this time when it is important to dig deep, know what is concerning, and what is just one of those days. Because “One of those days” can feel like it is a lot when you are in intensive training.
I woke up this morning dragging. I found it difficult to get out of bed. My lower back has been hurting quite a bit when it never has been a problem before. My hips hurt and I just wanted one more hour of sleep. It also didn’t help that 4.0 woke me up whining in their crate and then proceeding to not park when I took them out at 3 AM.
They didn’t park at 6 AM either, so I fed, watered, and tried to park them once again with no luck.
4.0 did a wonderful job during obedience. There was a dog in a crate serving as a distraction. 4.0 ignored the dog, but didn’t always ignore the food I accidentally dropped on the ground when I was trying to treat them.
After breakfast, it was time for our trip to White plains. One of the great experiences when in guide dog school is getting to know other classmates. I always say that the first week is awesome because everyone is all shiny and new. Week two is great and maybe there may be some annoying quirks but you can get through it. Week three is usually when people get on each other’s last nerve. I don’t think we’ll have that problem but we’re just reaching the end of week one so anything is possible. As it is, we all tend to get along with one another wonderfully and there are so many jokes which have been flying. What happens in New York is staying in New York, though!
Every morning, we split up in to two vans and head to the lounge in White Plains. During the ride this morning, we got in to a rousing chorus of ‘Living On a Prayer’. it was loud and proud, I assure you.
As I stated before, we go on two walks a day. I was in the third group to walk and so 4.0 and I went to my favorite couch where I was sitting quietly with their leash tucked under my leg.
All of a sudden, I heard someone yell “Someone’s dog is loose up here! They are pooping everywhere.” I knew that other students were upstairs and so I closed my eyes, content in the knowledge that 4.0 and I were relaxing and not a part of any of that business. I heard someone yell once again and I reached down just to make certain 4.0 was by my side. A beat of silence went by before I blurted out, “Ahh shit!” and ran toward the stairs, my heart sinking.
What was 4.0 doing? Pooping all over the floor upstairs, that’s what. I can really appreciate their need to want to park somewhere quiet, away from most of the crowd, I guess. I was so mortified and upset. I should have been keeping a closer eye on them, paying more attention to them, but they have been my easiest dog. They often sit quietly during lectures and I’m getting used to their quirks. I am quite used to being part of the problem team during previous classes, and so I guess I was enjoying the moment of respite that 4.0 has been allowing me to have thus far. Not only did they poop, but they dragged the leash through it as they crapped a glorious circle. Thank goodness for instructors and an instructor assistant who handled everything as though it was no big deal. This can happen during class sometimes, but when it’s you? All of a sudden you start relegating yourself to worst guide dog handler in the class. The dog diarrhea stories that one of the instructors told me as they were cleaning up the mess made me feel some better, as only such stories can.
I took 4.0 out to park, which they totally didn’t, and then we went on our walk.
The walk was wonderful, particularly because the support leash came off. My instructor has this wonderfully laid-back style that totally works for me. She always speaks in a calm tone and gives good cues for me to follow. It felt so great to give her commands and walk with her when it was just us.
During our route, 4.0 was distracted by a dog. They wouldn’t listen to me and when they went to attempt to play with said dog, it turned out to be an aggressive one. I don’t know that I can break down the steps that I took to get 4.0 focused back on me, but my only thought was to get them away from the dog. It was so fast, but it worked and we were on our way. 4.0 then had to park in the middle of the route, so we quickly pulled over and I got the harness off so that they could do their thing.
4.0 has an amazing work ethic. They approach curbs wonderfully, don’t veer during street crossings, navigate obstacles with thoughtful intent, and their pace is perfect for me. They can be a little fast, but I would much prefer a dog whose pace is too fast than one whose pace is too slow. It is almost always easier to get a guide dog to slow down, but extremely difficult to get them to speed up.
Once we finished our routes, our supervisor said that we would just take a half day. It just seemed like the morale of the class was down and she felt that giving us a half day would be helpful. Also, 4.0 and a few other dogs have upset stomachs. Honestly, I didn’t have another walk in me, although I would have pushed myself hard.
After lunch, we headed back to campus. We each chose a song that most people know and van pool karaoke was back in business. ‘I Want it That Way’, ‘It’s Gonna be Me’, and ‘Hit Me Baby, One More Time’ was sung loudly by the eight of us.
I took a small nap when I got back and had a dream that I was told 4.0 wouldn’t work out for me and I’d have to go home without a dog, so maybe I’m not handling the stress of class as well as I’d like to think. I woke up extremely upset. I am not actually worried that this will happen. Our bond keeps improving bit by bit and there are a myriad of ways that 4.0 is warming up to me.
I’m fasting 4.0 tonight and they will be put on bland dog food for probably about a week. 4.0 also does not appreciate being pilled, at all. They did not trust the treats that came after for their good behavior. Stubborn is 4.0’s middle name.
Tonight’s lecture was all about reinforcement. In order to get the dogs to excel and keep doing what we ask of them, we use positive reinforcement such as food, physical, and verbal praise. Negative reinforcement are corrections that I mentioned in an earlier post. We discussed the types of corrections that can be made. When 4.0 went to play with the dog, for example, I gave a very firm snap and release of the leash, which applies quick pressure on the collar and gets their attention. This does not hurt the dog, but the general public’s perception might be that you are abusing them. We were encouraged to follow up a correction with lots of praise when the dog does what you have asked of it, correcting said behavior. I can tell you that sometimes this does not help, but I will save my rant about those who are unwilling to listen or learn for when we discuss the public’s perception. The school is far more willing to educate on this matter than I am. I’m willing to explain, but when someone doesn’t want to listen, then they can talk with someone who has the time and inclination.
I have got to find some other ways of de-strrressing. None of my go-tos seem to be working.
I know that like many things, this too shall pass. I am concerned about 4.0’s lack of parking, but we’re going to try parking on the grass instead of the cement. I feel like I haven’t gotten to see them park enough to get a feel for their movements or schedule. These are all things that will eventually work themselves out and I know that it is all just day-by-day.
Breakfast: Bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich on a roll
Lunch: chicken soup
Dinner: Steak, spicy waffle fries, grilled asparagus and a chocolate chip sandwich