Dogventures Day 8: It Ain’t All Roses and shutting up is Free

I am really tired tonight so this is going to be very short.


After the morning routine, we went to obedience where today’s distraction included a loose German shepherd playing around the dogs while our dogs were expected to stay focused on us, receiving correction when needed and treats when they did as asked. This is great training for them because people walk their dogs in public often and we don’t want them to be distracted.


After breakfast, it was off to White Plains. If there was any van pool karaoke, I wouldn’t know it since my sleepathon yesterday caused my schedule to be screwed up, so I catnapped on the way.

Today’s route involved going to CVS, where we practiced indoor work. The dogs need to be cognizant of narrow aisles, other people, displays, and other things that can serve as obstacles. Treble was an absolute rock star.


I want to preface what happened next by saying that these dogs, as extensively trained as they are, can still make mistakes. Sometimes they are small, but sometimes they are not. Treble didn’t clear me of an obstacle and I slammed my knee in to it. I have bad knees, and so if I fall or injure them, the pain is horrible. I lost my footing and almost fell. It all happened so fast. Someone behind us blurted out, ‘She didn’t see that?’ I don’t know if she was referring to me or Treble, but since her immediate question wasn’t, ‘Are you okay?’, I could only assume she wanted to be a part of the non-helpful club. So many things were happening at once. I was embarrassed and I instantly just wanted to leave the situation. My knee was hurting because of slamming in to the pole and I was trying not to cry. Spoiler alert, I cried. I wanted to power through the situation, but wasn’t in a place where I could just do that. My instructor was wonderful and just allowed me to have the time that I needed when I would have just pretended everything was okay. I would have defended Treble to this lady had my knee not been throbbing.


After that, we reworked the obstacle, at my insistence, and Treble navigated around it perfectly. This just reminds me, though, of how people can be stupid. While some of it is probably not realizing how extensive training is, many times it is simply people blurting out things they shouldn’t. It is such a crappy feeling when your dog makes a mistake and the public just assumes they are not trained. When I shared with my therapist’s office that I would be getting a new guide dog, the first thing out of one of the staff’s mouths was ‘Well, I hope you get a smart one and not a dumb one. One of our clients has a dog and she was so dumb that she ate a Kleenex and the handler didn’t even know!’ I asked if she told the handler and she said no. I reminded her that dogs are not perfect and sometimes will do things you do not want them to do, but if it is a good team and the handler knows what is going on, they will take steps to correct it. But you don’t know what you don’t know. Dogs can be little stealth monsters. The idea that she just watched this dog play four-legged shredder with a Kleenex on the floor without taking two seconds to alert the handler is crappy. Happily blurting out ‘I thought that dog was trained!’, when something needs to be reworked is crappy. If people aren’t going to be helpful, then shutting up is always free. I don’t mind educating people, but there are some in this world who aren’t interested in the whys and hows and only make snide remarks which help no one.


The second route went much better and Treble worked past dog distractions which have earlier gotten her off track. This is definitely a learning process for the both of us.


Tonight’s lecture was on elevators, escalators, and overhangs. I was so tired that I dozed off during it so will need to look it up online.


After dinner, I went to bed, only waking up for park times. I crashed hard until around 11 and so I’ve probably screwed up the sleeping schedule again.


But tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities. I write about the hard stuff because training is hard. It takes a lot to become a seasoned team and what we learn here is the beginnings of that. It is good that mistakes happen here so that we are better equipped in handling them and we can work on them. Tomorrow will be better!


Food report

Breakfast, toast with strawberry jam and sausage patties

Lunch: Turkey wrap with lettuce, tomatoes, and bacon

Dinner: Delicious and delightful shrimp scampi over noodles.

Dogventures Day 7: Lots of Rest for the Wicked

Today was one of those days that I just didn’t realize I needed so much.


This morning, we did our usual of park, feed, water, park again, and obedience. Obedience is becoming a lot more distracting for Treble.


Today, one of the instructors threw the bouncy ball repeatedly, dribbling it so that she could see it. While that was happening, I gave Treble commands and a lot of praise. She did a very lovely job of keeping her focus on me and I know that was hard, particularly because we’d played in alumni hall the night before. While Treble may seem reserved, she plays with unrestrained joy. I particularly love how she attempts to fit herself in the entire box of toys, or the way that she seems to deliberate over each possible fun thing. Will it be the bouncy tennis ball? The squeaky?

Narrator voice: After lengthy deliberation, Treble chose both.


After breakfast, we practiced putting boots on the dogs. I am about as coordinated as a bull in a china shop, so poor Treble had to put up with my fumbling. She then had the opportunity to run around in alumni hall with them on. I don’t see myself having to use them often, but they are always good to have in case of very hot or cold temperatures, especially if salt is being placed on the sidewalks.


When we were done with that, I became very well acquainted with the bed for about two and a half hours until lunch. After lunch, it was me and the bed all over again. I’ve probably screwed up my sleeping schedule, but I don’t care. I really needed the sleep. We have been so busy all week long that it was nice to have a wonderful day of rest and rejuvenation.


I talked with a couple of friends and then left Treble in the room while going to dinner. We are starting to leave our dogs in our rooms for longer amounts of time so that they can become used to being separated without them  barking or howling. Treble is always so happy to see me when I return.


I better end this here, as Treble just jumped in to my lap which is her sign for ‘let’s get out of here, lady!’ We’ll probably go do more playtime once again, which is fun.


Also, I am starting to get a better idea of when she is peeing or pooping, so I’m glad that this is starting to come together for me. She seems to be feeling some better and is parking more consistently.


Food report

Breakfast: Grilled blueberry muffins with butter and a bowl of fruit

Lunch: Philly cheese steak sandwich

Dinner: Roasted chicken, potatoes, broccoli, and apple pie

Dogventures Day 5: Van Pool Karaoke and a Whole Lot of Crap

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.


Food report

Breakfast: Bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich on a roll

Lunch: chicken soup

Dinner: Steak, spicy waffle fries, grilled asparagus and a chocolate chip sandwich

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!