Free at Last

What a fun and tiring day!

We walked a slightly different route downtown today and got to practice some more turns and halts. We also incorporated a bit of steady to both avoid slipping all over on the ice and also to ease her force when pulling in harness. Yara’s very responsive to verbal commands so I found it totally unnecessary to use the harness cues to get her to slow it down. I really like that, Dolly was always very hard to get to slow down and it used to drive me insane when I was walking on less than perfect ground. Megan told me later that she is very happy with our progress and while there’s still a lot to do she can see the foundation there to build on. She’s noticed both Yara and I seem more settled and relaxed with one another and I fully agree.

Yara’s being very finicky with eating. I’ve been saving what she hasn’t finished and mixing in new food and last night she dug through her food and mostly ate the fresher kibble. This morning she didn’t touch her food. So I decided that tonight I’ll try all new food and I tossed the leftovers. I talked with Megan about it and she seemed to think it’s a sound idea, she even suggested mixing in some of the “cookies,” or meat treats, Fidelco provided me to further entice Yara to eat.

Today’s obedience included working on leave it and both sit-stay and down-stay. With the leave it exercise Megan would distract Yara with a treat and I would tell her to leave it and then get her to target me. We increased the complexity a bit and I think Yara had some fun working her way through our logic. She’s so funny sometimes, she gets so excited and starts anticipating what we want and she’ll just plop her butt down into a sit right on top of my foot! Megan seems pleased with us, she said that Yara’s very attentive to me and looks right at me when I give commands. Very good indeed.

Yara lying on the floor with her back against my dresserOh, and we tried using a prong collar today. Yara’s much easier to control with it both in and out of harness. And unlike the gentle leader she isn’t so incredibly distracted by it. Megan mentioned that as time goes on I probably won’t need anything more than the flat martingale-style collar that Yara always has on and judging from how responsive and eager she is, I tend to agree.

The pièce de résistance for all of us, I think, came afterwards when we let Yara have some free time! We both expected her to tear around the house like crazy and she did do a bit of jumping around and running about as we all walked through the house from my bedroom to the living room. But as soon as Megan and I were sitting on the sofa, she came over and settled herself down by the coffee table near us. Both Megan and I were quite impressed. She’s calmed down so much in such a short time. Megan said I should feel free to give her more free time tonight and tomorrow morning with a few stipulations such as making sure she’s fully relieved and keeping a good watch over her. So, after Megan left and Yara had been given a drink of water and been taken out to “park,”1 I gave her another bit of free time.

Free time for Yara seems to equal nap time. The photo above is horribly dark, I know. It’s very hard for me to take pictures with my cell phone so I’m extra poor with the photographic skills, but I wanted to share it regardless because (a) it cracked me up and (b) you can see her belly! The pictures make her look more darker and black than she really is, but that’s because my cell phone isn’t really a great camera.

Tomorrow we’ll be doing some work in Albany, most likely in the Pine Hills area where I used to live. I think we’re also going to go out to lunch and see how Yara does in a restaurant.

  1. Spell it backwards.

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I Saw It! My Girl Has a Belly!

“I think Yara’s in love.” Megan said to me as I rubbed an exposed white-and-gray GSD belly after we had completed our training regimen for the day. Yara really is very adorable when she’s not bouncing off the walls or trying to drag me around. I was rather surprised when she rolled over while I was stroking her and showed that soft belly to me. She’s just been so anxious and excited, I hadn’t expected her to submit.1 Definitely a good sign.

Today was the first day we worked in harness and it was quite fun. It was also terribly cold. It got up to 28° but it felt far colder, especially when the breeze was blowing. Our first walk was okay, but definitely not amazing. Yara was very excited about everything going on and got distracted and hesitant a fair number of times. And, of course, I’m still trying to get all this stuff down and unlearn what I was taught before. I’m sure I’m hardly helping make things easier on her! She doesn’t pull out in harness with the great force Dolly used to exert, but she walks really fast! Our second walk was much, much better. She was a lot calmer and much more responsive. And after we were through and back home, Megan informed me that she hadn’t bothered to clip her leash on along with me.2

Meaning, we had our first independent route! I’m very proud of us both. Megan said we did “very well” and was quick to point out that we did our first halts all on our own. Go us!

Back inside my far warmer house, Megan and I went over things I can improve on. Fidelco’s positioning and even some command executions are very different than what I learned from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, so I need to work on that a bit. Then we went over some more obedience. We worked a bit more with targeting as well as sits and downs. And then we did some “go lay down” exercises, which seemed to make Yara quite happy as it involved her bed.

A very productive day, I must say! I think Yara would agree, but as she fell asleep while I typed this she’s unable to say so specifically.

  1. Being a Labrador retriever, Dolly all but throws her belly at you. She’s always been very passive and incredibly submissive.
  2. Guide dog training usually starts with the instructor slowly handing over control of the dog to the handler and one specific technique is to keep their leash on the collar along with the handler’s.

The Terrible Twos

Yara a dark sable German shepherd dog, is pictured lying on the floor looking off to the left.Pictured on the left is my new furry companion, Yara. She’s just over 28 months and, as to be expected, very much a two-year-old dog.

Yesterday was a pretty laid back day. We didn’t do too much beyond letting her explore the house and some basic obedience. Not surprisingly, I learned that I’m not so great about “dog-proofing.”1 Yara discovered all kinds of stuffed animals to try and chew, fish food to sniff, and all manner of things to knock off shelves and tables. Her tail is very long so this isn’t much of a surprise, but it’s clearly going to be an adjustment to have such a young dog again. She’s also quite the whiner, which I found out is rather a common German shepherd thing. Thankfully, she gave me a bit of a reprieve towards the end of the day because I never would have gotten to sleep!

Megan gave me a bit of information overload, I think, but we went over everything from basic care to putting the harness together. One thing I learned was how to “target” with Yara, which is something of a game that Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation uses. I need a bit of practice. We also worked a bit with using a gentle leader on Yara. I found it gave me more control over her when she was being especially exuberant or “mouthy.” I’m not sure Yara enjoys having it on all that much, though.

Today, we do harness work for the first time. Currently it is 23°F and it’s not going to get much warmer! There’s a chance it may even snow!

  1. Dolly has spoiled me.

Dog Day Has Arrived!

There should be a law that on Dog Day only interesting (read: distracting) things occur so that time moves at least slightly faster than a snail’s crawl.

Perhaps I am just a tiny bit excited. I can’t help it. Nearly 21 months ago I retired Dolly. It is truly thrilling to be getting a new dog! I keep imagining what Yara looks like and how she’ll behave and it just makes me even more giddy about the impending meeting.

According to what Megan told me yesterday, she should be here in about three hours. I may possibly die of anticipation between then and now.

I think back to when I trained with Dolly. It’s hard to believe I could have ever been this excited before, but I’m sure that I was just as anxious back then. I remember that Stacey, my roommate, got her call first and how jealous I felt of her as I sat there waiting for my name to be called. When she returned with her dog Faraday, I thought I’d explode from the level of envy I felt at watching her sitting on her bed, quietly talking to her new partner who seemed completely enamored with her.

Finally, finally my name came across the PA system and I had to restrain myself from dashing out of the room and running flat out to the kitchenette where I’d be meeting my new guide dog.

For her part, Dolly was possibly ten times as excited as I was! During our pre-meeting briefing we had all been instructed on what to do during this introduction: call our dogs over, greet them calmly, and clip our leashes onto their collars. We had been told that we would have a few moments to get acquainted with the dogs before retiring to our rooms for the afternoon. We had also been warned to expect them to be “very excited” because they were young dogs, we were new people, and they had all recently been bathed, but no one had prepared me for the black blur of puppy energy that bounded into the tiny room. Dolly flew into the kitchenette, nails scraping on the linoleum, and raced around the table I sat at like the floor was covered in hot coals. She immediately responded when I called her name, but rather than coming to me and sitting down like she was supposed to do, she hopped squarely into my lap and managed to thoroughly bathe my face with her slimy tongue before I could even squeak out a protest. She also graced me with the first of many frenchings and then leaped clean over my head and started up her mad dash around the table again. By now the trainers were practically yelling at me to gain control of Dolly and, frankly, I didn’t know what to do! Honestly, I was kind of scared of this little girl; she was completely insane!

Somehow I got my leash on her, though not without a bit of manhandling from the trainers, and we returned to our room. Dolly and Faraday recognized each other straight away — and we would later find out they had been kennel mates — but they gave both Stacey and I quite a shock when they immediately lunged for one another and engaged in what I can only describe as a dog embrace. My roommate was quick to put a kibosh on any antics like that and before I knew it she was back in the corner murmuring to her dog, who at least for his part didn’t look nearly as interested in that activity as he had earlier. I would have been a bit offended at the harsh reaction, but I was too distracted by Dolly who was busy sniffing every inch of the room she could get to within the extent of her two feet of leash. I was supposed to be keeping her from doing such behaviors, but before I could muster the strength to reprimand her she walked face first into the desk.

This is what they expected to lead me down the street the following day? I asked myself and then promptly burst into tears. 1 Rather than spend the afternoon softly crooning to my dog or whatever other tips I’d been given to start bonding with her, I called a bunch of friends and tried desperately not to lose my shit. Sometime during those phone calls Dolly won me over with weapons grade affection (i.e., lots of snuggling and kisses) and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s hard to believe that was more than nine years ago. Time certainly has flown by.

Well, except this morning . . . !

  1. The fact that I was possibly given a blind dog remains a joke amongst my friends and family to this day.