“This must be what going mad feels like.”

I think Yara is trying to drive me insane tonight. She’s fine so long as she’s not anywhere near the front door. She’ll lay quietly and chew on a bone or contentedly bat a toy around or even snuggle up close to me. But the second she gets up for any reason she inevitably heads for the front door; where she camps out and starts up that obnoxious whining thing of hers. Literally, I’ve gone to fetch and distract her away from the door six separate times tonight.

Oddly, the whining isn’t even the thing that bugs me the most, it’s the camping out by the front door because she starts growling and barking at anything she thinks is on the other side. It’s really just the worst habit to let her get into, especially as a guide dog.

I feel it’s a loosing battle, though.

Just Say No (to Distractions)

There are a fair number of things people have done to me and/or my dogs that are greatly annoying. People pet the dog even when I very politely request they not. Some try and feed her1 regardless of my pleas. Others still are just plain rude or inconsiderate. However, in my very humble opinion, the most unacceptable thing to ever do to a guide dog is to distract her while she is very evidently working. I’m all too used to explaining how much “work” it is for a dog to be calm and merely sit or lie down at my feet, but I really think it’s rather obvious what a guide dog is doing when walking with a blind person in harness!

Today, for the second time in my years working with a guide dog, I had a person stoop down and pet my girl as I was in the middle of crossing a street. Both times I’ve wished we were in a less dangerous and busy place so I could share a few choice pieces of my mind. Probably it’s been a good thing all around that I haven’t. Yet, it hardly changes the fact that I think of such a heinous thing to be right up there with suddenly clapping one’s hands over the eyes of a person driving a vehicle. It’s literally that amount of stupid and unsafe.

You could say these people were not thinking or that they were just ignorant of proper guide dog etiquette. I agree and yet I don’t. Was I the only little girl taught not to go up to strange dogs I don’t know and pet them? I think not.

  1. One of the most appalling examples occurred while I waited for a bus. A woman walked by us finishing off a barbecued chicken wing and tossed the bone to Dolly. Thankfully, a friend was with me and retrieved the bone before my girl could potentially choke on it.

Yara vs. the Fish!

I believe round one goes to the curious dog. I watched her as she sidled up to the aquarium and observed the goings-on of the tetras within. She sat there silently for a good ten minutes or so, until something required the need to stand up and bark vigorously.

The cutest part was when I tried to divert her attention to quiet her and she trotted off to the front door to give it an obligatory woof. I guess one could argue that there was possibly something outside she was barking at the entire time. But it’s just as likely that once she realized she was caught in the act, she felt the need to hide the fact she was barking at something so beneath the necessity she had to cover it up!

Either way, I got a good giggle at her expense.

GDB Discontinues GSD Guide Dogs

Recently, a letter sent to Guide Dogs for the Blind graduates was made public on the National Association of Guide Dog Users email list:

After being part of our history for sixty-five years, we are regretfully nearing the end of the German Shepherd breed in our program. This foundation breed, first matched with veterans returning from World War II, has served our graduates well for many decades, but times have changed. The number of guide dog users that match well with a German Shepherd have diminished and our world has become faster, more congested, and distracting creating additional challenges for this generally alert, active breed.

Certainly, there are some German Shepherds who fill the bill admirably and are wonderful working guides. The issue we face is the majority of this breed does not fulfill the work they were bred for and the very issues which make them incompatible with the program make them difficult dogs to manage overall.

We are not alone on this issue. The decline of the German Shepherd breed for guide dog work has been recognized by other leading guide dog schools around the world. A poll of 70 international guide dog schools found that although 36 use the breed in their respective training programs, not a single one cited the German Shepherd Dog as the best suited for guide dog use in today’s busy environment.

Our breeding specialists, veterinarians, and instructors have been tracking this emerging trend for several years and have worked to reverse it through breeding exchanges within guide dog programs, outside purchases of breeders and puppies, donated dogs, and rescue organizations. Through all these efforts the success rate continues well below the colony average.

The large percentage that does not qualify for the program gives us strong reason for concern. These are dogs that are active, vocal and often have a hard time adjusting to a kennel environment. Staff resources must be focused on managing a small number of dogs to provide a quality of life that meets our high standards of care. General traits of the breed including high energy, tendencies toward protectiveness, and prey drive contribute to their complexities of success as a Guide Dog or as a pet. Guide Dogs for the Blind devotes tremendous effort into finding suitable adoptive homes for these dogs that will offer quality of life to both the dog and the adopter.

We have reviewed these combined factors from an ethical and humane standpoint and are adhering to our decision to only add breeding stock to our colony that meets our criteria. Thus, the anticipated decline of the German Shepherd breeding colony, as first reported last spring, has now materialized.

[Read more…]

Our Last Day

Yara’s started just ignoring her breakfast the last few days. Yesterday, she actually vomited while we were out, but she wouldn’t eat any of the treats we bought so I guess she’s fine enough. Last night I gave her two cups of food for dinner rather than the standard cup and a half and she ate it all up, albeit very slowly.

Anyway, we went to Crossgates Mall yesterday. Megan and I both were rather surprised that it wasn’t more crowded, but still we got a good share of pedestrian traffic to work around and a lot of strange obstacle work. Yara did excellent, as always. She walked me into another store front window that kind of jutted out, but all I did was drop the handle and she worked right around it the second time. We did some escalator work (read: gave me heart failure). I loathe escalators with a fierce passion, but Yara didn’t mind them at all. In fact, she kept indicating them when we’d pass by another set and would bring me right up to them even when I’d try to work her passed. It was amusing. We also did our first elevator and I think this time Yara nearly had heart failure as it was a glass one and she seemed rather positive if she got too close to the edge she was going to fall off or something untoward would happen. Poor baby. She was fine once I moved over a bit so she could turn in the opposite direction and not be so preoccupied with her possible demise.

Yara curled in a ball, lying in the corner by the front doorLater on, we went out to dinner at Pinhead Susan’s for our “Fidelco meal” and it was pretty packed. Yara was a total lazy bum and lounged out as much as she could under our table and my chair. Surprisingly, I’d never eaten there before! We’d had a slice of pizza at the mall, and I actually had some breakfast, but I was starving by the time we arrived and hardly could decide on what to get. I had some turkey artichoke dip sandwich thing and it was pretty yummy.

Today was our last official “day” of training and so we did all our paperwork and I signed my contract. Then, since it’s literally freezing out, we went to Walmart and did some laps while we shopped around. Nothing too strenuous and Yara was a total angel the entire time. She didn’t make even one mistake; I’m incredibly proud!

With the exception of a trip to NYC that will happen “sometime” that finished up everything we needed to do for our training. I can’t believe how fast it went! I’m kind of sad, to be honest, but I think it was really a very thorough ten days and I definitely learned a lot. As for Yara, I think it’ll be a wonderful match.

I leave you with one more grainy cell phone photograph above and now I am off for I am quite hungry. More updates on my lovely girl to come.