Yara Goes to the Mall, the Redux

Today was exceptionally warmer than the last week and the sidewalks by my house are pretty clear so I took Yara for a quick walk down the street and back. She was excellent, she didn’t pull too hard and was extra cautious when we came to a driveway with a car parked in it. We didn’t go as far as I’d initially planned because we came upon a really icy patch just before the corner. But I’m still glad to have gotten her out just by my house.

Next up for us was a trip back to Rotterdam Square Mall and the first issue I had was the taxi itself. I now have a definite thing to work on next week with Megan: getting into cars! I really don’t know how to explain what happened, but it’s pretty apparent that the idea of sitting on the front seat floor1 did not make much sense to Yara. She waited patiently as I got in and when I called her into the car, she tried to hop right on the seat with me! I gave her a verbal correction and pushed her off and we tried it again with basically the same result. On the third try she stayed on the floor but just stopped halfway with most of her body still hanging out of the car. She didn’t seem at all pleased when I basically picked up her back end and moved her into the car; she spent the entire ride to the mall battling with me by trying to get her front feet on the seat. I concede that there was not a ton of space for her to squeeze into in the car, but she really was being much more obstinate than the situation called for.

I think we both were relieved when we arrived at the mall, even though it was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it there. I wanted to give Yara some time just to acclimate to all the people, and so I took Megan’s suggestion and found a bench to just sat with her while she watched all the holiday shoppers mill passed. A few people paused by us to admire her or strike up a bit of conversation. I really wanted to let her just be there and try and ignore everyone, but it seemed every time she would settle down and just relax a kid would come up and I just can’t say no to letting them pet my dog when they politely ask. Call me a softie, but I know I would have been crushed as a child if I saw a dog at a mall and was told I was not allowed to pet her. It’s another thing when they run right up and maul the dog, though. But in either case I try to give an appropriate education about guide dogs for their own understanding. The thing is, though, that children seem to be her real big people distraction. I don’t know what it is about kids that gets her, but I almost feel like letting them give her attention is almost solidifying the issue.

After about thirty minutes my rear end had fallen asleep and even though Yara wasn’t nearly as settled as I would have wished I got up and started walking through the mall. Yara was pretty good for that first lap and then on the way back she started being thoroughly distracted by people and walked me straight into a table. She stayed pretty focused after the fact, so I started walking her through some stores as well. I was really pleased with how well she cleared all the obstacles and was extra cautious to make sure there was lots of room to work her way through. In Hallmark we had a bit of trouble walking down one aisle and I eventually figured out that on the right were some pillars which made the space even more narrow. She’s really just so smart and attentive!

While I was browsing around some ornaments, a little boy came up to me and nervously questioned what breed of dog Yara was. A few minutes later his friend came up and asked her name. Followed shortly thereafter by the first boy’s mother who explained to me he was learning about service dogs in school. She asked if it would be okay for them to ask me a few questions about how Yara helps me and, of course, I was more than willing. So, I sat there on the floor with Yara and told the two boys all about my eye disorder and what guide dogs do for blind people. Soon a few Hallmark employees had stopped to listen in and eventually I had amassed somewhat of a crowd in the middle of the keepsake ornaments. It was kind of embarrassing, honestly, but what can you do. When I finished the boy’s mom thanked me and said she was so happy that her son and his friend would have all this stuff to tell their class tomorrow. Really, how awesome is that?

  1. The safest place in a vehicle for a dog that is not either in a crate or buckled in is on the floor, this way they have no ability to go anywhere and injure either themselves or you.

Understanding Yara

Last night during some free time, Yara noticed something outside that got her attention. I heard a few woofs before I’d found her pacing around the dining room. When she saw me, she came running over, but whatever it was still bothered her enough to growl softly about it. I gently reprimanded her and after one more tiny bark she trotted off to the living room and started batting her ball around. I didn’t hear anyone outside, so my guess is it was most likely one of the various cats in the neighborhood. Probably out pawing through the garbage cans in my driveway. Still, barking is kind of a big no-no in guide dogs.

Since today is one of our “off” days for training, I took advantage of that and slept way later than I should have. Yara didn’t seem to mind that I wouldn’t crawl out of bed until 9:00 a.m., but I do wonder how much she sleeps at night. Any time I roll over I can hear her jump up and excitedly run around the length of her tie-down. It’s pretty cute how attentive she is to me, but it’s kind of creepy thinking about this dog just staring at me all night long. She’s so silly. It cracks me up.

Of course, when I finally dragged my lazy butt out of bed, I was greeted with the morning crazy. Yara had chosen one of Dolly’s rejected chew toys1 to toss around this morning. For all the excitement she has when I get up, I’m always surprised that she never relieves herself on the first trip outside. It’s odd. She didn’t eat much of her breakfast this morning either. Perhaps the novelty of the canned food has worn off. Dinnertime will make this hypothesis a bit more conclusive. I still have yet to fully understand her eating pattern as she’s been so finicky.

She’s still not a big fan of being groomed which I’m not so used to. Dolly never enjoyed it either but she just stood there with a forlorn expression and let me brush her out and clip her nails and all that other stuff. Yara, on the other hand, gets quite doggishly annoying; she’s very whiny and mouthy with me when I get to a sensitive area. If she’s really getting fed up, she’ll just plop her butt down and starts getting very silly. This morning, I managed to get a good amount of brushing done before she finally had enough and since the session had managed to fill up my sinuses, I thought I might try to vacuum a bit. There is already a ton of Yara hair in the house already, but I’ve been reluctant to take out the vacuum since I don’t know how she’ll react.2 I decided to start off using the Dirt Devil hand held vacuum to test things out and so I started in my bedroom and cleaned the rug under her fleece bed. She didn’t seem too thrilled about it, but she wasn’t especially bothered either. In fact, she seemed cautiously curious about it all. I’m relieved.

  1. A very sturdy tire on a rope toy that my grandmother gave Dolly one Christmas as a “last resort,” having had every previous gift be eaten up or destroyed before all the presents under the tree were unwrapped. Whether it was simply uninteresting or she lost interest because she couldn’t destroy it immediately I don’t know, but the toy’s basically untouched.
  2. Dolly gets pretty traumatized by the vacuum cleaner, for instance.

Yara Goes to the Mall

I woke up this morning thinking I’d beat my alarm and since Yara wasn’t being all crazy excited I figured I would just roll over and wait for it to go off. Except I ended up falling asleep and it turns out I’d forgotten to set my alarm last night so I ended up sleeping until 7:30 a.m. Oops! Yara was very happy when I finally crawled out of bed. She’s always so enthusiastic when I wake up and I have to get her to calm herself before I can take her off tie-down and put her leash on. She has to rub all over me and flip around on her back and jump around with her bone a bit.

For her breakfast, I mixed more of the canned food with her kibble and she ate nearly all of it. One thing is certain, she’s not turned off by the smell of Abady because that canned stuff smells pretty raunchy, too. At least she’s eating more regularly. It really helps getting a schedule down. Since she was good and did all her business and ate so well, I gave her a bit of free time before Megan got here while I tried to wake myself up enough to get dressed and all that. I hate waking up late, I just feel all discombobulated for the rest of the day.

Anyway, Megan and I went downtown and took a decently long walk for some outdoor work. It’s warmed up a bit and even though it snowed some last night most of the ice and snow had melted or been cleared away. There weren’t many people out being so early on a Saturday, so it was pretty basic and straight forward curb to curb stuff. Yara did extremely well. She got distracted by a few people, but never anything really bad. Even when Megan ran off ahead to try and distract her, she still responded to just my verbal correction to keep her pace. In fact, she’s so super cautious and attentive that she slows way down if I just misstep or falter. She’s such a sweet girl. It’s cute.

Afterwards, as the title suggests, we went to Rotterdam Square Mall! First we did some obedience stuff with Megan trying to tempt Yara to break her stays. Since we were right by the food court we had quite a few people milling past and I think some people walking must have thought: “What the heck are these women doing to that dog?” It must have looked very bizarre.

After that we walked the length of the mall just to see how Yara would do. She slammed my shoulder into one of those display window walls that kind of jut out, but other than that she did terrific. She was a little distracted by all the people, especially the kids, but she got back on task fairly quick and relatively easy. I love that she tries to walk me on the right, rather than Dolly who always curved to the left and made me walk against everyone. Of course, with Dolly’s left side thing, I always got to part people like the Red Sea and that’s always fun and amusing!

On our way back, Megan ran ahead and tried to set up some distractions and pedestrian obstacles and the like. Yara was great and extra cautious and I’d have to prod her along. I have to remember to not be all “GEB-minded” and use the leash so much to encourage her since she’s so sensitive it seems to make her get stuck more than move her along, but some training habits are a bit harder to learn anew.

Having finished our mall tour, we had some lunch in the food court and talked about some plans for next week. I couldn’t help but comment on everyone’s reactions to the dog while we ate. Especially this one mom who walked by with her kids and said plain-as-day to her children as she pointed at Yara lying down at my feet, “Look! That doggy is working!” I’m sure her little kids had no understanding of what she meant. I know when I was a child I never would have understood how much “work” it is for a dog to be so well behaved in such a crowded place, especially with food involved. And really, lying on the floor hardly seems like work anyway. The thing about kids, I’ve learned, is they have one of two reactions to seeing a guide dog: total shock and awe at seeing a dog or complete and absolute fright, usually resulting in abruptly bursting into tears. I always feel bad about scaring little kids with my guide dog and we gave a few children a bit of a fright while we walked through the mall and later at Hannaford’s. It’s pretty jarring to just see a dog out in a store in the first place, and I imagine that is much more so the case when the dog is so very big in comparison to you!

Before heading back home, we went to Hannaford’s so I could pick up a few things. Yara got to practice some more heeling behind a cart and she was actually exceptionally well behaved today. She only whined once and that was at the checkout and I think it was partially at the injustice of not being able to sniff at the display of potato chips or something at the foot of the conveyor belt. Again, she was a bit solicitous with people around the store, but for the most part nothing too bad. She’s still not half as bad as Dolly with the people distractions and Megan said exactly my thoughts later that she believes Yara will just get used to it as time goes on. She suggested that over the weekend when I take Yara back to the mall to just take some time to sit on a bench and let her just be in a sit or a down and watch people without letting her get all friendly and stuff. We’re hoping that by doing so, she’ll be able to get her focus and not be so easily excitable by everyone around her.

Once we were back home, Megan and I worked on some more obedience things. She showed me some practical applications for targeting, like how to use it to get Yara into harness or how to recall her. We also worked some more with go lay down and stays, increasing the distance I walk away from her and having Megan try and distract her out of the command. In short, Yara and I have lots of homework to do on our two days “off!”

Can’t believe our first week is already over. It really flew right by! I’ve got to say, I’ll be a bit sad when next week is over. Training can be very fun, if not entirely exhausting.

Good Dog. Bad Dog.

In the continuing saga of Yara and her food, I mixed in the canned wet food with the untouched kibble from this morning. She seemed very interested in what I was doing with her food, and kept trying to sneak her nose under my arms while I was at the counter. I took that as a good sign and even though she was still hesitant to eat, much to my surprise she cleaned out her entire bowl! Yay!

Later, after we worked on some obedience exercises, I gave her some free time. While I was in my office checking my email I heard some unidentifiable noise. I called for Yara and headed off to discover the origin of the noise, only to be greeted with the sounds of said dog drinking out of my toilet. The little sneak managed to knock open the bathroom door!

Just goes to show, no matter how well trained guide dogs are. At the end of the day, they are still dogs through and through.

Dog Food and Pine Hills

As I mentioned yesterday, Megan suggested adding some cookie treats to Yara’s dinner last night. We both figured there was a good possibility Yara would just eat around the kibble; however, she did one better than that, she ate all the cookies and spit all the kibble into her water. This morning I tried feeding it to her dry, just to see how she’d react and again she wouldn’t touch it. She chugged down water, though, and then vomited it up all over my kitchen floor.

I hate to say it, but I’m beginning to think Yara’s not a big fan of Abady.

Anyway, I talked with Megan about it and she suggested adding some canned food tonight. We picked some up during our route today at Price Chopper, so we’ll see what happens.

For today’s training we went to the Pine Hills area of Albany where I used to live. I really love this area because it’s still very residential and yet a very accessible part of the city. As we had hoped, the sidewalks were very clear and I got to really work Yara on her curb stops since she’s kind of hesitant to get right up there. Apparently she thinks I have about another foot of length in my legs. We got to work lots of obstacles, too, as it appears to have been trash day. Yara is very cautious with obstacles which is good in the sense that she’s not barreling by and walking me into things, but it’s a bit of a chore prodding her along sometimes. I have to keep remembering I’m not in a rush to get anywhere so it’s okay to stop and take my time with her.

We did some indoor work at Price Chopper. We worked on follow with Megan walking ahead of us and weaving around. Yara was a little distracted at times, but she was very good. We also did some work with heeling behind the cart. Like Dolly, or any guide dog really, she had a bit of trouble not treating it like an obstacle to go around, but she got the idea pretty quick and I think eventually got bored just walking around and started up that whining thing of hers. I will say she is a ton better about the whining than she was on our first day, but it’s still super annoying.

After that we had some lunch at the Subway food court on Madison and I was quite pleased with how well she was. She’s just a tiny bit solicitous, but she’s got nothing on a Labrador retriever. At the table she was just perfect and didn’t make a peep while Megan and I ate our food.

Once we were back home, Megan showed me our new obedience stuff for the day: come to heel and come around. The come around is a new one for me to wrap my head around. At GEB they were always against the “cheating” come where you switch hands with the leash and after awhile you get so used to your dog being on the left anyway you don’t even question it. We also worked a bit with Yara about grooming. Oh, she’s such a brat about it! I admit, I was spoiled with Dolly, she may have hated all of that stuff like grooming and having her teeth brushed but she just stood there and tolerated it. Granted she wore an expression that plainly said it was torture, but she never put up a fight about it. Yara, on the other hand, just gets really mouthy and starts being very silly when I start brushing her in more sensitive areas like her tail. It’s funny, but also kind of annoying at the same time.

Speaking of the furry one, she’s groaning in her sleep beside me!

For part of tomorrow’s training, we’re going to the mall and then grocery shopping. Who says guide dog training has to be all work?

EDIT: Oh, for those of you reading this via syndication, let me remind you to please comment here on the website. Syndicated entries are automatically deleted after an indefinite amount of time and I don’t get any notification of comments left elsewhere like LiveJournal, so I likely will not see them.