Uschi and I completed our training this morning with the normal formalities: contract signing and ID photo taking. Jason went over the basic things to work on, which was a short list of things that I could have spouted off myself. Nothing major, just the obvious things like keeping an eye on the dog distraction and not letting her get away with it in the least and remembering to actually use her name when giving her direction commands. Both of these are by-products of working with Yara; I never had to harshly correct her for anything because she took even the slightest correction so seriously and I’ve fallen out of habit of using her name with directions because she would lunge forward before I would get to the actual command. Tommy suggested dropping her name during a follow-up because of exactly this.

We opted not to take a last walk since (a.) it’s horrid outside and I think we’re all tired of trudging through the unpleasant weather and (b.) I honestly couldn’t think of anything we hadn’t covered that I’d be venturing through the winter weather to get to. Jason was adamant that if I needed assistance working on something when the weather was better that someone from the school would come out if I requested.1

Anyway, yesterday we had quite the busy day. We worked a bit in downtown Schenectady, which included a trip to the post office to mail my father some things for Yara. We also completed the last requirement on the training checklist: country travel. This required finding a place with no sidewalks, which took a surprisingly long time given we ended up basically around the corner from my house. Uschi did very well, though, I noted she was really speeding along. Jason joked that she probably thought we were morons and was trying to get us out of the road as quickly as possible. However, when we got to the end of the block, she flipped out crossing the street. Our best guess is that she got shocked by the electrical current under the road. There was a damaged power line pole at the corner. Given we both had boots with rubber soles on — and I hadn’t thought it necessary to put Uschi’s rubber-soled boots on her — we couldn’t really confirm this but she was fine to walk on basically any other part of the street. Later, we went back to downtown Schenectady for a “night walk,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a walk when the sun is down. Oddly, this isn’t a requirement for Fidelco’s training and I have no idea why that is.

Other than the small freak out during the country travel, Uschi did a splendid job through all three trips. She’s more sniffy than I would like, but easily focused. There’s something about snow that is utterly fascinating to her, which is proving to be a mild distraction for her and yet she only spaced out once during our walk. There was some police tape stretched across the sidewalk and she very nearly plowed me right through it, but it’s just as likely she’d have made that mistake even if she didn’t have her nose shoved in the snow. We also passed a few dogs in our travels and she was definitely aware of them, but they weren’t much of an issue. It’s definitely the one thing I intend to be very attentive to, though, so it doesn’t develop into a problem.

All things considered, I’m rather confident in this match. :-)

  1. No comment.

Training Recap

Busy last few days, been far too exhausted to even attempt meaningful posts. So I give you a quick rundown of the last few days.1

Monday was another “off” day for us and so the initial plan was to go back to Rotterdam Square Mall for a third time; however, I goofed when transferring buses and instead I just went to the local Price Chopper. Aside from not being used to me manhandling her for proper and safe positioning on the bus, Yara did amazingly well. And, as humorous as it may sound, I’m glad to say we survived our first experience of getting lost.

Tuesday, Megan and I took Yara to the SUNY Albany campus to work a bit inside and out. It’s a great place to kind of “test out” so to speak, since it’s not exactly guide dog friendly; especially when the fountains are off. The campus literally looks the same from every direction so there are very few landmarks and while a cane user can just follow the buildings along to find her way, a guide dog user is faced with many wide open spaces. There’s also a lot of random drop-offs right near stairs and some of them are fairly high and devoid of guard rails. We got to work with stairs for the first time and not surprisingly Fidelco’s method is slightly different than what I learned at GEB. Both are equally awkward, though, as you end up placing a foot on the first step before going forward. It’s a rather strange position to stand in with your hand on the harness. Yara was very good and for the most part wasn’t too distracted by all the people and the new surroundings. We worked with following again and it’s always so interesting to see her figure things out when she doesn’t quite give me enough clearance. I tripped over a stool in the library and afterwards she was extremely cautious when we would pass another one.

We’d planned to have Dolly and Yara meet that night, but as I was making dinner Keith called to bow out since the weather was getting pretty nasty near him. In the end, Megan came over anyway and we had the huge pasta dinner I’d whipped up without him. It was quite nice just chatting and having some good food. Megan was pretty shocked to see how calm Yara actually has been around here. She mentioned that she sees a lot of Yara’s brother, Yano, in her with the very mellow ability to just lie there and “crash out.” I have to admit I would never have expected it of her, judging from the first day she was here, but I’m glad she isn’t totally hyper and insane all the time. I think I’d be driven mad.

Wednesday, we worked traffic; Des came up from Fidelco to do the driving for us. I really, really love how thorough Fidelco handles traffic checks! We had pretty much any scenario you could imagine with a car, from turning in on us as we crossed a street to starting up in a driveway as we approached. As I predicted, Yara did amazingly well. She’s very cautious, her stops are very well defined. Des went so far as to really solidify the point of the car being a threat by pushing her back a few times. I was so incredibly proud of her. And not just about the traffic, either; she makes a point to try and walk me around ice and snow patches if she can and she’s very good about slowing down if we have to walk over ice. Actually, we hit a patch of black ice that neither Yara or Megan caught and we all nearly fell down, which just made Yara that much more cautious to avoid anything in the path. When we finished, Des took us aside and took some photographs.2 I’m not so sure how well they turned out given I had a hat on right before and it was quite windy. Still, once I get my copies, I’ll be sure to share them. Next up, we took a quick trip to my vet, to start a file for Yara, and City Hall, for her license.

Today we did some “country travel,” which is to say we walked around where there are no defined curbs or sidewalks. I’m glad we did get it in, since it is slightly different than the way Guiding Eyes taught me with the indenting at crossings. But I always find country work to be exceedingly slow and tedious. Yara spent most of it sort of distracted by the new place and I was practically frozen by the time we got back to the van.

Then, we did some more familiar routes in downtown. It was even more cold at this point, so we decided to not make it a terribly long walk since the forecast called for some snow in the afternoon. Yara did awesome with her curb stops and didn’t need much prodding to get right up to the edge for once. Megan told me later that she’s very impressed with how Yara avoids even the smallest little ice patch or toe trip that we pass. I really only noticed the bigger things we avoided like some parked cars and a bunch of pedestrians. In fact, I kind of scared Yara at one point because we were walking through a narrow part of the sidewalk when a bunch of people passed us on the left and Yara moved over to the right to avoid the ice and people and I got my foot stuck between the side of a low wall as we squished over. I always feel bad when I startle her by faltering because she reacts so much, but then she recovers so fast and gets right back on task that it’s hardly an issue. Megan and I both think it’ll just take her a bit of time to not freak out about that kind of stuff.

Anyway, we stopped off at a small diner and warmed up some. The elderly woman running it was very pleasant, she gave us the standard question routine and then told us about her blind sister and her pet dog. As we sat there drinking our coffee, the weather changed really quick and started to snow quite hard! Not long after it had started, we left to head home and the streets were already covered in a wet, slippery snow. By the time we got back to the van, there was already a good two or three inches covering everything.

Rather than head straight home, though, we decided that it might be fun to take Yara and Megan’s puppy, Stella, to the park. Stella was definitely in need of some exercise, having been cooped up in the van all morning and Yara was due for some unwinding since we didn’t work as long or walk as far as usual. The park was already covered in snow, and underlying was very slick since a lot of the snow and ice from before had melted in the warmer weather the last few days. Megan and I both took a spill in the parking lot before we even got the dogs out! Stella and Yara had a grand time chasing each other around the fenced-in ball park. Yara kept getting all fierce with Stella, who despite being about a quarter in size, was dishing it right back. They’d race around the perimeter of the fence and then wipe out completely when they’d hit a slick patch. It was pretty funny. We let them have their fill for about twenty minutes or so until Stella literally knocked me right over when she ran headfirst into my knee! I’m glad she didn’t end up hurting me, but I think it shocked Megan quite a bit!

We plowed our way through the snow back to my house and worked a bit with Yara on recalls, as well as positioning her properly for public transit rides. It’s hard to believe we’re basically done with the obedience stuff. And now we only have two more days of training; it’s gone so quickly!

  1. More like, long-winded and rambly rundown, but whatever.
  2. Four separate photos were taken. One for my guide dog handler’s identification card, another of Megan, Yara and I, one of just Yara and myself, and the last of Yara alone for her foster family.