GSD Logic

I get asked a lot1 about the differences I experience working with a shepherd. One thing I stress, whether your looking at a GSD for a potential guide dog or a family pet, is that shepherds are almost too smart for their own good. By this I mean that dog training is usually presented in a pretty linear fashion: teach a dog a thing. Dogs are eager to please and so this works out well. Shepherds, however, almost analyze a given task to the point that often it’s more accurate to say you teach them why they should do a thing. I, personally, enjoy the challenge that presents, but then I also have a shepherd who routinely stands on her head so, you know, I might be a bit cracked in the head.

Anyway, saw this on my Facebook feed, and it is possibly the best example of this that I have ever seen:

 

EDIT: Right after posting this, I saw a related video of another GSD:

 

My favorite part of this is when the shepherd looks over his shoulder, making sure he’s not being watched, before busting out his little buddy.

  1. I mean a lot.

Best of 2013

I started out the year with every intention of using my camera more just to simply learn it. And while I didn’t quite increase my photography amount or frequency, I did at least become more familiar with my shiny red DSLR. Though, of course, I’m still very much an amateur. Here’s a smattering of some of my personal favorite photos from the past year:

Additionally, you might also be interested in last year’s “best” photos.

Assumptions About Guide Dogs: A Top Ten List

The theme for the tenth #ADBC was “Perfect 10″ which could be interpreted in several different ways. My submission focused on the “myth” of perfection, but while going through my usual initial post writing struggle I looked through my drafts here and stumbled on this long dormant post idea. I’m more of a “seat of your pants” type when writing blog posts and that doesn’t really lend itself to the blogging fad of top-ten type list posts, but this seemed an appropriate time to finally dust this draft off and share some of the ways people make asses of themselves incorrect assumptions the general public have about guide dogs.


#10. Guide dogs are not pedigreed
In point of fact, all three of my guide dogs have been purebreds, but I am very often confronted by people who choose to challenge this. I’m not entirely sure if these people just feel I’ve been swindled by my guide dog school and actually have a mongrel, but sometimes the tone suggests these same people feel they just know more that I do about the breed of dog I happen to be working with. The one thing that they don’t understand is that while my dog might not be the ideal of the breed standard, her breeding was as meticulously planned out as the finest show dog. Training schools most often breed their own dogs because they can better track the specific traits that are important in a future guide dog, especially since these are not necessarily the same qualities a breeder would target. Through breeding their own dogs the schools also have access to the genetic history of their dogs, which is important in producing sound and healthy dogs.

Yara and Uschi lying together on the sofa in my living room#9. Guide dogs are better than white canes
This is not about my personal preference of working with a guide dog over a white cane, but rather the misguided belief that there’s almost a continuum of mobility aides that a blind person uses. Both are fine tools to travel independently, but not necessarily the best tool for each individual blind person. There are pros and cons to both and in my case the pros of a guide dog far outweigh the cons in comparison to using a white cane. For what it’s worth, I am a strong supporter of every blind person learning to use and possessing a white cane even if they have enough residual vision to travel without one and/or work with a guide dog. It’s just a handy skill to have, like knowing how to read Braille.

#8. Guide dogs love their job
This is perhaps one of the few assumptions that isn’t so much inaccurate as only partly true. Guide dogs do enjoy their jobs and to them it’s less work as just what they’re supposed to do. It’s a choice she’s made to be in this role and one she continues to make each day. I know this by the enthusiasm and excitement she has in her work and even, more often than not, the mere anticipation of doing work. However, for as much as I personally love my job, there are days I’d rather just lounge around the house doing anything but and I’m sure guide dogs must feel the same way now and then. Which is why I do my best to make her working life as far from mundane as I can. For instance, I give her lots of positive reinforcement and we have our own downtime to just let her be a dog.

#7. Absent a guide dog handlers are helpless
It’s rare that I’m not working my guide dog when out of the house. And I admit I’ve had words with people who’ve tried to persuade me to not bring my dog along just because they don’t particularly like being around the dog. I’ve also had words with those that stated the opposite: that they “worry” about me when I’m separated from my guide dog. Yes, I depend on her, but that doesn’t not make me dependent. Though I greatly prefer to have her guide me when I’m going somewhere, especially a place I am unfamiliar with, I am not incapable of navigating independently without her. Furthermore . . .

#6. The guide dog does all the “work”
We call ourselves “a team” for a reason because it’s a joint partnership and we work together, but for whatever reason people seem to think that guide dogs are less leading a blind person and more physically dragging them from place to place. I suppose that would work just fine if guide dogs were automatons with the power to read minds, but then they would probably be less satisfied with their jobs guiding the blind and just revolt and take over the Earth. In all seriousness, though, I admit that there have been times I’ve sort of spaced out and my guide dog has pretty much worked without my input. However, most of the time when that’s happened my dog just gets sloppy and I don’t so much magically end up where I’d planned as I do walking face first into a door. The metaphor of the camel’s nose (“give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile”) comes to mind. Essentially, what I’m saying is that if I let her do all the work, we’d spend much less time getting where I wanted to be and far more time sniffing every tree we came across.

Me with my arms embracing Uschi, who is in harness and giving me a kiss on the face#5. Guide dog team are best friends
I love my guide dogs a great deal and we share a very significant and special bond. However, she’s really not best friend material. Personally, I prefer a bit more stimulating conversation and a bit less watching her lick her rear end. I’m sure she loves me just as much as I do her and it’s probably fair to say that I’m her favorite human, but I’m still not a dog and judging from the exuberance of her playtime I think dogs find other dogs infinitely more fun.

#4. Guide dogs are superior to other dogs
Personally, I find comparing completely pointless, but I do have a lot of people profess to me how great my guide dog is in regard to pretty much any other dog. A lot of the time people are trying to find a way to ask about what happens to career-changed dogs. Dogs that are released from guide dog training programs far outnumber those that actually work in harness and there are a great number of reasons any potential guide dog could fall short. Each school has their own particulars about what dogs will or won’t meet their qualifications, but they all strive to find an equally fulfilling life for the dog. Some go on to other working careers such as therapy or drug detection; while others find their niche in life is to be a loved pet. Regardless of where they end up, they’re valued and that makes them superior in their own way.

#3. Another (pet) dog is “just like” a working guide dog
This one is somewhat related to #4. It’s not very often that someone says this directly to me, but I do hear the statement that “such-and-such dog is just like [my] guide dog” or “such-and-such dog could actually be a guide dog.” Maybe it’s true. But, probably, it’s not. I’ve known some very smart, obedient, and well-behaved dogs in my life, but those qualities don’t necessarily make a guide dog. For one, as important as formal training is that is only one part of the preparation future guide dogs receive. In fact, their entire puppyhood is about preparing them for their potential working life and often the qualities that make a dog a good guide are exactly the things that make them not so great pets. For instance, a guide dog should be obedient and well-behaved, but also stubborn and intelligent enough to know when to disobey a command or take the initiative to do something on their own. This is a very uncommon skill and one of the more difficult aspects of guide dog training. That other dog might be really exceptional, but it does not mean they’re guide dog material.

Me embracing a happy looking Yara in harness#2. A working guide dog is still training
Okay, technically this is more accurately a team assumption, but it is literally the most common thing I hear after the general stat inquiries about my guide dogs. For a very long time I used to take this to mean that people thought I didn’t need a guide dog — and for what it’s worth I have had people (even family members) outright state this. I’ve also had it come from a place of justifying what is perceived as my guide dog misbehaving. The truth is actually less offensive and more amusing, though, because what it usually comes down to is that people generally don’t recognize the difference between a person who is partnered with a guide dog and a volunteer1 with a puppy in pre-training. Part of this is due to the common misunderstanding that “blind” means “totally blind,” so people often mistake the ability to see anything for being fully sighted. Honestly, I think people just don’t expect to run across a real guide dog team, so they are genuinely inquiring out of curiosity. That said, this isn’t a wholly inaccurate assumption, in my opinion. While guide dogs have essentially had years of training, it really doesn’t stop the day they are partnered with their handler or when the team finishes their instruction. Maintaining the high level of training that a guide dog has received is a constant process and a lot of that is how the team bonds. But to avoid confusion I personally tend to avoid using the term “train” when referencing obedience exercises or other bonding activities that would specifically fall into this category.

#1. Guide dogs never make mistakes
The basic assumption is that guide dogs are perfect and this one is particularly difficult because it is the general expectation the public seem to have of guide dogs. I also find that handlers tend to be highly critical of other teams and judge them poorly if they witness mistakes being made. I’m guilty of once thinking this was true myself and my inability to achieve perfection with my guide dog partner was the cause of great shame for me. I thought the fact that my guide dog made mistakes was because of my shortcomings as a handler. I felt that perhaps my guide dog wasn’t meant to be my partner. I even thought it made us a failure as a team. The truth is mistakes happen. Guide dogs are dogs regardless of their high level of training and they are fallible. As are their human partners. It’s simply a fact of life and expecting differently is a standard which no one can achieve and will only succeed in causing disappointment.

  1. The specifics of the mistaken assumption, I think, vary depending on where you live. In the City where several training schools work, I’ve had many people think I was a guide dog instructor. Whereas at home my dog is often thought to still be awaiting formal training as I live in a pretty active puppy raising region.

Addendum

I rambled so nonsensically yesterday that half of what I intended to ramble about didn’t get mentioned. I’ll likely do the same today because while I’m far calmer I’m still relentlessly neurotic about that thing I can’t talk about. Also, I am cryptic.

Anyway, the biggest thing I didn’t mention was this article on the Health and Wellness blog at The New York Times about EPI. I am so thrilled that this article has seen the light of day because it is really big exposure for EPI. I can’t stress enough how important it is to spread awareness of EPI because that lack itself is one of the largest hurdles to deal with. And even among those that are familiar with the condition, it’s still one that is mostly associated with German shepherds, however, it is not exclusive to the GSD or even just to dogs!

Yara and me lying in the grass togetherI sincerely hope you take the time to read the article, but even more I’d appreciate it if you would share the link with others and help increase awareness of EPI. And, if you’re in a particularly generous mood, there are a bunch of fine products you can purchase that will benefit EPI research and the campaign to spread awareness, including, but not limited to the 2013 calendars which features this lovely photo by Red Cottage Photography. (Thanks again, Mike!)

Speaking of guide dogs, I also neglected to mention my sort-of-kind-of resolution for next year to really get guide-dogs.org off the ground. I know I’ve been saying that for, well, awhile, but in my defense I need to eat and so unfortunately things that actually help with that need took priority. Also, there was that whole pain issue. But I still have everyone’s contact information who voiced any interest in helping and I fully intend to pester those people relentlessly. Along with anyone else who wants to help out!

Oh, and I also totally forgot about the pain stuff. Well, honestly, there’s not too much to report. My new doctor remains awesome and she is in total agreement with me about not prescribing drugs with crazy side-effects just on the off chance they might help. Unfortunately, she’s exhausted any ideas beyond that and so has referred me to a rheumatologist. My appointment isn’t until after the New Year, but frankly at this point waiting is the least of my issues. As far as I’m concerned it may well be fibromyalgia and everything we’re doing is pointless because there really isn’t anything that can be done. But I’m relieved that my new doctor is on board with me and isn’t taking that diagnosis as the ultimate answer. The stiffness in my fingers is what concerns her the most, which was something my previous doctor didn’t seem to think was much of an issue at all. Personally, I’m really fond of the ability to use my hands and those few weeks where I couldn’t even bend my fingers to hold a coffee cup were almost worse than the few weeks I was in so much pain I couldn’t move.

I Love Libraries

I haven’t done a meme in what seems like forever, but I also haven’t really been posting so I thought I’d put my answers here from Clari Clyde.

Comment on this post with “I love libraries” and I’ll give you seven things I want you to talk about. They may make sense or they may be totally random. Then post that list to your journal with your commentary. Other people can get lists from you and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.

Scroll down or follow the jump for my list and responses.

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