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.

A List (Mostly for Myself)

I’m devoid of anything of substance to post today, so instead I give you my list of some of the random things I need to discuss with Megan when she gets back tomorrow.1

  • Introducing Dolly and Yara. (Tentatively set for Tuesday night.)
  • Using the Met as our New York City destination for Saturday’s trip.
  • Work with Yara about getting into cars!
  • Yara. Food. Oiy!
  • The loose clasp on the prong collar.
  • . . . There was something else and now I forget . . . Poo.
  1. I know, aren’t you thrilled beyond telling?

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.