This morning I got up looking forward to an afternoon off from training. While I’ve been doing well, I’m just honestly feeling emotionally and physically drained from all the different terms and things to remember, that honestly I don’t think I’ve ever heard/been told before. If I had, I seriously don’t remember them.
We started off with the routine 6am wake up call, and I seriously had a really hard time dragging myself out of bed this morning. Boomer came up and was nuzzling me on the face as if to say, come on Mom, you’re going to be late! I finally was able to get myself moving about 6:30 and grabbed a quick shower and multi-tasked this morning of moving the bath mat over in front of the mirror and putting his food bowl between my feet ( as we are supposed to feed them this way for now) and doing my hair/brushing my teeth as he ate. Then at 7am we got the call to begin watering, feeding, and then going out to break our dogs. Boomer quickly did both as it had been all night for him, so we came back in and went on down to the dining room.
This morning for breakfast we started off with a bowl of fruit and had some amazing blueberry pancakes and a slice of bacon to go with it. I wasn’t able to eat all the pancakes as there was just too much. From here, we met up in the gathering room and I had to work with Boomer on walking steadily to the door. He gets so anxious to work that he just goes full charge ahead towards the door and outside. So we had to work on sloooowing him down and making him walk steady out the door. He just amazes me as he’s so incredibly smart and wants to please so much. It usually takes about 20 minutes to get us all loaded or unloaded off the bus as we have to stop at each of the double doors going out and roll our backs to the door in order to protect the dogs from the door possibly hitting them. Then we have to make our way outside and direct the dogs exactly where we want it to go, making our way to the bus, then up the steps and to our seats, plus doing any re-working/corrections if the dog isn’t being steady, calm, or not stopping appropriately. So take this times 7 people that we have right now, it can take a bit to get us all loaded.
After everyone was loaded, we took off for the nice little town of St. James that has nice straight sidewalks and some obstacles to work around, but nothing complex, no lights or high traffic areas other than the main street you are walking along. We do encounter people with babies in strollers, other dogs, and so forth.. The bus was parked in the parking lot of a King Cullen grocery store, and this time we parked at the very front of the lot which was separated from the sidewalk/street by a good thick row of hedges. The trainers set up Camp chairs along the bus and the front curb of the lot for the students to sit in between the walks.
I sat on the bus for a bit but Boomer became fussy and kept getting up and down, whining and trying to get my attention and making it clear he wasn’t happy about sitting there on the bus when other dogs and people were outside without him. So we moved outside and he very quickly settled down when he could see he wasn’t being left out of the action. J A couple of other teams went first and we waited and enjoyed the very warm and sunny fall day.
When it was our turn, Barb came up and said hang on a minute, I want to snap some pictures of you all sitting here, everyone is being sooo good right now. J So after taking the pictures, she sight guided me over a couple of parking spots for me to give him a chance to go busy busy. He went pretty quickly and Barb was getting our harness ready to go. She came back and explained that while she had him in the size 50 harness in the morning, the size 50 harness that Ann had grabbed was really too big on him, so Anne had put a 48 on him. Barb said that the 48 fit him around, but really sat high on his withers and she didn’t like where it sat, so the size 50 harness that she had here fit him well and we’d use that until I get my new harness and that when she gave me the new one, she would put some extra holes in it to make it smaller to fit him correctly and to not let her forget about this. She also explained too that we’d try the 20 inch handle today too. So off we went!
We took off through the parking lot and made our way to the sidewalk and began our way down the sidewalk. First obstacle was the American flag hanging from the VFW building with a really pretty backdrop of some bright colored mums and a cute scarecrow. He took me around the flag, just clearing it like Rei used to do. Barb told me to halt and move up to his head and took a picture of us with the flag and backdrop. I can’t wait to see that one. J Off we went again and there was a trash receptacle, people with strollers and a lot of driveways to go across. The next major obstacle we came to was that a lady was approaching us and there was a high overhanging bush at my head height, but not at his. He did very well in that he saw that there wasn’t room for Us, and the lady on the sidewalk so he slowed down and then stopped, which is VERY good for a real first walk together and still learning my height.
We continued on and as we approached a driveway, he had been pulling quite hard and going almost too fast, and Barb reached out the same time I started to pull gently back on the harness and say to him Steady! We were both so focused on this, that at least I didn’t notice that there was a car pulling to the driveway out of the business and all of a sudden he stopped dead in his tracks before we even crossed into the driveway. Barb was like well he just stopped because there is a car there. Then she asked, how did you know I was going to reach out to steady him? I said well I was just getting ready to steady him because he was going faster and faster. So we take off again and keep going on down the sidewalk.
Next up we go directly under the end of a branch hanging straight down and it hits me in the head/hat that I was wearing. This is part of the learning process as we really haven’t worked together, so this is how we learn together. I stopped him and said to him, “Watch it!” and shook the branch a bit and then did an About (turn around) and walked back about 5 to 6 paces and then did another About, to re-approach the branch. Barb stepped in forced him to walk towards the branch and forced him to stop before the branch and praised him for “stopping” and not hitting the branch. Then I was to tell him find the way, Straight, and he emphatically moved around where the branch was and on we went.
We came to first corner which had a corner wheelchair ramp. While the one rounded wheelchair ramp is cheaper for the cities to put in, they can be detrimental to the blind person’s orientation. The dogs are trained to do what is called straight lining, which means they are trained to follow the imaginary center line of the sidewalk at all times and adjust that imaginary line so that both the dog and the handler, however wide both may be will fit through the space they are travelling. A correct set up of wheel chair ramps, there would be one ramp of the one side of the corner and a second ramp off the other side of the corner and a 90 degree corner between the two, which would allow the blind person to walk straight through the sidewalk to the ramp and on across the street they will be crossing to the opposite ramp. However because so many places have gone to the rounded corners and the single rounded ramps, if the dog and handler was to line up in the middle of these ramps, they are actually headed diagonally straight through the middle of the intersection, NOT straight across to the other side of the street. Thus the dogs are trained to access where the straight line is of the sidewalk across the street is and try to line up at the side of the wheelchair ramp straight towards where they are to be headed.
So when we approached this rounded wheelchair ramp, Boomer took me way to the right completely off the wheelchair ramp and Barb wasn’t sure what he was doing, possibly trying to avoid the tactile bumps on the wheelchair ramp, viewing them as an obstacle. However, he was lining us up correctly to the sidewalk across the street. So we continued on and when we came to the next corner/rounded wheelchair ramp, he did the same thing. Barb then said we would do a left, left curb and I frankly looked at her in a dumbfounded look and said “what? Did you just say “Left, Left, Curb?” She laughed at the expression on my face and I said ok what is a “left, left, curb? That is a new one for me!”
Contrary to what many people think, since the dogs and handlers are often very in sync with each other, the dogs do not determine the route point A and B. The dog will determine the route between points A and B. It is critical that the blind person/handler knows the layout of their route, the building, and their environment in order to tell the dog what is point A and point B. The handler tells the dog, go to point B and the dog determines the straightest and safest route to get there and when they reach point B, the process starts over again, becoming point A and a new point B is instructed by the handler. Also, as handlers, there is a LOT of footwork we have to learn in working with our dogs along with the voice commands and hand signals. We are to start off with the left foot forward ahead of the right food and the feet spread apart from each other at a good stance in case of being bumped, we aren’t simply knocked over. Starting in this manner helps promote the person to start off and walk in a straight line and not angle left into the dog and off the straight line that both the dog and handler are trying to follow.
Thus in order to make left and right turns, we have to move our bodies and feet into certain positions and what Barb had instructed me to do was tell the dog to do a left turn, left turn, and go to the curb. Which is fine, I just hadn’t heard it before and upon her explaining that I was going from the right straight line/side of the wheelchair ramp to the left straight line/side of the wheelchair ramp so I could cross the street perpendicular to the sidewalk I’d just been travelling on. So we did the Left, Left, curb and Barb then determined when it was okay to cross the street since it was a very busy street. We got across the street and once reaching the curb and ramp, we made another left turn to put us following the straight line of the sidewalk headed back in the direction we had come from, but across the street.
So we continued down the sidewalk and a second time we came to a driveway where a car was approaching to exit onto the street and again, Boomer did beautifully and stopped dead in his tracks before we were in the path of the oncoming car. We continued on and passed another lady with a stroller and next wheelchair ramp and I happened to say Straight at the rite time and he had began to angle to the right of the ramp but upon saying Straight, he went to the right side of the ramp where Barb thought he should be. So before we took off again, she asked me that when he started to slow down for the ramp, to remind him again, Straight, and see if he would keep doing that, that what he was doing wasn’t a bad thing, but more her being picky about his positioning and if we could perfect it, let’s do so. So we worked up to the next ramp and upon him slowing down, I said straight and he lined up right where he should be. We then went on and a person crossed the sidewalk into a store right in front of us and then we passed a pet shop that had a raised feed dish against the outside of the building with a water bowl and a bunch of biscuits in the second bowl. Boomer started to angle right towards it and with a Leave it! , Straight, he kept right on going and did awesome. We came to the next wheelchair ramp where I reminded him Straight again and he lined up perfectly. J Barb said wow he did really well, that was really tough with those feed dishes there- which were the same as what GDF used to feed the dogs in and the biscuits. She was proud of him. J
So we were now going to cross the street again and make our way back to the van, so I needed to do a Left, Left, curb again and this time I fumbled it up as there was actually two sets of wheelchair ramps since the corner was much wider than I was expecting, so as he started to go multiple steps to get to the other side of the ramp, I was balking and Barb was like follow him! Yeah, gotta learn to trust my dog- which comes with time. She gives me the cue to cross the street and we make the left turn again to head back to the van and back to the parking lot where we stop and I praised him up BIG time for such a great job. We unharnessed him and then I sat outside the van with the gang until the other teams had finished.
After all the teams were done, we came back to the Foundation and gave the dogs water and took them out to break. Since Boomer and I were one of the last ones to walk and he’d done both just before that walk, he wasn’t needing to go at this time. So we came on in and went to the dining room for lunch. Anne Marie had made us a really good chicken & vegetable soup and I had a turkey sandwich in place of the chicken salad that most of the other students had.
With finishing my lunch, my volunteer to take me to Costco had arrived early, so I took Boomer back to the room and put him on the tie down and came back out to meet her. I also got to meet Rosanna, another handler who volunteers here at the foundation on Saturdays and gives tours of the grounds. She introduced me to her black lab and I seriously did a triple take. This little girl looked soooo much like Rei, I was in awe. The same short stubby nose and wide set eyes and petite, small body structure compared most of the labs in my class. She was such a pretty girl. My volunteer introduced herself and we went out to her vehicle and made our way to Costco.
I wanted to get some snacks and bottled water for myself and one of the other guys on class had asked if I could pick some up for him too. I got myself some fresh pears, plums, some dried fruit, and some trail mix to have for between meals instead of the fruit snacks and chips that were available here. I also picked up a package of the Starbucks Mocha frappe chino bottles for the caffeine kick I’ve been needing. I figured the 12 bottles of this would help get me through as needed. J I will say, shopping Costco in NY was quite an adventure, the people here were ready to run me over with their carts and I was surprised to hear my volunteer tell several people, “Don’t you hit her!” I appreciated it, but yeah, definitely not accustomed to the NY culture! LOL! So after checking out we drove back to GDF and borrowed a cart from the kitchen to bring everything in. I then looked around to see if I could find the other student that had wanted the water and trail mix too, and he must have been taking a nap, so I decided to take one myself.
Next thing I know, I hear a knocking at the door and Boomer had come pushed his nose in my face and was standing next to me as I woke up and said Hang on a minute! While I got my hearing aid in to be able to hear. It was Jody who was asking if I wanted to take Boomer out to the free run pen and let him free run. I said sure and we went out to the break area to give him the chance to go break again and then on into the free run pen. I had him sit and turned him loose and he ran and ran all over the place. Jody then gave me some kibble to put in my hand and she walked out and got his attention to come to her and then he started doing what Rei’s puppy raiser called, the Scoots- where he ran like a crazy man in zig zags and circles at top speed all over the place. J As he was focused on her, I blew the whistle 3 times and said Come! And he practically jumped in the air and came galloping to me. I then had him sit and praised him and rubbed his belly, telling him GOOD BOY!! Then I turned him loose again for a few minutes. Jody tried again to get him to come over by her and he was like nope I know this drill and came running to me again sitting right in front of me. LOL! So she called him again and he started running around some more and as he was focused on running, I blew the whistle again and he stopped dead and spun and came running back to me. Again I had him sit and praised him for being such a good boy!
We went back inside and I grabbed my bag of brushes and then took off to the patio and I spent nearly an hour going all over his body, first going all over his body with the zoom groom brush. Then I used the furminator brush to work on the undercoat he has coming out since the bath they gave him and then lastly using the slicker brush to finish off the fine touches of his long feathers on his legs and belly. Just as I was finishing up there, Jody called us to feed, water, and break the dogs, so we worked quickly back to the room to do this and then on out to the break area.
After this, we came inside and went to dinner, which was meatloaf, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Anne Marie gave me small portions as well and it was all very good. J Another student asked about trying the brushes I have on his golden too, so after this, we went and watered the dogs and then went down to the grooming room and I showed him each of the brushes and then as he brushed out his dog, I worked on some obedience with Boomer, who was just in a great mood and so excited to do what I asked him to do. It was soon time to go out for the 8:30 break and from there we came back to the room and have just taken it easy for the evening.
Tomorrow is supposed to be another trip to St. James, and I’m hoping to catch up with the staff member that has Favor and hopefully set up a time to see her again. We’ll see how it goes.
Kacie & Boomer