So proud…who knew?

Who knew we’d get this far this soon? And with weather and spaying recently and brains falling out and all of those other things? For real, I have an exceptional dog here, because I didn’t really do anything that unusual, except walk on leash as a pup, stop at curbs and steps, do a little bit of exposure to life…and yet, it would appear that something’s clicking in her furry little (well, not so little) head, because she really seems to have the basics, basically down. At least today. It would appear that now, it’s just a matter of lather, rinse, and repeat, plus add complexity…like more dogs, more people, more traffic, more obstacles.

It was no big deal of a trip. We went down to the traffic light at 29th and Raspberry right around the corner, took a right, walked a block to the elementary school at 29th and Cascade, took a right, walked past the front of the elementary school and up two blocks to 31st, a left, one block over to Plum, another left, two blocks back down to 29th by the elementary school on the other side, left onto 29th, up beside the elementary school, left to walk across the front of the school again on Cascade (why in a minute), right onto 30th for a block, right again onto Raspberry back to the traffic light, across Raspberry to our block, left back up Raspberry to 30th, then right onto 30th to home, four houses in. Pretty easy.

She absolutely nailed every single curb. She didn’t run even one. Not an up, not a down, not one single curb.

She didn’t diagonal any street crossings. She didn’t try to diagonal any street crossings. She nailed every single blended curb and sidewalk.

We had some distractions. She handled them beautifully and was easy to redirect.

So here are the highlights.

On 29th between Raspberry and Cascade, Hilda slowed down, then stopped. I thought there must be something, but wasn’t sure what, so I encouraged her forward, and stepped on a downed tree limb. A big one, it would appear. So we stopped, backed up, and I had her re-approach. She stopped again. This time, I just told her to “find the way”, which I’ve just sort of started saying to encourage her to look for a clear path…hey, it was working. She looked around a bit, then turned around. We backtracked, and she went down a driveway into the street. She would have walked right down the middle, or perhaps across, but I sort of coached her towards staying right, along the curb. She seemed to get the idea, because past the tree, she hopped back up onto the curb, we took our left back to our original line, and off we went to the corner of 29th and Cascade and across.

At 30th, we crossed. At the opposite corner, I told her “Forward”, and she decided she wanted to go left instead. Not sure why, because home is to the right. I just stopped, gave a “hupp-up”, waited her out, all of two seconds, and off we went again. Really, most distractions were that easy. Only a couple times did she start pulling to huge excess where I’d have to stop and kind of rein her back in, but that wasn’t even often.

Instead of going all the way up to 32nd where I’d usually go, we took the left at 31st and walked over. Back at 30th again on Plum, there was a dog across the street and down the block a couple houses that had Hilda’s attention. Just in case, I took the leash in my right hand to get her back if I needed to, but I didn’t need to. While she looked, she didn’t head towards the dog. Maybe verbal encouragement helped, but she nailed the crossing.

School wasn’t quite out yet, so it wasn’t a big deal to go up beside the elementary school again. When we got back to Cascade, I decided not to deal with the tree again, so we went back in front of the school again. I heard some kids talking about…sounded like my dog…So I thought i’d go and introduce her. Turned out to be a great opportunity to do stairs. Sure, it was only about six of them, but it was good anyway. I think I’ll use them again, just to reinforce that front paws go on the first step, not the second or third. But even so, she stopped at the steps. I treated at the step, we approached a couple times to reinforce the idea. We then went up. No kids, they were elsewhere and their voices were apparently getting thrown off from wherever, so we turned around. What would she do on the way back down the steps? Turns out she did the right thing: she stopped. Just a step short, but she stopped, and when I encouraged her forward another step, she didn’t overshoot. She had me right at the top step, no problem. Amazing, since the only steps she’s really dealt with much have been the ones at home, and not in harness.

When we got down, some kids came down after. Hilda stepped half in front of me as they were going by. Not on my side, but to our left. It was almost like she wanted to be sure to be out of their way as they went by, or something. It was a bit unusual. As they went by, I got her going, and she slowed right down and stayed behind them. When they ran across the street, she stopped right at the curb and waited for her next direction.

We took the right and went over to Raspberry, but there’s no light there, so not terribly safe to cross. So we took the right to go back to the light to get across. Hilda, however, took it into her head to do a 180 instead, so we reworked it. And she did it perfectly.

The only thing that happened next was that she tried to cut the corner at 29th and Raspberry. Rather than approaching the curb at 29th, she tried to cut the corner and go left to Raspberry and cross. Nope, that isn’t allowed! But love the initiative.

The rest of the way home was great, and she even nailed the walk up to our steps. It’s easy and tempting to cut the corner too close, but she didn’t.

I really couldn’t be happier with this trip, really I couldn’t. It was just so amazing to see all the pieces clicking in her head like that, especially since I don’t feel as though I did anything much.

One kind of interesting thing. Putting the harness on, she kind of barks like she doesn’t like it, sort of the way she does when brushing her legs or tail. Just the one time, and then she’s fine, and only sometimes. I thought she might not like it because it was too tight, but I loosened, and same reaction. Sorry Jewel, I think there really is such a thing as body sensitivity. No big, really, I think she’ll be fine and get used to it, because once she’s dressed, she seems to be fine.

Distractions, lots of distractions

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men so oft go astray.

My plan today was to work on some of this contract work I have going on, but I’ll do that later. Because, as it turns out, today was far too nice a day to waste completely indoors, so Hilda and I went off for a training walk. It felt like spring, with a temperature of 52 and a stiff breeze. Enjoy it, I said to myself, because it’s probably the last we’ll get for at least a week and a half. Maybe more.

She did some absolutely brilliant work. Hilda stopped at all the curbs. Didn’t miss a single one. I have trouble with this one very flat curb a couple blocks from my house, but I think we even nailed that one. Wait, I take it back, I think she actually ran one, but one is really pretty good.

We also had a chance with a few barricades. Some were melting snow piles, and she worked her way around those very nicely, requiring only a small amount of coaching from me to get around, in the street, and back onto the sidewalk to continue on our line of travel. We had a couple cars parked across our path, too, which I was sort of hoping to engineer sometime or other, and again, she handled those beautifully.

I noticed that she was doing a lot of window shopping today, and who can blame her? This meant sometimes we were too close to one side or the other of the sidewalk. It’s kind of an interesting feeling to be walking more or less straight while your dog is also looking off to the left at goodness only knows what. I don’t really mind that so much, as long as she’s paying attention to where we’re going, which I think she really was.

I think she’s starting to get the idea of reworking something she got wrong the first time. I think this because one time when I went to do that, we were walking back and she was doing the pokey slow pouty walk. You know the one, I’m sure. They all do it. All three of my last dogs did. But when she nailed it the second time, it was all good!

The thing we had to rework was a street crossing. Well, actually, there were two. The first one we had to rework because she got distracted by a dog that was out, maybe loose, I’m not sure, but he was caddy corner from us, and Hilda was giving some serious thought to a diagonal crossing. This would definitely not be high on my list of things to do. First time she ever attempted such a thing. But we got back on track, went back across, and did it over, without the distraction dog, and she nailed it. And then I nailed some sharp dead twigs from a tree at the corner, so we got to show her that looking for overheads is a good idea. Only took two do overs to avoid the tree.

She was also a bit distracted by another dog, barking at her from its yard and running as far as it could towrds us. She didn’t want to walk past it and kept trying to block me. Eventually, we got past it and life was good.

The other crossing, I almost let slide. See, here’s what happened. We approached the corner, and she stopped perfectly. We made a left to the other curb, also perfect. Then we crossed. And instead of hitting the curb, she went more around the corner and approached *that* curb. I thought, oh, she was just avoiding a big pile of snow. So I went to investigate, and sure enough, the approach she should have taken was clear. So we went across and did it again, and again, she went around the corner…or almost did, but I stopped her and got her to where I wanted her to go. And realized what she was probably doing. She didn’t want to step in the huge puddle that was sitting right in front of the blended curb. Suppose I can’t much blame her for that.

It was very windy, with lots of stuff blowing around, so there was lots for her to look at and get distracted by. All in all though, she didn’t let a lot of things distract too much. Sure, I had to stop a couple times to slow her down, but all things considered, with a pretty high level of distraction by new things happening, I’d say it wasn’t bad at all. I’m still having to coach her through going around things that block our path, but only a little bit. She’s definitely got “Right” and “left” down, and I really think she’s clued into the fact that I’m following her.

I tell you, this is pretty amazing stuff!

Progress? Yeah!

How the time flies.

How is it that more than a month, like a month and a half, has passed since last I checked in here? Well, it has, and, in spite of the cold, and limited workouts, Hilda’s made real progress. I’m more confident than ever that we’ll make a guide dog of her; in fact, I’d say she’s really starting to do guide dog like things now, and more deliberately.

We’ve had a couple more trips in the car, and she’s pretty well gotten the idea that she’s supposed to lie down on the floor. She doesn’t always like it, and she whines about it, but mostly she’s staying down. She’s also walking better on leash, although she sort of doesn’t like walking behind the shopping cart. She wants to pull out ahead a little so she can see around the corner of the cart, I think. A couple things to work on, really…one, she still wants to sniff people inappropriately. That’s an improvement over wanting to jump on people inappropriately, and mostly people know she’s just friendly, but it’s a thing to work on. The other thing is slowing down indoors. She wants to rush, which means running into people. This, I think, will come with time and the taming of youthful enthusiasm.

There’s definite improvement in her in-house, off-leash behavior. While she still may try to run after a cat, she comes back readily when i call her. This would never happen, or rarely, just two months ago. Melanie’s aids have even noticed the improvement here.

There are a couple routes we walk fairly regularly, and that she guides on, or has, anyway. Now that she’s sort of been exposed to some of what she’ll be doing, we’re starting with short walks around some of the blocks close to home. Here are some things I’m noticing.

She definitely understands that I want her to stop at curbs. However, as we go, she forgets more often. She’ll stop at the first few perfectly, but as we walk more, she runs more of them. I think this is because, as Peter Putnam said in one or two of his books, curbs pose no natural danger to a dog. I’m sure stopping at them feels a bit arbitrary to them. Still, it seems to me that the time she’s consciously doing it is longer each time we go out.

Obstacle avoidance: I think she’s really got the idea that I’m following her, and that she has to take this into account. While it’s true that we’ve run into a couple things, like a very short fence and the ends of a car or two, here’s the thing. when I hit one of these obstacles, and then back up and re-approach, Hilda very deliberately will go around what I ran into, leaving me a lot of room when we approach again. Just to be sure this wasn’t a fluke, when it happened on a walk on Sunday, I passed the same car two or three times after running into it once, and she gave it a wide berth each time. In fact, there’s a bush at the corner right across the street from me. I walked into it this afternoon. Backed up and reworked it, and didn’t hit it the second time. This was something well over Hilda’s head, too. So either she’s generalized “Oh, if we back up, I just need to angle off to the left more next time” for everything, or she’s actually accounting for obstacles.

Traffic: I don’t expect much. Actually, I don’t expect much for anything just yet, but I’m getting a lot more than I expect anyway. Even with traffic. Sunday, we were at a corner, and there was a bus. It was stopped. After giving it a while and it didn’t move, we started to cross. When we got to where the bus was sitting, Hilda stopped, with the bus in front of us. She could have gone around the front, but she didn’t. Then, the bus started to move, and Hilda backed up a step. When it was out of our way, she proceeded across the rest of the street. Really, I don’t think traffic is going to be a huge problem. Mind you, we aren’t working on anything very busy at all yet, but I really think she’ll be fine once we’re ready for that.

She’s doing a very good job at turns, even curb to curb ones, even stopping when we hit the curb after turning the corner. She seems to do a pretty good job of staying on the sidewalks, and the couple times we got really off track (like…umm…crossing a street that I didn’t know we crossed, the street that we were supposed to be walking beside), I think that was more my fault than hers. Can’t explain what we did, but I think I know what it was. Because she did it perfectly when we went back and had a do over.

Now what I really need to do is set up some things. Like having people park their cars across the sidewalk, or across their driveways so we have to go around them. And follow people in the store so we can practice not running over people. And stairs…we really have to find some outdoor stairs. And crowds. And escalators, eventually. Lots of things. But she’s really doing nicely with a lot of really basic stuff.

Oh…and if anyone thinks Leno’s fast, Hilda is faster. I think we were jogging by the time we got home this afternoon. I think she’d definitely be one of those old school four miles an hour or so dogs! Maybe a little faster than I would naturally go, but I won’t complain, it’s probably good for me, and anyway, again, youthful enthusiasm.