Bathing, Grooming, And General Thoughts On Guide Dog Training

This might be mostly a repeat for Facebook, but the blog posts automagically. Sorry.

Oh, the torture! The horror! Brushing and nail trimming. Our little Beastie thinks she’s being tortured to hear her bark, whine, and carry on. We had brushing and nail trimming today, followed by a bath. Interestingly, no problem with the bath. She only tried to climb out of the tub a couple times, and actually stayed pretty still, all things considered, and didn’t shake soap all over me.

I’ve been thinking about training a bit lately. Specifically, the differences between most training and the training that a guide dog must have. I just posted this on Facebook:

My friend Tamara L. Jarvis describes Hilda thus: “Hilda sounds strong-willed but not rebellious. Just got her own mind.” Yep. I’d say that’s the perfect description of her personality, what say you Sharon Entwerfer Haus Gsd? Really, that’s exactly what you want in a guide, or I do: a dog that who has initiative, but will take direction. One major difference between training for a guide dog and most other training is that a working command isn’t a command that must be unconditionally obeyed. It’s more a request. The dog must evaluate the wisdom of obeying a command; thus, “Forward” doesn’t mean “Forward”. It means “Forward, if you think it’s a good idea and there isn’t some good reason why not”. Thus, I don’t expect instant obedience, because Hilda will need to maintain her initiative, but I *do* expect that my requests be acted upon unless there’s a good reason why not. It’s a fine line to walk. Moreover, a dog should be able to recover from a mistake, his or mine, and keep going. I may correct her for a working error that she didn’t actually make, for example, and it’s fine to tell your dog you’re sorry. Both members of the team had probably better be pretty resilient, I’m thinking.

I want to expand on that a little.

It seems to me that “intelligent disobedience”, as they call it in the biz, is the one thing that separates guide dog training from lots of other dog training. I won’t say all other dog training, because there may well be other areas in which intelligent disobedience is a desirable thing. But it’s definitely not something that a lot of training asks for, much less encourages. Yet, a guide dog can’t be very effective without it. Finding a dog that is resilient enough to recover from handler mistakes, strong-willed enough to disobey a directive, but still willing enough to take direction, may be a tall order, but it sure looks like that’s exactly what I’ve got, so far.

Jim Kutsch, the President of the Seeing Eye and another fellow I’m proud to call my friend, says that a guide dog must also have ” a sense of responsibility”. George Eustis, or perhaps Jack Humphrey, depending on which account you believe, put it another way. Paraphrasing, “Make no mistake. This dog does not belong to you. You belong to her.” That means that the dog will feel some responsibility to you for doing its job. Perhaps it sees that responsibility as keeping you safe or “looking out for you”. I don’t know. I don’t know how, or if, dogs process to that level, though I suspect they do. The guide dog who pushes its handler back from an oncoming truck, taking the impact himself, surely didn’t do so solely because it was doing what it was taught. Self preservation has to kick in at some point, right? Surely the dog knows that being hit by a bus is going to hurt some. Does Hilda have such a sense of responsibility? Will she? Not yet she doesn’t, I’m fairly sure, but she is, figuratively speaking, barely out of diapers. Will she? It seems that she has that potential, but we’ll never know until we know. Still, I’m going with “yes” until she lets me know, “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this!” Anyway, I’m pretty sure that one can’t train such a “sense of responsibility”.