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.

Brilliant…just brilliant!

We’ll make a guide dog of her yet, and it may happen sooner than I think! Seriously, How odd will it be to have two working guides? Guess I’ll find out soon enough, because she really is coming along nicely. The funny part is, I haven’t had her out and about nearly as much as I thought I would. For one reason or another, sometimes diarrhea, sometimes other things going on, sometimes brains falling out, all manner of things, I really thought we’d have had more outings than we’ve had. In spite of this lack, however, Hilda seems to be picking up a lot of what she’s meant to be doing. Of course, there’s a lot of fine tuning and actual training to do, but what she’s doing already is pretty amazing, especially considering how little work I’ve done, especially in the past couple months. I mean…sometimes we’d go out once a week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes zero times a week. Many of those trips were just having her walk at heel (well, as close to that as she’s ever gotten anyway), with me stopping at curbs and directing her through lefts/rights, with some fairly informal harness exposure thrown in for fun. All very low key,also all fairly organic, by which I mean I didn’t really set up anything or do much formal, but walked her through situations as we encountered them.

This past few days, however, Hilda’s gotten in a bit more than has been usual.

Sunday, our NFB chapter had its holiday lunch party gathering thingy at the Olive Garden. I decided to take Hilda this time. Melanie was puzzled by this decision. Is she ready, do you think? Well, I responded, she’s got to do it sometime, may as well be now. That trip, she got the opportunity to ride in the back of the car as well as in the front. Back on the way there, front on the way back. I was able to get her to lie down on the floor both times, although on the way there, it took me most of the trip to convince her. On the way back, she laid down pretty well. She also did a pretty good job of walking through the restaurant. While she did stop to try and investigate someone’s table, we kept her moving and it was all right. With two other guide dogs there, she laid beside my chair really nicely, only doing a little bit of the creepy crawl to try and visit the guide dog across the table.

Tuesday, we went to a doctor’s appointment. She was a huge hit with everybody, and lying down in the car was a lot easier. She laid down and stayed that way both directions! We played around a little bit with “find the chair”, an easy exercise since the chairs were all empty, and all in a row directly across from the check-in. Still, exposure. She was pretty excited about a new place, so she wanted to race, but even so, she did a nice enough job.

Today’s trip, however, was nothing short of spectacular. Considering her age and the amount of work and exposure she’s had, it really is pretty amazing to me.

We went to the CVS drugstore, a trip Hilda has walked several times. It’s the rout we do most often. It’s a pretty easy one, involving no traffic lights, and mostly very quiet roads. There’s also sidewalk along the whole thing.

The first challenge is the crossing at 29th and Elmwood. Yes, it’s very straightforward in itself, but the approach to the curb is a little odd. On every part of the intersection, the crosswalk is a slight jog to one side or the other from the majority of the sidewalk. Thus, to make the first crossing, you take a little jog to the right to pick up the blended curb. At the second crossing (to the left), there’s a jog to the right to hit the crosswalk, and then when you get across,to head west on 29th is a little jog to the left. She mostly got that last bit, but I had to walk her through getting from the sidewalk to the crossing. It’s a little tricky and probably doesn’t make much sense to her. She’ll get it though, I’m confident of that.

On the trip up, she stopped at all curbs but two, and one of those was a pause and a continue. Not appropriate since this was a street crossing, but half points, I suppose. Her pace and pull for the majority of the trip were absolutely spot on. She definitely avoided obstacles, like the back ends of cars parked, and she found the way into the store with absolutely no trouble. She loves going in, so I had to stop a few times to convince her that she really didn’t need to run and really really didn’t need to pull. Still, she walked me all the way back to the pharmacy counter, and also to the front counter. However, by the time we actually got to the store, I could tell her brain was starting to get tired. She got distracted by someone who asked if she was friendly on the way to the store, but no biggie.

But here’s the thing that I’m most proud of. Stopping for the curbs was great. Targeting the curbs was great, even though she missed the sidewalks this time. She missed them, however, by going away from traffic, and usually by just a couple feet. I made sure to point them out to her though, and she easily went back to where they were. But that isn’t the brilliant, awesome, just super fantastic thing that happened.

Waiting to cross at 29th and Washington, a four-way stop, a truck came up to the intersection. A big truck. A big truck with, it sounded like, a trailer. It stopped. I waited. It went. It was coming from my right, making a left turn from Washington (where we were crossing) onto 29th (headed east). It must have been close enough for Hilda, because she very calmly and with no fuss took two steps backwards. Mind you, we were on the curb when the truck started moving, and I don’t think it was in any danger of jumping the curb, but here’s the thing. We’d never worked on that. I’ve never done any formal traffic work with her. At all. None. She’s never seen Leno do a check. Actually, I don’t think any of my dogs since Karl have had to do anything like that after training. But she did…she saw a situation she didn’t like, and she took decisive, reasonable, and not fearful action.

On the way home, I could tell her brain was getting tired. First, she didn’t want to go. So eventually, after determining it wasn’t that she needed a doggie restroom, we just heeled her for the next block or block and a half, after which she decided she wanted to just go go go! Her work on the way home wasn’t nearly what it was on the way up. She ran curbs, she wanted to run, and pulled like a freight train. But her brain was probably tired, and she isn’t quite a year old yet.

Still, I couldn’t be prouder. Somethings’s going on in her fuzzy little head anyway.