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.

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.

Woefully Behind On Updates!

I have been intending to update this thing for ages. I can’t believe months have gone by without, but they have, and lots has happened. The trouble is, the further behind I get, the more daunting becomes the task of updating, and so the cycle continues.

When last we left our tale of adventure, Hilda was brilliant. Oh, she still is, certainly, but there were things along the way.

There was the month at seven months where I swear her brains were falling out of her head. Seems she forgot just about everything she knew about being out and about. Who is this, and what have you done with Hilda? This passed eventually, though not without lots of curbs to run, people to greet, and distractions to be had.

Unfortunately, at eight months, she got this epic bout of diarrhea. It seriously lasted a couple weeks on and off. Just as I thought it was clearing up, back it came. There was no parasites though. Although I did run into an Uber driver who was a bit nervous about Hilda going in his car, which was OK, so she stayed home and me and her stool sample went by ourselves.

Time marches on. We started doing a bit more work in harness. She does pretty well at going around obstacles, and when she’s on, she does a nice job of staying on the sidewalk. Still, she’s quite easily distracted. Still, amazing progress. For instance, we took our first trip to a grocery store, where we met people in the cafe. She did very well, didn’t jump on anyone, and lay quietly by my chair. The couple other times we’ve been inside stores, she’s also done pretty well. One trip to our local grocery, she really wanted to pull and visit and wasn’t paying attention at all to much she was supposed to and everything she wasn’t. To be fair though, we’d made one other stop, she’d done some guiding on the way, and was probably tired of all that nonsense.

Speaking of guiding, here’s an interesting thing. She will generally stop for the wheelchair ramps and blended curbs, but she’ll run the real, very defined ones. When we encounter those, we have several reworks to do. Even so, she’s pretty good at targeting not only the opposite curb, but also the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

At the beginning of November, Hilda somehow managed to get a puncture wound on her back leg. This is when she was introduced to the Cone Of Shame. She hated it. I hated it. But at least her wound healed up nicely.

She’s also had some time away. Twice, she’s had a sleepover with friends and relations. Hilda has been able to visit with her littermate Ares, and a sister from another litter. We appreciate Ares’ and Madde’s family Hildasitting. It was good for her to hang out with new dogs, in new situations, and to do new and fun things. The first time also pointed up a problem I didn’t know about: Hilda was nervous about stairs. It never occurred to me, since she had no trouble with the ones from our first floor to our second. This decided me on a course of action. I wanted to expose her to open riser stairs, but the closest set of those available to me was the one to our basement, where the litterboxes live. Naturally, I was somewhat reluctant to employ those. Still, she needed the exposure, the stairs were handy, and I could always work with her on not going down that specific set later if I needed to. Initially, she would run away from me. She wouldn’t put her front feet down the stairs, not for love nor money. This might be a problem. Now, while they’re not her favorite thing ever, which is all right, she’ll walk down them with me without complaint. It only took some muscle (to carry her down most of them so she could stand on the last couple to start), a half hour, and a whole string cheese. Tell the truth, I was pretty pleased that I was able to pull that off so quickly. Beginner’s luck? Yeah, I’ll take it.

Hilda just got spayed on the 1st of the month. A few more days with the Cone, and she’s doing great. We had a walk yesterday to the convenience store to buy milk. Said milk ended up leaking, but that’s another story. Here’s the email I posted yesterday about the trip.

So. Oh boy. Happy fun times.

Now, we’re starting more harness training with Hilda. It’s a familiar route, one we’ve walked several times, to the Circle K store to get milk. It’s about a half mile one way, give or take, I suppose. No worries. I take the cane in case of problems, which there will undoubtedly be since we’re training. She’s already comfortable around traffic, and no, I don’t expect any traffic work, but she isn’t bothered by it.

All in all, once we actually got going, she did pretty well. We have to work at not running curbs. She stops at most of them, though she still runs some. She’s also learned a new trick, that of crossing a street and, instead of finding the up curb, walking along the edge of the curb so she can keep going. DIdn’t catch that one until the second time she did it. Also, stopping to sniff the ground in the middle of the street is probably not a thing to encourage. She only did that once though. She really is very easy to redirect, just a verbal reminder usually does the trick.

The trouble today, however, was getting her going. I think the “don’t pull on the leash” directive may have gone a little too well, because it took me about five blocks of cajoling, encouraging, cheerleading, correcting (which didn’t help), cussing, and all manner of things before she’d go anywhere. What I finally ended up doing was taking the pinch collar off, then walking with her on leash with the cane, then with the harness handle, and eventually got her pumped up enough to walk at a reasonable pace and get ahead of me. Then, when she started getting more sniffy and excitable, the pinch went back on and things were pretty good, requiring only some small encouragement when she got hesitant to move out. She’s also getting the idea of what too much pull is, as I’ve been stopping and dropping the harness when she goes too crazy, then she comes right back. She self-corrected at least once, started pulling and then I could literally feel her kind of step back. That was pretty cool, actually.

One thing I forgot to mention in the email was this one street crossing. There’s a parking lot or something at this corner, and it got a little confusing. I was able to walk Hilda through getting to the corner instead of this parking lot. We went across, but somehow still ended up pretty far up the street instead of at the correct sidewalk at the corner. Hilda just took a little prompting to go left, back to the street, and find the right sidewalk, and off we went again. I should note that I did most of this trip without using the cane much at all. It’s a familiar route though, so it’s OK.

I expect travel to be somewhat sporadic when the snow hits, but we’re definitely well on our way now.

So proud I could bust!

These past couple days have really showed me Hilda’s real potential. Oh, sure, I knew she had loads of potential. I knew she was wicked smart. I knew she was a real people oriented dog. I knew she could really get this whole guide dog thing. I knew all of this was possible, but I didn’t know if I could harness it, unlock it, make potential reality. I hoped I could. I still hope I can. But these past couple days, Hilda’s showing me what she’s made of, and, yep, I believe the two of us might just pull this thing off.

We’re creeping up on seven months old, and Hilda’s gotten big. At least her growth is slowing down. Sharon tells me she probably won’t really get much taller, but I reckon she’s got a lot of filling out to do. I’ve had to let her harness out a little bit, both in the girth strap and in the martingale. I expect I’ll have to let it out more as we go. Mind you, mostly she wears it just so she gets used to wearing it, which she really is. She wiggles a bit while I’m putting it on, but no anxiety about the thing going over her head anyway.

We’ll start with yesterday’s trip. These past couple times, I’ve taken Hilda out on her own. They tell me Leno is sad, and indeed, he’s waiting at the door when we get back, but he seems to be all right about it. Certainly he takes my going out with Hilda better than Hilda takes my going out with Leno.

Yesterday was the first time Hilda rode the bus. She rode the bus like a pro! She sat up for most of the 10 or so minute ride both ways. She looked around with a lot of interest, but she pretty well stayed seated, only sliding into a lie down a couple times, and thankfully, mostly kept her nose (and tongue) off the floor. Anyone who rides the bus knows how scary the floors can sometimes be, and if not scary in fact, certainly scary enough in perception. But she sat up and rode the bus like she’d been doing it her whole life. This is a far cry from the restless, whining pup of just a couple months ago.

During our walk to the bank and otherwise, I guess she was looking around a lot, even behind her. This guy behind us even asked if he could pass us, explaining that he was what she was looking at. OK, no problem there guy. Still a bit of pulling on the leash, but at least, not a couple feet out in front of me pulling. I think we’re reaching a compromise on that.

In the bank, she learned about standing in line. Also, I learned that she must really like babies, because she seemed to be very interested in one that was way back by the front door of the bank. We didn’t go visit the baby, and it was gone by the time we had completed our business.

The theme for the day was diagonal street crossings. I made several of them. I’m not sure if I was thrown off by walking with a dog that wasn’t guiding, or just by, I don’t know, but I made several diagonal street crossings. One, I made, and I’m not sure at what point, but I ended up somehow across a usually busy street, no idea how or when, but the upshot of it was that I was a couple blocks out of my way somehow. Fortunately, a nice pedestrian (who saw us earlier during our rounds) got us straightened out, and we went to this deli corner market kind of place for lunch meat and milk and such as that. By the time we got there, the day was already heating up, and Hilda was getting tired. She was a trooper though! She was so well behaved in the store, even with all the meat in the cooler not far off nose level. She got nothing but compliments on her striking good looks and her behavior. Yes, I was sure to tell people she was in training, and that mostly the exercise was socialization and getting her used to being out and about. No problem from anyone with access, and like I said, I was sure to let people know she was not a fully trained service dog.

Surprisingly, I did get her to eventually drink water out of a plastic bag. As hot as she clearly was by then, I was surprised that it took as much convincing as it did. She did finally get the idea, however. Yes, I do have a collapsible water bowl around here somewhere…the one I usually use, which I kept a baggie dispenser in, has a bit of a worn threadbare spot, but I have another one…but I’ve misplaced it. Besides a collapsible water bowl then, what I really need is a fairly roomy pouch that would attach to the harness, to keep baggies and collapsible water bowl and what not in. I haven’t found just the right sort of thing yet, but someone suggested a small camera bag. That might do the trick.

A trip home on the bus, and a total of, well, lots of walking, left Hilda pretty tired. It left me pretty tired anyway, but I had another errand to do, which I did with Leno. I guess Hilda was energetic enough to complain about not going.

This evening’s trip was the usual walk to CVS. Again, lots of compliments from Hilda’s friends and admirers on her behavior and striking good looks. She only tried to go visit one guy in the pharmacy line. On the way to the store, I had her sort of guiding (I also used my cane) during some easy bits, and I wanted to see how she’d handle the crazy offset sidewalk at the corner. She almost nailed it! I was so proud!

On both yesterday’s trip and today’s, she growled a little bit at a dog. Yesterday, it was a dog we were passing on the sidewalk, I think. Today it was a little dog in a yard behind a fence. In both cases, she stopped growling at the other dog when I asked her to. Otherwise, any dogs we encountered, she breezed past. Well…except one across the street she was a bit fixated on, but we got past that one anyway.

In the store, her behavior was excellent. At the pharmacy counter, she sat quietly for most of our time, and she stood her front feet on the shelf by the counter…bottom shelf…just once, and got off when I asked. I mentioned her interest in one guy in line already. One time, when i was packing up my bag, she wandered off. I had been stepping on her leash, but apparently, not well enough, because she wandered off a few feet. She came right back when i called her though.

She was getting a bit restless and sniffy, and it was obvious she had to go, so out we went. She parked in, well, the parking lot, or anyway, a parking lot beside the store. Not in the store at all, she held on until we got out, and even then, she had to work herself up to it. Good girl!

She’s very definitely learning left and right. She turns left or right when I ask. She also is stopping at most curbs, and very reliably at definite curbs. Especially, and most importantly to my way of thinking, she stops at down curbs if they’re well defined. The blended ones, she mostly stops at, but there were one or two we had to work out, and I expect this will be true again. Still, she’s really carried over my stopping at steps and curbs. Even better, on the way home, I discovered that she really is targeting up curbs when we cross streets. I again noticed on quiet streets I was drifting. She, on the other hand, was very definitely trying to talk me into going the opposite way from the direction in which I was drifting. Following her, I hit the curb. Even the blended part of the curb in most cases. This was definitely an “Aha!” moment for me. She really is starting to understand this thing. I think we may well make a guide dog of her yet!

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”.

Oops, I forgot

I forgot something!

I finally found something Hilda is afraid of. Either that, or we’re starting a fear period already. I’m not even sure what set her off, but she’s afraid of the garage door. It’s a manual garage door. It’s usually closed, but it was open. Come to think of it, maybe she saw it close once and didn’t forget. Anyway. It was open, because I was grilling, and the grill is in there. I took her outside this afternoon and went to close it. She went running hell for leather, except, well, she only had four feet of leash, so she couldn’t get far. So eventually, when I couldn’t convince her to get within 6 feet or so of the thing, I tied her up so I could close it. She still wouldn’t go anywhere near it. Not for love nor money. I gave her string cheese near it, which helped. Then I threw treats at the garage door (closed), and she went to get those. I think maybe she’ll get over this fear pretty quickly.

A Long Overdue Update

Wow. I didn’t realize I hadn’t written here in as long as I haven’t. One day blends into the next, and next thing you know, a month has passed.

Well, I think Hilda may well be taller than Leno now, and certainly at least 50 pounds. She’s getting a little bit of that alert/protective vibe going now, barking at people sometimes when they come to visit. She barked at the next door dog, but I think he may have barked at her first. She still wants to be everybody’s friend, and she’s starting to jump less high, and even sort of thinking about not jumping. Slow and steady progress.

We’ve had a few socialization outings. She’s getting pretty good about riding in the car, considering how little she’s been able to do it. We had lots of fun at a picnic, where she got to play with another dog and met lots of nice people and ignore food. She did get a hot dog, but she was allowed. I think she also lost her rabies tag and name tag at the picnic, so I have to see about getting a new rabies tag if possible. At least I do have her rabies paperwork in the folder. We also have gone to the drugstore a couple times, more on that later.

I’ve started putting the harness on her, not necessarily for working, but just to get her used to wearing it. Now, she even has stuck her head into it on her own. While I say it’s not for working, I have exposed her to working in ot. We’ve walked across the house, and she walks fast and enthusiastically across the house and down the walk in front of our house. She’s even stopping at the corner, and we’re reinforcing this on walks when we aren’t pretend guiding. She’s also still very good about stopping at the top and bottom of the stairs here at the house.

On one of these walks, I’ve determined that, indeed, she isn’t noise shy. The day before this, she didn’t react to all the war sounds and hurricane sounds in Forrest Gump, some of which played right over her head on the surround sound speakers. But anyway, we were at the corner. Leno was working, Hilda was walking on my right. We stopped at the corner, Hilda sat. We waited for the light to change. A truck zoomed past us pulling a rattly trailer behind it. Lots of noise, and Hilda didn’t move a muscle. There are fireworks going off now, and she’s in her crate for bedtime, and absolutely not a peep. Nothing. I tell you, this dog is solid.

I’ve decided I don’t like nylon training collars. Specifically, nylon slip collars, and most specifically, the nylon Snaparound Collar. The one I have is adjustable, which is great for a growing puppy, and not so great for action. But I think that the adjustable buckle isn’t the main beef I have with it, even if I got a fixed length, I think I’d have the same complaint…or at least, observation. You definitely don’t get the same sort of tactile feedback from a correction with a nylon slip collar as with a chain slip collar. You also don’t get a consistent action depending on which way you snap. If you snap the leash upwards, you get the best sort of reaction. Any other direction leads to less than satisfactory results, owing, I think, to the small size of the rings used and the flatness of the nylon. I have Hermsprenger toggle collars on order, but in the meantime, I’m using a slip collar I happened to have here. It’s a bit large, but I like its action better than i did the nylon one.

So. Our trips to the drugstore. She only tried to jump on a counter once. That was when I took her on her own with the cane. But she didn’t really try to jump on any people that trip. There were a couple of cool things that happened on yesterday’s trip though, and all of them on the way home. At this one street corner, Leno knew we’d be turning left, and he stopped me at a curb. Hilda tried to take me to the blended part of the curb though. She also sat at a couple curbs without being prompted. (This is something we’re doing to reinforce that stopping at curbs is a good thing to do.) I’m not sure if this going to the blended part of the curb was a coincidence, a distraction, or a conscious act on her part. She also sat nicely, or pretty nicely, to be petted by a couple of people we met. On the trip Monday, we walked past barking dogs without much fuss. Friday’s trip, however, saw Hilda try to turn around completely and try to go back towards a thing that interested her. We kept moving, and she got the idea pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be a good idea.

Then, a funny thing happened. I’m not sure whether this was Leno being distracted, Leno not thinking about what he was doing, or Leno trying to impart a teachable moment, like, “If you do this, this is what happens”. He ran a couple of down curbs. No biggie, they were quiet side streets, but he ran them anyway, which he does only extremely rarely. When he ran the curbs, we did what we always do: we backed up a few steps and approached them again, and of course he did them perfectly. So. Was his mind wandering, or was he playing instructor? We’ll never know for sure, and perhaps thinking he might have done it on purpose is a bit towards anthropomorphizing. I’m not sure. I can’t say he definitely did, but I can’t say he categorically did not either.

I see more two dog trips, anyway, a thing that I wasn’t sure I’d see for a while yet with Hilda’s exuberance. Pretty exciting stuff.

Just For Fun

Five months is probably a little early to start, or even contemplate, harness training. I mean, focus…what’s that? There isn’t any, really. OK, that’s a little unfair. In just the past month, Hilda has calmed down a lot. She can even sometimes walk past a cat without trying to pounce on it. She can even sort of sit and let Melanie pet her, but she does end up losing her cool. Even so, Melanie has been able to pet her a little bit, which could have never happened a month ago. She still wants to jump on people, especially new people. She also really wants to be out in front, a good thing for guiding, not so much if you want a dog to walk on a loose leash, which she’ll need to do some of the time. But she really is getting better with that, too. She also comes, some of the time, off leash. We’re working on that, too. Also, crate behavior when I’m gone is improving.

But back to the harness. Recall that I put the harness on just for fun. She’s worn it without the handle a few times, maybe an hour or so during several days. She tolerated having that put on pretty well, and didn’t seem to mind it on her while she hung around the house. Today, I put the harness on complete with handle, and, just for fun, we went for a walk. From the upstairs crate, we went to the stairs, and she stopped at the steps, just like she has been all along. She took a bit of encouragement to go down the stairs with me, and we walked across the house to the back door and out to park. Naturally, I didn’t expect anything like guiding, or paying any attention to me, but it was pretty cool nonetheless, because she really did keep moving quite a lot of the time. She didn’t take a lot of encouragement to move when she would stop to sniff or for whatever reason. We even made it down the driveway and a couple houses down the block. Turning around to go home was another matter, as she wanted to just kind of go everywhere, jump on the neighbor, sniff the front lawn of the neighbor’s house, all very puppy-like and, hey, I don’t wanna go home!

Still, it was pretty cool to have this puppy walking in harness, even if not in actual fact doing much. I definitely see some awesome potential here though.

Hey, if I’m living right, there will be a picture of Hilda in harness, taken a few days before her five-month birthday. Or whatever you’d call that. Hilda in harness  nearly 5 months