Training With a New Guide Dog

I thought for my second post, in honor of National Service Dog month, I focus on what it is like to go to the school and get a new guide dog. Because the working time of a guide dogs is seven years on average, most guide dog users have several guide dogs in their life time. Each dog is different and the transition from a seasoned dog who knows just what you want to a young inexperienced dog is exciting but challenging too. It is also heart wrenching when I dog must be retired whether it is due to old age, health issues or behavior problems. It some ways the first time is the easiest because it is simpler but it also has the challenges of being a whole new experience.

There is an extensive application process and then once accepted the guide dog user has to wait for an available class date. For some handlers with special needs the wait is more for the right dog to be found and trained than an available spot in a training class. There are about a dozen guide dogs schools in the United States. Because I’m a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I don’t know much about how the other schools work but I think they are similar in many ways.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has two and three-week classes. Interesting to note that they are phasing out the three-week classes. It is an intense training with a very low instructor to student ratio. This makes it possible to be flexible in fitting the needs of each team. Dog day is probably the most exciting day of training, where the handler finally gets to meet the dog that has been carefully picked to fit their needs and desires. Soon after they take their first walk together. Over the course of the class there are many ups and downs. The handlers have to learn/relearn the skills of handling their dog and his/her challenges. Here are two blogs from a recent three-week class at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. It is a really good way to get a glimpse of what it is like to train with a new guide dog. It takes a lot of discipline to faithfully journal the daily experiences of training with a guide dog.

Six Feet Over

Blind Girl Blog

At the end of training is a formal graduation ceremony. This is when the puppy raisers and the handler meet. It is an exciting an emotional time. After the ceremony the guide dog user is then cleared to go out on their own without an instructor. But the training isn’t really finished. It typically takes 6 months to a year for a new guide dog team to be working smoothly and consistently together. When the two of them come together as a team it is an amazing relationship that both enjoy and the bond between the person and the dog is incredible.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Jargon

A few months ago there was a really fun blog post about the jargon that goes along with puppy raising and training guide dogs. It was originally posted here on No Bones About It: The only official blog of Guide Dogs for the Blind but I thought it might be helpful for those who are following the progress of my puppies but are not directly involved with GDB. I hope you enjoy this.

Jargon, Jargon!

By Steve Grunow
Dog Placement Coordinator

Like many organizations, Guide Dogs for the Blind has a culture and jargon of its own, especially when talking about the dogs. Out in the kennel complex the eyebrows of the uninitiated might be raised when overhearing bits of conversations like the ones that follow. The “Guide Dog Speak” words and phrases (in bold font) are defined at the end of the sample conversations.

Veterinarian: “This Lab, Buddy, has (1) hips to die for, but his (2) ears are really ugly. I’m hoping for a (3) good bite when I open his mouth. Today is his birthday; hopefully we’ll have time to (4) shoot him later.

Instructor: “Gee, I don’t know about that new dog. When he gets (5) jacked up he can be pretty (6) rampy. He acts like he thinks he’s here (7) on a date. On top of that he is a (8) CF5, and he can be kind of (9) sharky in (10) CR.

Kennel Staff person: “I can’t come to that meeting right now. I’m right in the middle of a (11) whelp”.

Instructor: “Watson had an (12) experienced raiser who should have known how to feed him right, but Watson had to be kept on on (13) sawdust and peanut shells for a while after he was (14) recalled.”

Instructor: “Zeus is (15) a lotta dog. He’s (16) loaded on the clicker but he still (17) plays keepaway. He’s (18) high end and a little (19) mouthy. He has a problem with the (20) layover. He seems (21) to have his own agenda. And he isn’t very (22) responsible. He’s (23) from the outside. Those other (24) N dogs on his (25) string are like that, too. Some independence seems to be (26) in that pedigree. He does some (27) keying on (28) workouts. Maybe we’ll put him on the (29) food protocol for attentiveness. “

Instructor, in response: “That’s too bad; I (30) dropped him this morning before eye exams and he was an angel about it. I think that he’s scheduled to be (31) cut next week and maybe he’ll have a better (32) work ethic a while after that. “

Instructor: “Flora is a pretty (33) honest but I don’t know how (34) sound she is.”

Kennel Staff person: “Trapper is (35) in the dryer on low. He’ll be done in about half an hour.”

Instructor: “Daisy’s stools today were just (36) beautiful today! We still have to get rid of her (37) happy tail before we can do much with her, though. And Daisy is still a (38) garbage mouth – and her (39) roommate drives me crazy when he keeps (40) finger painting in their run.

Instructor, in response: “I know what you mean. And Daisy has also been (41) tanking a lot lately, too.”

Breeding tech: “Harvey is still (42) intact. We’ll need a couple of (43) straws because we’re going to (44) collect him a couple of times this week if we can. Harvey (45) loves his job but he doesn’t seem to do well when he’s been (46) frozen.”

Instructor: “Mikey is such a (47) smooshy marshmallow! Any unusual thing happens and he immediately becomes (48) wet mouth.

Instructor: “Darn! Spike is finally (49) bombproof and now we have (50) to pass him back!

Instructor: “Tulip keeps going to (51) hot spots and she’s so active that last week we had to (52) musher’s wax her.

One puppy raiser to another: “I (53) started that puppy. But somebody else will have to (54) finish him off. He still does lot of (55) counter surfing. He can also be a little (56) doggy. He’ll be my first (57) transfer puppy.

Instructor: “When Fred first began training, he had a really bad (58) recall. So we did a lot of (59) FIR’s with him and now he’s almost a (60) Velcro dog.

Instructor to apprentice: “Some challenging dogs do a lot better in a (61) GL.”

1. Has hip X rays showing that the head of the femur fits firmly into the socket in the pelvis, indicating that there is almost no chance that the dog would have hip dysplasia

2. Dirty, infected, needing treatment (common in many floppy-eared dogs)

3. Teeth straight and regular with the top incisors just overlapping the bottom incisors (as opposed to an overbite, an underbite, or a wry – crooked – bite in which the teeth are not positioned properly)

4. Give the dog injections/ vaccinations

5. Excited/ aroused

6. Rowdy/ impulsive

7. To be bred

8. The most challenging “type” of dog to handle and control on  a “control factor” scale (of 1 to 5) which assesses a dog’s activity level, physical toughness, distractibility level, and assertiveness, in order to later help select an appropriate handler to match with that dog

9. Plays roughly, “dominantly,”  often nipping at the neck area of other dogs

10. Community run (periods of time when groups of dogs run together for exercise and for their interactions with other dogs to be evaluated)

11. A mother dog’s act of giving birth (“whelp” can also refer to a puppy, or “to whelp” means for a dog to give birth)

12. A puppy raising volunteer who has raised at least one previous puppy for Guide Dogs

13. Diet/weight loss dog food

14. In this context, returned from its puppy raiser home to one of the Guide Dogs campuses to begin formal guide training, usually after having spent about a year in the  puppy raising home

15. Big, strong, active, assertive

16. Has received treats paired with hearing clicks from a hand-held training clicker enough times that the dog has learned that the click indicates that a treat is forthcoming/ the dog has learned that a click from the instructor indicates that the dog is performing the appropriate behavior

17. In the context here meaning that the dog doesn’t come when he’s called; instead, runs and tries to get people to chase (undesirable behavior in a working Guide Dog)

18. Very active, assertive, often inattentive, challenging to restrain or control

19. Puts mouth (not biting down) on people or on other dogs, sometimes in play, sometimes in excitement or greeting, sometimes in protest of what that the person is doing or directing the dog to do (not desirable in a Guide Dog)

20. Having the dog lie down and gently rolling the dog over onto its side, for example to check the dog’s abdomen

21. To be independent, inattentive, friendly but not very eager to please

22. Capable of continuing to following commands/working without needing moment-to-moment observation/supervision by its handler; seeming to enjoy doing its job

23. Purchased or donated – not from Guide Dogs’ own breeding stock dogs

24. Each litter of puppies is assigned a letter of the alphabet and all the pups in that litter are given names that start with that letter (so dogs which have names starting with the same letter and which are at Guide Dogs at the same time, are often litter siblings)

25. Group of dogs assigned to an instructor/team

26. Pedigree = family tree; so meaning a trait(s) that are evident in other dogs of the same lineage, so those characteristics are often  assumed to be highly influenced by the dog’s genetics

27. Staring tensely at something or someone in the environment with which the dog is apparently uncomfortable (undesirable in a Guide Dog)

28. Training sessions

29. A structured plan for rewarding a dog with food treats when the dog is paying attention to the handler

30. Put eye drops into the dog’s eyes

31. Spayed or neutered

32. Be more attentive, less distractible, more focused on work

33. An eager-to-please dog that tries hard to do as directed (if the dog makes mistakes it is usually due to the dog’s not understanding what is expected, or being afraid or unable to follow directions – as opposed to being overtly ”disobedient”)

34.  Confident, outgoing, unlikely to panic in new situations

35. In a crate in the bathing room with a blow dryer aimed at the dog in the crate to dry the dog after a bath

36. Normal, solid, well formed, usually said of a dog which had previously been having  diarrhea

37. When a dog’s tail gets sore from the dog wagging its hard against the bars or the walls of a kennel run

38. Serious scavenger, loves to “vacuum” the floor or the ground for food or other items which are interesting to chew (not desirable in a working Guide Dog)

39. When two dogs are paired in a kennel together

40. Stepping in feces then tracking it around the dog’s kennel run

41. Drinking a lot of water (can be related to boredom, stress, or a potential medical problem)

42. Unspayed or unneutered, an animal capable of breeding

43. Containers in which semen can be stored to do artificial inseminations

44. To get semen from a male dog, often to be frozen to be used for later artificial inseminations

45. Breeds easily and readily and without much human assistance (surprisingly to some people, some dogs do not seem much interested in breeding)

46. When previously frozen sperm from this dog is thawed and used for artificial insemination, the conception rate is often low

47. A temperamentally “soft” dog, sweet, easy to handle, affectionate, loves being touched

48. Drools, often as a result of stress (not desirable in a working Guide Dog)

49. Outgoing, confident, able to handle any situation that might come up (very desirable in a Guide Dog)

50. A new Guide Dog is fully trained, but there currently isn’t a suitable student in class that seems like a good match for that dog, so the dog needs to remain in the kennel until the next class begins

51.  Skin sores that can begin with a small irritation and then get steadily worse if the dog chews or scratched at the sites

52. Put a product designed for sled dogs on the bottoms of the dog’s feet to keep the feet from being irritated by running on concrete

53. The raiser who began to raise that puppy immediately after it came from Guide Dogs, usually at about 8 weeks old

54. To keep, train, and socialize a puppy until it is old enough to be returned to Guide Dogs to begin formal guidework training (usually at about 15 months of age)

55. Putting front feet on counters to see what is available, and maybe to steal off the counter if the opportunity  presents itself – common in dogs (not desirable in a Guide Dog)

56. Extremely interested in other dogs, sometimes in a way that involves attempts to bully,  dominate or threaten the other dogs

57. A puppy which goes from one volunteer puppy raiser’s home to another raiser’s home until it is old enough to begin its formal training at Guide Dogs; sometimes transfers are pre-planned; sometimes dependent on circumstances

58. In this context, the act of a dog coming to its handler when the dog is called

59. Food induced recalls (rewarding the dog with a bit of food when the dog comes when called)

60. A dog that voluntarily often sticks close to its handler – often a needy, less secure, more demanding type of dog

61. A Gentle Leader (like a halter on a horse, used often to make dogs easier to manage and walk)

Two Wonderful Yet Event Filled Years

Sue and Apex from our trip to Florida – January 2011

Today marks two years since Apex met his handler at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Boring, Oregon. Sue sent out the following email about her life so far with Apex.

Today marks a wonderful milestone in my lifethat I wanted to share with you all.  2 years ago last week I received acall giving me the flight information to go to a cold and wet Portland toget my guide dog.  As I finished the final preparations and packing, I wasnervous and worried how this would all play out.  Amanda, mydaughter, was only months from graduating high school and I needed to finda new way to get around.  How would he fit into my office life? Would Istill be working? What and where life would take me in these last 2 years hasbeen remarkable and totally unthought of at that time. I took a plane flightacross the US changing planes several times – it would be the last time I wouldbe so scared to travel alone.  It was 2 years ago today that I metApex for the very 1st time.  His birth date is the same as my kitten’s, andhe was the tall, dark and handsome man I prayed for since I was in high school(so… he came on 4 legs instead of 2 – I had to compromise somewhere – haha).He and I hit it off within minutes and we have been unstoppable ever since. He does not mind shopping as long as lunch is included and he loves to traveland see many new faces and places. As I type this, he lays next to me sleeping(and snoring) in the warm Florida afternoon sun.
I have traveled all over (Eastern Caribbean/Bahamas/Virgin Islands/ Massachusetts/Connecticut/Vermont/Florida/Texas/Georgia just to name afew) with my tall, dark and handsome guiding my footsteps, we watched asAmanda graduated high school and we partied the night away (I had earned it !),we worked several full military honor funerals with out a flinch from my guideduring the honor gun salutes, we tackled and attended a movie premier (Lettersto God– it was filmed at my office just before I got Apex), we survived 2long endless months with dad in CCU/ICU/PCU and then his death and funeral, wegot caught in the October snow/ice storm in the northeast, and we stillcontinue to work, travel and shop on our own.  We have found anew church home and attend every chance we can.  I still remainindependent although my brother refuses to let me mow the yard, fix theplumbing, or hang pictures (things blind folks don’t do so well at anyway).
We (Apex and I) are currentlyplanning more trips: to the Caribbean in early 2013, another to go skiingin Utah in the fall of 2012, and then I am starting the process ofplanning my dream trip to Alaska to see the Arura Borelis and Hawaiito see the volcano and black beaches (both states are on my bucketlist and I can not believe they will actually become reality in the summer/fallof 2013) as well as a trip, or two, to see family and friends all acrossthis land.  Laying down my drivers license was very hard as I thought itwould be the end of my working and traveling days but instead God traded me -my driving a car for my wonderful guide dog. 
Apex has truly lived up to the meaning of hisname and been the pinnacle of my life even thru the health scares we haveboth endured.  Two and a half years ago it took me nearly an hour to go 1block with my white cane finding every crack in the sidewalk and more oftenthan not, I sat at home totally frustrated and exhausted by trying to travel orwalk. Yesterday, Apex and I did 2 miles in 30 minutes without thinking aboutit – what a joy to be able to walk like a sighted person again.  Heloves children and so I am getting back into working with them more andmore.  He also loves to entertain the crowd while I (attempt to) sing, soI am once again beginning to sing on stage ( I always hated being taken and ledlike a small child so I stopped singing when I started loosing myvision.).  I also have begun pursuing things that interest Sue as I beginto enjoy the “empty nest” now that Amanda has moved out.  It isamazing how much less house cleaning there is to do when there are no childrenaround…humm  (I had forgotten that part of being single…)
Thank you all for your prayers and emotionalsupport over these last 2 wonderful and event filled years and continue to prayfor us as I have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. Who knows- you maysee me at your door or even hear me as I go by.  God truly does give usriches beyond measure and often more than we can think of.
Celebrate today – it is all we know we have -tomorrow is simply hoped for and yesterday was.  
on our Happy “Puppy Day” 
Sue and Guide Apex

Photos from Florida

Apex at the Office with a Christmas tree

I love it when I see that I’ve gotten mail from either Apex or Banta’s handlers. Tonight I had one in my inbox from Florida. It was photos of Apex from Christmas. We sent all the puppies in our lives a nylabone wishbone. As puppies they all loved the wishbone shape the best. In a previous email Sue said he was enjoying the bone but was mostly tossing it around and chasing it. Banta’s handler said that she really liked it better than another nylabone she had because it was smaller and her mouth fit around it better. Well anyway Sue sent photos of Apex with his wishbone and one at work with a Christmas tree. So here they are.

Apex on the couch with his wishbone
Apex chewing on his wishbone