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Day’s 3 through 5 – let the guiding begin and refining command structure

I haven’t written for a while. The main reason is due to the very hectic schedule and me being very tired in the evenings. OK, well, let’s review the last three days:

Day Three:
Let the Guiding Begin

Today was the big day. The day that the three week students got to take their dogs out on their first route. We all got up, fed, watered and relieved our dogs and then went to breakfast. After breakfast we went for short meetings and then loaded into the busses. This is the first time we got into the busses. They are like a small city bus with seats that face forward in the front, benches that face outward on the side, and even a bathroom onboard for emergency use only. I have been sitting in the back or in the very front. The first thing we heard as we traveled down to Gresham was that the lights may be out. Sure enough, due to the very strong winds we had no power in the lounge. So, no TVs, no heating, no fridge to keep things cool, nada. Suffice it to say it was cold in and out side. My main instructor is Jim Dugan (the class supervisor). He took me out first. We had to wait to harness the dogs until it was just time to go out. The new harness feels much different to my hand then the old harness I used to use. Their are not links in the harness to perform a “steady” command while pumping the harness handle and this harness is very quiet. I love it. It is very light as well. I buttoned up my coat and put my gloves on and out we went. Declan is a big boy and of course so am I. This made for some very interesting dynamics as we traveled together. He had always guided smaller people (well, mostly). Jim took him out for some guide work and he looks about my size. I tended to crowd him a bit and made him move more toward the left. Part of the reason for this was due to the length of the harness handle I was initially given. We also use food reward in our training so I also needed to get a longer strap too attach the food pouch around me. We handled this after lunch in the instructors office. Our first trip ultimately went well. I had a hard time slowing down. Jim wanted to make sure that I walked slower then the dog did to have Declan gain confidence in guiding me. Jim kept a second lead or leash attached to the collar of Declan during our first trip so that he could control Declan to make the first experience a more rewarding one if issues arose. This is normal and I fully expected this.

There was only one huge problem with our first trip together, the wind. The wind was simply amazing. My coat was literally blowing up over my head and it was horribly cold. Declan didn’t want to turn into the wind and it took a lot of coaxing to get him moving. Can you blame him? My hands were literally freezing cold. I had a hard time getting out food to reward Declan with due to the fact that I couldn’t feel my hands with having gloves on not to mention the cold. How these Oregon people put up with this is beyond me . They tell me it is very common. Luckily we don’t have this much wind on campus, thank goodness. Jim informed us that we would be doing other activities inside due to the very cold wind. About an hour or so after we arrived back to the lounge from our route work the power came back on and oh how beautiful that was to have warmth again.

After all students were done, we went back to campus and relieved and watered our dogs. I checked email for work and then proceeded to go to lunch. After lunch I went to see the instructors to get a longer harness handle and longer strap. Toby brought me the strap on the bus and Jim gave me the harness handle in the office. We then proceeded to go too the mall due to the very cold weather. This went quite smoothly. We mainly did the circling of the entire mall inside and went into one store to work on suggestive turns as well as just general guide work around a lot of people.

Monday evening was a relaxing one. The RA on duty gave us our toys for our dogs. I picked a tug ring and bone for Declan. All I can say is that I definitely get a work out when playing with him. He is very strong and refuses to give up . It felt good to play with him as I have been struggling with him from a personality perspective. He is very much the type of dog where respect must be earned. He is very eager to please in his work but is pretty reserved right now for the most part. All of the instructors and trainers who trained him tell me that this is just him and that after a while the bond will be fine. I certainly hope so, it worries me a bit.

I hit the sack at about 9:00 or so listening to some old time radio shows I brought along.

Day Four:
Inauguration Day

We all got up, fed, watered and relieved our dogs. We went to breakfast and then went to the discussion room for about 45 minutes of instruction. After that we relieved our dogs and took them to the busses. I was listening to the ACB Radio coverage of the inauguration events prior to leaving for route work and continued to do that on my walkman in the lounge. That was an amazing event to listen to.

Tuesday was a day of routes in the morning and afternoon. The longer handle was the trick. That really helped. In the morning we did about a mile walk around the area of the lounge. Jim was not connected to Declan’s collar this time and we both did quite well. I am still getting used to the feel of the new harness and trying to determine what Declan is communicating as we travel together. I was not crowding him as much this time and I think he began to feel better about our guide work.

In the morning Aaron gave us our head collars or gentle leaders as some call them. This gives you finer control of the dog. The collar goes over the nose and around the back of the head by the ears. Corrections can be very slight sense you have much finer control over the dogs head.

After lunch they took our requests from the grocery store. I ordered some soda and gave the very nice lady some money. When I got back in the room the soda was on my desk along with an envelope with the remaining cash. How cool is that. The nurse gave me a fridge to keep stuff in so I put some of the soda in it for later. Good stuff!

We then went and did obedience with our dogs. This was very interesting. They had us heeling and doing other work with our dogs as they put bowls of dog food and other toys in front of them to distract them as we worked with them. I must say that overall Declan did fine. I am still getting used to the difference in positioning, command structure and other things related to the obedience drills. In many ways they are the same but in others they are significantly different. All in time.

In the afternoon we did a drop off route. This is where Jim and I get off of the bus about 1.5 miles or so from the lounge and work our way back to it. This went even better. We had to do some rework with these interesting cracks in the sidewalk. You see, when trees blow down here they fill in the area where the tree was with brick. This of course makes for an interesting situation as far as guiding around these things. Declan wanted to either plow right through them or do other interesting things. Suffice it to say we had some teaching to do with Declan as well as me.

Aaron gave us these carabineers’ to attach to our food pouches. These are construction grade and can hold up to 150 pounds of weight. These are meant to be used too attach your dog’s leash to if you need both hands. Velcro is wrapped around it and is used to assist in attaching it to the pouch.

In the evening I worked with some classmates in putting the Victor Reader Stream Audio Tutorial mp3 files on their streams. I was very happy to do it for them and was happy that my card reader was behaving itself because it usually gives me fits. Gerry from Humanware would have been proud .

It was again a short evening. I decided to shower and prep for the morning before heading to bed and man was I glad I did that because I got up kind of late on Wednesday morning. It wasn’t enough to be late for anything, but much later then I wanted to get up that is for sure.

Day 5:
Obedience drills and sidewalkless traveling

Today we had some lecture in the morning and then went out for our routes. This time we staid on the bus the entire time as apposed to going to the lounge. We did work on roads without sidewalks. This is very challenging for the dogs as they need to keep very close on the curb line on the left as we travel. It is for this reason that you must stop somewhat frequently and reward for good work in keeping close watch on the curbs. Once the dogs confidence builds between both the handler and the dog then this can be lessened. The dogs are even trained to show you the curb once in a while to insure that the world is good. The main reason for this is to insure you know when one block ends to get ready to travel to the next one. Once the dog reaches the end of the block the dog will move around to the left and start guiding along the new street. This is where the handler will stop, turn to the left show the dog the curb, praise them, reward, turn around and square up on the curb and cross the street if that is desired.

The main problem with this mornings route was, guess it, the wind. It was amazingly cold this morning and many students had to have routes shortened due to going over time for lunch as well as the cold. It was just amazing how cold it was. I felt sorry for Jim and the other instructors as he had to go out multiple times with multiple students. Burrrrr!

We got back to lunch and I was attempting to work on solutions to work issues on the bus as well as some short time prior to lunch, which made me even later for lunch. No worries, I still made it to our 1:30 meeting. For lunch we had hamburgers and french fries. The bread and fries were home made and man that was yummy!

This time it was cat time for obedience work. I must say that Declan did superbly with this work. In fact, his only distraction was another human and not the cat. After drills I did pet the cat and he did seem a bit interested in that and came over and licked the cats entire head with his big tongue. After I finished I was told to go back to the dorm area and wait in our rooms. Then, while talking with Toni from work on my cell phone about a interface issue a knock came at the door. Apparently, nobody told me we were all about ready to leave for our routes in the afternoon. I quickly got off of the phone and proceeded outside to relieve Declan and got on the bus.

We did more sidewalkless work this afternoon. This time we were on a road with no curbs. Declan did superbly at this and we got back pretty quickly.

We then went to the visitors center to do work on corrections and rework. This is where a lot of refining was done for me. It finally clicked for me and breaking old working methods is going to take some time but at least I think I fully understand the direction they gave me.

Before and after dinner I worked on more work related tasks. After completing them around 7:30 or so I chatted with Darrell and Karen on Skype. I also got good news from Keri, my wife, that it looks like we are getting a tax refund this year, hurray for us!

I just listened to the schedule for Thursday and it looks like it is a store in the morning and a bus to Lounge route in the afternoon. The rumor is that we will be able to start working our dogs inside of the dorm areas. This will be awesome. Right now we have to heel them all around the living areas.

Well, I had to take a bit of a break from writing this long post to go play with Declan. He plays a very rough game of tug and I am quite tired after doing it. His head is resting on my leg as I am wring this, well, it was. I think it is time to put him to bed and me also. Stay tuned folks for more information in the coming days. Declan’s work is progressing and I am beginning to feel more confident that this is going to be a good match. Go Declan!