"Not My Dog": Tales from Puppy Raising

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lance in training, part three

Another look at the training a dog goes through to be a guide.. one more part to go.

Dog Name Lance Tattoo XXXXX Raiser's Name Nina/Patricia
Report Dates 4-21-06 Trainer's Name Kate B

Some dogs progress right on to phase three, but most have some overlap with lessons from phase two or they may
have already spent at least a month on phase three skills but are not yet ready to continue onto the next level. In the
third training period the dogs continue, of course, to review and reinforce the basics and the lessons they have
already begun to learn, but there is more responsibility placed on the dog. Phase three is the time when the dogs are
asked to perform learned tasks on their own initiative. For instance, the instructor gives the left turn hand signal and
voice command and begins to move her body into the correct position. The dog is expected to back up and swing
around 90 degrees without the instructor helping the dog. Praise and repetition are the keys to a confident and
reliable guide dog. Each lesson has to be repeated hundreds of times in different situations before the dog really
understands what is expected and can respond reliably to the cues provided.
It may seem like a slow process to you as you wait eagerly for news, but think how difficult it must be for your dog
to figure out that he must stop at the usual curb stops, handicap ramps, junctions of grass and pavement and concrete
and pavement junctions as well. Some streets have a corner right across on the opposite side but others are offset,
requiring the dog to locate the corner and head for it, even though it is not directly in front of them. All of this
learning takes time!

( X ) Has been healthy Has had a health problem.
Notes on health:
During the third phase the trainer works the dog in Peekskill and in White Plains, a larger city with all of the
distractions found in Peekskill as well as large buildings, restaurants, revolving doors and shopping malls.
( P:Poor F:Fair G:Good F/G:Fair/Good, etc. ) Being worked on
G Steady pace and pull.
G Turns, down curbs and street crossings.
Remedial problems being worked on to build confidence or obtain proper response on situations such as
stairs, under footings, control with distractions, concerns with noises, people or objects, over-friendliness,
etc. (See Notes.)
G Clearances – Guide dogs actually are introduced to the concept of swinging around obstacles in their path
in phase two. The instructor sweeps a hand in the appropriate direction and guides the dog around the
obstacle with the leash. It is in phase three, however, that formal instruction of this most important
function of a guide dog is fine tuned. Specific routes where there are many parking meters, trees, signs,
garbage cans and other obstacles are selected. The dog is instructed to go forward and when an obstacle
presents itself, the instructor guides the dog around it with the leash. The dog can go in either direction if
safe, but must take the width of a person into account so they will both clear the obstacle. After a short
time, the instructor will bump into the obstacle, often slapping it with her hand. This , of course, creates a
jerk on the harness handle since the dog was continuing to move forward but the instructor ran into
something. It also provides an audible cue for running into an obstacle. The dog notices and is then
heeled back a distance from the obstacle. He is then told forward so the situation can be reworked. When
the team gets close to the obstacle, the dog usually swings away. If he does not, or if the movement is not
sufficient to clear both handler and dog, the instructor guides the dog past with the leash and provides a
hand command. Much praise follows and the situation may be reworked again. Over time, the dog learns
to anticipate the upcoming obstacle and begins to use its own initiative to move around the obstacle ahead
of time. Later, the dog must learn to clear not only stationary obstacles but moving obstacles, such as
pedestrians, as well.
G Walking up and down stairs is among the most frightening of things a blind person needs to be able to do
with a guide dog. Initially, dogs-in-training are socialized to stairs while wearing a harness. If they show
any concern, the harness handle is dropped and the dog is allowed to go up and down the stairs on a loose
leash. Once the dog relaxes, the trainer teaches the dog to walk attentively at the handler’s pace and to
stop when asked. The dogs are introduced to solid steps first. When they are comfortable with solid
stairs, the trainer will introduce open-backed stairs.
F-G Platform work – Guide dogs must learn to pull the blind person away from a platform edge or other drop
in elevation that could be dangerous. This is usually taught at a train station. The instructor tells the dog
forward and the team moves right toward the platform edge. The dog will usually stop at the edge and is
praised. The dog is again told to go forward but is praised only for turning away from the platform and
moving the handler far enough away from the edge that they will not fall off. Platform work requires the
use of “intelligent disobedience” where the dog is told to do one thing but must make a decision to
disobey that command if it places the handler in danger. It takes a self-confident dog with a great deal of
initiative to intelligently disobey commands.
Revolving doors -- This type of door is difficult for the dog to maneuver as the space is triangle-shaped
and very tight. The door is also moving, often at a pre-set speed. Revolving doors can be nerve wracking
for the dog especially since the dog is in the tight corner of the triangle and there is a glass wall directly in
front and behind. The dogs are taught to work on the leash through revolving doors rather than with the
harness handle being held. When the handle is dropped, the dog is not responsible for guiding and is only
required to heel next to the handler. It takes repeated exposures for some dogs to gain the confidence to
calmly enter and walk slowly through revolving doors.
G Escalators – As a puppy, we hope you gave your pup the opportunity to observe escalators. Guide dogs
begin their exposure to escalators by being helped on by the instructor. Most do not really want to get on
because they are unsure. This uncertainty is overcome by the trust relationship that has developed
between the dog and the trainer. After the dog is encouraged to step onto the escalator, the instructor
supports the dog by holding the back strap of the harness. Most dogs are crouched and a bit nervous on
their first ride but soon realize after many repetitions that it is not so bad after all. Just as with revolving
doors, the dog does not have to be responsible for anything but heeling. Dismounting the escalator is
taught in a specific way so the dog does not get its toes caught in the metal teeth.
G Most raisers have exposed their pups to riding in elevators. The dog learns to help find the controls for
the elevator and when the door opens, to guide the handler in quickly, finding an open space to stand.
The dog turns the handler around so they are facing the door and ready to leave when the elevator stops.
The handler has to know which floor they are on and where they want to get off.
G Indoor malls and stores -- Working inside malls, food courts and tight narrow isles uses the concepts of
straight-line, steady pace and pull, and obstacle clearances but it poses new challenges since there are so
many paths to take. The dogs are taught destinations to instill the concept that they are going into the
building for a purpose. Guide dogs are taught to find the door openings and bring the handler to a door
knob or push bar which can be challenging in a mall with a glass front where only one or two panels are
actually doors. Once inside, the dog is taught to “shore-line,” which means to stay near the corridor wall.
The instructor selects a store to enter and the dog is commanded to “find right” or “find left” in order to
help find the door. Much praise follows. The blind person would either have to know the approximate
distance the store is from the entry door or ask someone. Once in the store, the handler will stop and
“shop” while the dog lays or sits quietly. The dog is then instructed to find the door and will lead the
handler out of the store. Of course, in the beginning, the dog is helped by the handler but, just as with all
training, repetition and praise eventually lead to understanding.
Notes on training and reaction to the environment:
This training period has been a busy one for Lance, and he is doing quite well. Since the last report he has progressed
on to working in many different areas: towns like Cold Spring, Mount Kisco, and Katonah, as well as the small city of
White Plains. His curbs, turns, and crossings are all very good. He works at a slower, more careful pace on the
sidwalk, but willingly picks up the pace when crossing the stret. He is very thoughtful about providing ample room for
clearances. Lance is very engaged with his work, always paying attention to his job and his handler. He is a sweet boy.
Lance has also been doing well inside malls and stores. He does a good job at indicating stairs and doors, working
through the narrow aisles, and riding the escalators. Last week Lance had his first experiences with traffic training,
during which he did well. This week he worked on the train platform for the first time. In the coming weeks he will
continue to practice these new skills, along with the old ones.
In community run, Lance enjoys standing on top of the plastic play house. (Sometimes he tries to chew on the house
while standing on it--it is made out of Nylabone-type material--but mostly he likes to stand up there and wag his tail.)
He is still "Mufasa" in community run!
Puppy Evaluator Date
cc: Pat, Nina, Doris

Saturday, June 24, 2006

When you put it like that...

A chat with another preschool mom, at drop-off ... Murphy is in the car, waiting for a work:

Her: "Oh, so did you get to keep the dog?"
Me: "Nope, he's still in training. We think he's going to pass, though."
Her: "So you have to give him up?"
Me: "Well, that was the deal. That's what the contract says."
Her: "Oh, I didn't know you get paid."
Me: "I don't. This is volunteer."
Her: (Long pause) .. "So, you don't get paid .. and you give up the dog after all that work?"
Me: "Yep."
Her: "Oh." ... backing away as you'd deal with someone you think might be insane.

I suspect she won't be scheduling playdates with "Crazy Mom." Some things don't need to be said.

It does occur to me that the question of "why" is one that I've never really answered here, but it's late and that's for another post. .. once I've figured it out myself.

Lance's training, part two

Dog Name Lance Tattoo XXXXX Raiser's Name Nina/Patricia
Report Dates 3-17-06 Trainer's Name Kate B
Not every dog completely masters all aspects of phase one before beginning to learn some of the lessons of phase
two. However, the basics of guide work must be understood by the dog before these concepts can be applied in a
variety of settings. Remember the foundations of guide dog training are the forward command which means to pull
in the harness, the wait command which means to stop pulling, and the hup-up command which means to go faster
and work in a straight line from one point to another despite the presence of obstacles that the dog may have to go
around before resuming the original direction. It is possible that the dog still needs to fine tune some of the basic
skills and will continue to work on them while also learning new skills and facing new challenges. Throughout
training, the dogs learn through hundreds of repetitions of a task. First they are introduced to a concept – they are
shown what to do and then praised for it. Later they are expected to perform the task on their own initiative.
Health ( X ) Has been healthy Has had a health problem.
Notes on health:
Phase two is a time to fine tune the previous lessons, to continue working on obedience, to work on any residual
behavioral problems the dog may have such as scavenging for food, distraction with animals, over-friendliness with
people, emptying on route or concerns with the environment. It is also a time to use the learned lessons in Peekskill,
a moderate sized town with added distractions such as traffic, stores, pedestrians, other animals, and unusual underfootings
like grates or metal plates in the sidewalk. These distractions add extra challenges for the dogs as they
continue to work on reinforcing basic obedience, guide dog commands and the straight line concept that they
learned in phase one. New lessons will begin to include making turns, crossing streets and stopping at down curbs.
(P:Poor F:Fair G:Good F/G:Fair/Good, etc. ) Being worked on
G Application of guide-work basics: straight-line, forward, hup-up, wait, obedience.
F-G Right and Left Turns – Using hand signals, verbal cues, specific foot movements by the handler and leash
cues, the instructor teaches the dog to make 90 degree turns. The right turn is fairly easy but the left turn
requires the dog to back up and then swing around 90 degrees to the left. At first turns are done in areas
without obstacles such as poles but later the dog will have to adjust the turn to clear the handler from
hitting objects or people standing nearby.
F-G Stopping at Down Curbs – Dogs first learn to stop at the curb before stepping into the road or when
reaching the end of the sidewalk or path. This is a crucial lesson since stopping will serve as a means of
orientation for the blind person, providing a signal that the team has come to the end of the block. The
blind person then decides to continue forward and crosses the street or to make a right or left turn or even
an about turn. Much effort goes into training the dog to walk quickly up to the stopping point and to
maintain a steady pace. The dog must stop with its toes right at the edge of the curb so the blind person
can extend a foot and tap to determine that they have reached the end of the block. If the dog slows down
before reaching the curb in anticipation of stopping, the blind person will interpret this as the dog
indicating a narrow space or rough terrain.
F-G Street Crossings -- The dogs are taught to cross quickly from one curb to the opposite curb and never to
cross diagonally. Just as with every lesson, the dogs are first shown what to do with verbal cues and leash
guidance while the harness handle is held.
cc: Notes on training and reaction to the environment:Lance was assigned to me a few weeks ago, after he finished the first phase of training on Colonial
Street. He is a sweet, strong, and pleasant boy, and he has been doing very well this period. He is
working in the town of Peekskill now, in the residential areas as well as the busier downtown area.
In most of his new skills he is still being shown what is desired of him, though he is starting to take
over some of the responsibility.
Lance's plush fur and amber-colored eyes led someone in community run to nickname him
"Mufasa," after a lion from the Lion King. Sometimes he acts regal like his nickname-sake, and
then he changes back into sweet and silly.
Puppy Evaluator Date
cc: Pat, Doris, Nina

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Here's what they have to do -- Part I

With Nina's permission, I'm posting the eval reports for Lance, Murphy's older half-brother. Nina raised him and he is about to be placed with a client.
This is his first phase report: (The formatting isn't perfect, but ... )

Dog Name Lance Tattoo XXXXX
Raiser's Name NIna S.
Report Dates 1/9-27/06 Instructor: Shanon L. G.
Your puppy is just beginning the earliest phase of training. This initial time period is a time of adjustment,
a time when the trainer and dog bond and a time for laying the foundation for all the work that is still to
come. Please remember that each dog is treated as an individual and will be introduced to new skills and
concepts at a pace best suited to his or her needs and abilities.
Medical evaluation - Done ( X )
Hip and elbow x-rays: Our staff veterinarian radiographs the hip and elbow joints to verify the absence of
hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and other joint diseases which are hereditary malformations that can result in
lameness later in life.
Spay or Neuter: Once the breeding director indicates that your dog is not under consideration for becoming a
member of the breeding colony, our staff veterinarian either spays (removes the uterus and ovaries) or
neuters (removes the testicles) the dog. Recovery time can be up to 10 days or so during which no training
would occur.
Eye exam: The eyes are examined with an opthalmoscope to verify the absence of cataracts or other eye
diseases that could effect vision. The eyes will be examined again later in training as some problems only
appear when the dog is a little older.
General physical exam: The heart, ears, skin, mouth, neurological function and general health are carefully
examined. The past medical history is reviewed. Sometimes minor abnormalities are found that are not
reason for release but are monitored carefully for recurrence or increase in severity.
Social activities
Community run: After being neutered and getting acquainted with their trainer, dogs have social and play
time in the community run with about 20 other dogs. Community run is supervised by the instructors to
maintain positive interactions and stop undesirable behaviors such as rough play, mounting, stool eating, etc.
Kennel behavior: Each dog has one or two roommates. Other than feeding time when they are separated to
ensure that each dog gets his or her full meal, the dogs are together. The kennel runs are quite large and have
automatic watering devices called Lixits. The dogs play and run around in the kennel at times when they are
not engaged in training or work with their instructor assistant. Regular training periods take place in the
kennel to teach dogs to be quiet and not to bark excessively. The dogs are expected to sit and stay for their
food just as you taught them at home. Dogs are fed once a day at 11:00 a.m. unless the volume of food or the
dog’s weight necessitate twice daily feedings. The food is weighed to ensure that proper amounts are fed.
Dogs are weighed weekly and food portions are adjusted accordingly. The instructor may want specific dogs
to carry a little extra weight in anticipation of stressful training periods, so do not be alarmed if your dog is a
little heavier than during puppy hood.
Body handling: Dogs receive regular grooming time, nail cutting and general handling from the assigned
instructor assistant
Puppy Evaluator: BS Date:1/30/06
cc: Pat, Doris, NIna
Comments: Lance is a very energitc fun boy. He is eager to please and ready to work. He does have a soft side to him, which
coupled with a dog distraction can be a challenge at times. We did a lot of work with his obedience to get him to behave
appropriately in the company of other dogs and now his obedience is excellent. Lance is close to responding to all his basic
harness commands consistantly. Although, he does not like the harness handle on his back, he does seem to enjoy the work.
Lance lives with black lab male named Gibson and a yellow lab female named Laura. The three have become good buds!
It should be noted that I was on vacation for over a week during this time period.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Following in some big footsteps

Word comes from New York that Kinley and Lance, Murphy's two half-brothers who were raised here in Portland, have both passed the guide training! Kinley graduates this Saturday, while Lance is awaiting final placement with a blind person and may graduate next month.

With Nina's permission, I'll be posting Lance's training reports (as soon as I can get a few minutes to copy/paste!) It's a fascinating look at the skills these pups learn and must do!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

This, however, is cute ...

Andrew and Murphy both love to watch the birds.

EDITING on June 15 to report that this picture has been making the Internet rounds of the raiser community here in Maine since I shared it with some people, and the Guiding Eyes people love it so much that they want to use it in a publication. My two little models!

So not cute

Well, we finally have neighbors... after a year, the "developers" of the farm have found some chump to buy the poorly situated genero-new house across the street, and they are moving in.
Murphy and I met them today when, as we set out on a quick walk/train session, their large Golden Retriever came charging out to jump on Murphy.
Thankfully, as I ended up between them, it quickly became clear this was a goofy friendly dog who wanted to play, as opposed to attacking him. However, this is not helping Murphy's work with dog distraction one iota.
Before Murphy, I probably would have shrugged off the loose dog and only thought to myself about the poor judgment of having a dog running free so near a busy road.
Now, I'm steamed. Can't people control their dogs?
(And don't get me started on people who don't pick up the poop in public.)