"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


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