Nettie's Phase 3 report
I have been doing GEB stuff -- we actually puppy-sat for 5 days while I was still on maternity leave, and I'm doing other stuff for the program. It's just been crazy since I went back to work! I will catch up retroactively, but here is Nettie's Phase 3 report. As you'll see, she's showing some stress, so I think the next few weeks will help determine what she's going to do with her life.
Here's Nettie's Phase 3 report:
GUIDING EYES FOR THE BLIND
TRAINING REPORT - PHASE THREE
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!
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
Steady pace and pull.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Nettie has done well during this training period, working in Peekskill, White Plains, and at the Jefferson Valley Mall. She continues to hone her skills in all of the basics of guidework. In addition, she has learned some new skills. She has learned how to travel through a revolving door, and is comfortable doing so. Nettie completed her preliminary blindfold during this training cycle. Some stress/worry has begun to surface with the added pressure and responsibility of the work.
We also proceeded to extensive indoor training at the Jefferson Valley Mall. Nettie works well indoors and targets stairs and doors well. She did very well working on the stairs, and was comfortable in the elevator. She had her initial exposure to riding the escalator, and has become comfortable doing so. At this point, she needs some minor fine tuning on the escalator.
Nettie completed prephase and phase 1 traffic as well during this training cycle. These lessons can be very stressfull and Nettie initially showed some displacement behavior such as sniffing and whining. This was a way for her to deal with the stress of the lessons. Eventually she did demonstrate a good back up away from the moving car, but showed considerable stress and worry. Nettie also took a trip to a local train station for platform work. Again, this can be stressfull for a dog. Nettie did show some worry, but was able to show the handler a good backup from the edge and turn to the right to block her handler from the edge.
Nettie has also had initial exposure to wearing the Halti and booties, while out of harness. She is adapting well to these items. Soon she will proceed to wearing them while working in harness.
Nettie has developed a strong handler attachment over the past few months. It is not uncommon for a dog who lacks some confidence to build this attachment and turn to the handler for support as more pressure is put on. Nettie will benefit from being worked by other people in order for her to learn that guidework is her job and that she needs to perform for any handler. Nettie will now be worked by my partner Woody for the next 5 weeks. In addition, our class supervisor Miranda will be working with Nettie as well. I will miss working with her, but ultimately this is best for her.
Nettie is currently living with Annabelle BLF. She is super sweet and affectionate. She loves playing with her sister Nia YLF during community run.