Posts Tagged ‘guide dogs’

It’s a world of goldens, a world of labs….(45/49)

July 26, 2009

I know primarily about guide dogs in the US, but of course they exist in plenty of other countries. They originated in Germany, and I know of guide dog schools in Canada, the UK, Israel, Korea, and other countries. GDF actually uses training philosophies that are more British than American, but I’m not sure what that means. I’ve heard there was a guide dog in Singapore, but it was trained in the US, and its reception in Singapore was lukewarm at best, even by the blind community. But in several countries, guide dogs are probably about as common as they are here.

Sometimes there are some issues with accessing island nations, who are keen to prevent the spread of rabies. They have a strict quarantine system, which isn’t so great for people who need to travel with their guide dogs. There are procedures for people traveling to some of these countries where they can send in blood samples from their dogs ahead of time to ensure they’re free of rabies.

Post #: 45/49
Total so far: $1321.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

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ESP = Extra-Sensory Puppy (43/49)

July 26, 2009

We have a question from Justin:

My followup question is how much of the communication between you and Ms. Pup is explicit direction, and how much is her reading you, and you reading her?

There’s a lot of both, and the more used to each other a team is, the more implicit the communication can be. I’ve actually been instructed to be more explicit in commanding her, so she knows that she’s not the one in charge and coming up with all the ideas. On a familiar route, we can go the whole way without me saying a word except for some praise, but to her, it’s almost like she’s choosing where to go. So even if she knows the route now, I’m supposed to go back to basics and outline most of the commands.

But yes, after six months or a year together, we became able to read a lot of each other’s movements and signals. We can communicate a great deal through the harness handle. Slight pressure or a pull in one direction can steer me around an obstacle or encourage her to speed up or slow down. It’s pretty amazing.

Dogs don’t talk much; they do everything via body language, so she makes a point of reading mine. She knows when I’m getting up from my seat, when I’m done with a phone conversation, and a lot of other things about me. Likewise, I can tell a lot by her facial expression and the position of her ears and tail.

Shortly after getting Ms. Pup, I started reading some dog behavior books, including one recommended by my trainer at school. I figure that Ms. Pup has been kind enough to learn to understand some human, so the least I can do is learn a little dog.

Post #: 43/49
Total so far: $1321.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

For here, or to go? (42/49)

July 26, 2009

Many schools do primarily on-campus guide dog training, and GDF has historically been one of those schools. But recently, they are expanding their services to fit different people’s needs. Someone who takes care of three kids is not going to be able to hop off to Long Island for a month. So now GDF offers three options, depending on the needs of the student. Many students still come to campus for the full 25 days (or slightly fewer for a re-train). A few receive their training entirely at home, over a period of a couple of weeks. And some do what we call combo training, where they spend part of the time on campus and part of the time doing home training. Even someone who has done on-campus training receives follow-up of some sort at home. These options mean that GDF can serve the needs of more students than ever before. I myself am a fan of on-campus training, because I like having the ability to focus entirely on training, but that’s not going to work for everyone, and I realize that. Heck, I have a hard time getting a month off of work myself.

This past fiscal year, 99 guide dog teams graduated from GDF, which may not be much for some of the larger schools, but is a big number for us. So I guess people like having options.

Post #: 42/49
Total so far: $1321.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Mr. Sulu to the bridge, please. (41/49)

July 26, 2009

For some time, GDF had a really nifty program where graduates were trained to use a device called the Trekker in conjunction with their guide dogs. The Trekker is an accessible GPS system for blind people to help them with navigation. It’s a fairly complex device, but with training, it’s really useful. GDF provided the Trekker and four days of on-campus training for some graduates who had been with their dogs for six months or longer. Needless to say, the Trekker was not cheap, and the waiting list was quite long. I was lucky enough to receive a Trekker, which I named Mr. Sulu, after the navigator on Star Trek. I was trained to use the Trekker together with my dog for effective navigation. It’s an incredible device, really, and it was very helpful, when I remembered everything about how to use it. Unfortunately, mine is currently broken. The Trekker works with a PDA, and the battery hatch on my PDA for it is jammed. Also, the original PDA manufacturer no longer makes PDAs, so later Trekker users are supposed to get a different kind. But the new kind is so buggy when used with the Trekker, that GDF is holding off on training with it anymore until the bugs are worked out. Which may make it difficult for me to get mine working again.

The company that makes the Trekker is now making a simplified device with somewhat less functionality, called the Trekker Breeze. It’s apparently much easier to use, but not as useful a machine. GDF is now conducting a couple of pilot classes to see if the Breeze is a worthwhile device for resuming the training, and they’ll announce their findings in a few months.

Your contributions allow this training to continue, and help blind people navigate even more surely with both a dog and a Trekker.

Post #: 41/49
Total so far: $1321.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Keep ’em coming! (40/49)

July 26, 2009

Briiana, a new reader, asks:

So you’ve mentioned distraction techniques a few times now. Would you tell us what they are/what you mean when you mention them?

Sure! A large part of the problem has been me, actually. I see a dog coming, and I tense up, because I’m afraid of Ms. Pup’s reaction to the dog. She notices me tensing up and figures there’s something to be tense about. I also have a bad habit of tightening up the leash, which is counterproductive; the more restricted she feels, the more she’ll fight against it. I have to learn to relax and acdt casual.

If she just notices another dog, that’s okay, but if she reacts to it, tries to interact with it, or otherwise loses focus, I’m to give her a leash correction with a harsh “no”. These don’t hurt (I’ve tried them on my own arm), but they do get the dog’s attention. Putting the dog in a sit-stay if necessary can also help, although if we can casually walk by another dog, that’s preferable. Taking my time and making sure she gets things right, and not progressing until she’s gone through her sit-stay or up-stay properly is really important, because if she thinks she can get away with something, she will. Interestingly, she seems to respond positively to the added discipline and structure.

We’re also restricting her play with other dogs, and having her wear a Gentle Leader every day. The former is supposed to cut down on her automatic association of other dogs = play, and the latter helps me feel and control where her head is moving. Where the head/nose goes, the body tends to follow.

Making sure that our obedience and responses are solid on other commands makes a lot of difference for dog distraction technique too. If she’s responding well to one type of obedience, she’ll respond well to others as well.

This is some of what we’re doing. I hope it explains a bit.

Post #: 40/49
Total so far: $1321.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Sponsoring Rob (39/49)

July 26, 2009

Ms. Pup had a really wonderful relationship with my father. He was very excited when I got her, and they got along famously. Even when Dad was too sick to play with her anymore, Ms. Pup would lie down by his bed whenever we visited him and watch over him. She knew what was up. When he was in the hospital, she was always able to find his room among many many similar rooms. He died with all of us by his side, including her.

Shortly before he died, I told him that because he and Ms. Pup had such a special relationship, I was going to sponsor a puppy in his name. I didn’t know how I would get $6000 together, but it was okay if it took a while. I asked him if he had a preference as to what breed, and he really didn’t mind. Dad liked dogs, and wasn’t picky about breed.

After his death, I set up a sponsorship account at GDF, and encouraged family and friends to donate in his memory. Within a few months, we had over $1000; enough, I thought, for an ear and maybe a paw or two. But there was no rush. We’d get there.

Dad died in April, and my birthday was in December. I asked that any money that would otherwise have been spent on presents for me be donated to the puppy sponsorship instead. A few days after my birthday, I was at a friend’s house for his own birthday celebration, and he handed me a card. I felt like a heel, because I hadn’t brought him a thing, but he said not to worry. I opened the card, and taped to the inside was a Sacajawea golden dollar coin. The card had tens of names in it. My friend had tracked down many, many people who knew me online, collected contributions from them, and matched them all dollar for dollar. The Sacajawea dollar was the last dollar needed for the entire $6000 sponsorship. I was speechless. Then I called my stepmother to tell her the news. Then I cried and thanked my friend, all my friends, for helping.

As it turns out, a friend of mine was a puppy walker for GDF for some time, and one of the puppies she raised became a breeder. It is my hope that when this dog has her first puppies, one of them will be a male black lab, and I will sponsor him and name him Rob. My friend and my stepmother and I will hopefully all go to GDF and pick the puppy out personally. I think Dad would have liked that.

Post #: 39/49
Total so far: $1272.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Things Ms. Pup has eaten, part 2 (38/49)

July 26, 2009

Ms. Pup, like many dogs, has a number of unhealthy eating habits. For example, she loves to poke into trash cans and eat up paper towels, napkins, and tissues, the dirtier the better. Unfortunately, these items disagree with her system, sometimes vehemently. In her younger days, she ate (and then promptly ejected) a pair of my underwear at 6:30 one morning. She’s downed the occasional chocolate, which is indeed poisonous to dogs, but she’s large enough that it didn’t really affect her. She has also eaten the middle finger out of one of my gloves, and on the first day of bellydance class, she chewed up a classmate’s sock, which fortunately was not on the classmate at the time.

But her true passion is any kind of baked good. Bread, muffins, croissants, any kind of pastry, she’s all for it. I cannot leave her off tie-down at night, because the household will wake up with all of our bread gone. Seriously, it’s happened before. She has devoured most of a flat of croissants from BJ’s while we slept. She’s snatched my breakfast while my back was turned. If it contains leavening, it’s her favorite thing ever.

Note that a) she is not actually allowed to have any of these things, and b) when offered her own food, she will saunter over to it in a leisurely fashion and pick at it slowly in a most un-lab-like manner. But for people food, she’s all lab.

Post #: 38/49
Total so far: $1272.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Things Ms. Pup has eaten, part 1 (37/49)

July 26, 2009

This is the post about the things Ms. Pup likes to eat that are actually acceptable foods for her. She thinks her kibble is okay. She’s not all that excited about it one way or the other, although she’ll definitely let you know if it’s dinnertime and she doesn’t see any in her bowl. She doesn’t like to eat first thing in the morning, though, so I’ve taken to giving her 1/4 of her daily food in the morning and the other 3/4 at night. Feeding her once a day doesn’t work, because if she goes too long without food, she pukes up bile, and it’s really gross.

She does adore her daily fish oil pills, which help with her dry skin and chapped nose. She also loves her monthly anti-heartworm pills, which apparently taste like delicious treats. Many dogs like baby carrots or green beans as treats, but she isn’t a fan. What she really likes is canned pumpkin, which she gets frozen in a Kong on her birthday, and spooned over her food on other special occasions. Other special treats include water chestnuts (don’t ask; I have no idea), pineapple (especially canned), watermelon, and ice cubes. She used to get ice cubes made out of frozen chicken broth until she became allergic to them. For a while she got so used to those, she’d turn up her nose at regular ice cubes, but no longer. She’s also made short work of salmon skin, but she doesn’t get that anymore. I’ve also stopped giving her peanut butter, although she loves it. And for obedience drills, we use dried apples, although we don’t use food rewards often.

But her favorite thing in the world is a beef marrow bone. I freeze them so they’re less stinky and it takes her longer to eat them. She never gets more than once a week, and it takes her at least two hours to finish one, but it’s the quietest two hours she’ll ever spend. 🙂 I always put her through some obedience drills when I give her one, but it’s hard, because she gets so excited when she sees a marrow bone, her brain falls out. Seriously, she’s a smart dog, but I tell her to sit, and she stares at me, runs around in a circle, and then comes back and stares at the bone some more. It’s like she completely forgets how to do anything but beg for the marrow bone. Eventually she remembers, but it takes a while. In this case, she’s not being disobedient, she’s just completely ecstatic about the impending marrow bone.

Part two of this post will address her favorite forbidden foods.

Post #: 37/49
Total so far: $1272.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Question question question! (36/49)

July 26, 2009

My fabulous Blogathon monitor Sohorhapsody asks:

What was your most difficult moment of training with your dog?

Wow. Good question. I think my most difficult moment was a misunderstanding with my trainer involving dog distraction, some crazy lady who let her dogs run around loose and freak out our guide dogs, and my attempting to calm my dog down in the face of all this but actually reinforcing bad behavior. It would take a long time to explain, but the instructor blew up, the crazy lady acted like an idiot, and my dog was very confused, as were my fellow classmates. The instructor later apologized to me, and in fact voluntarily admitted to the lead instructor that he’d screwed up. But I remember feeling very overwhelmed and incompetent until it was all worked out, plus there were some very upset dogs.

Also, working in 90-degree heat with a black dog kinda sucks. 🙂

But basically, in a setting as intense as guide dog school, any miscommunication or mishap can snowball very quickly if not nipped in the bud immediately. Emotions run high, and people can be pretty anxious. Fortunately, in our case, things turned out fine.

Post #: 36/49
Total so far: $1272.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Dr. Becky (35/49)

July 26, 2009

I was going to start by saying that I am blessed with a fantastic vet, but the fact is that I am blessed with a fantastic friend who is also my vet. I knew her through friends before I got Ms. Pup, so when I moved back to the area, I started taking Ms. Pup to her.

When you have a working dog, it’s not enough just to have a decent vet. You need an excellent vet who understands the particular issues of working dogs. They can’t just prescribe something that will make a dog woozy, because that can get the handler (and the dog) killed. You need someone who is going to be able to work with your disability without making a big honking deal about it. It’s also not exactly a problem if they give a discount for service animals, although not all vets do.

Dr. Becky is very careful what she prescribes for Ms. Pup, and will tell me exactly why she’s choosing a given drug. For example, one day she prescribed something and then told me that she had chosen the more expensive option, because the cheaper drug had a rare side effect of deafness, which would be career-ending in a guide dog. I wouldn’t even have known what the options were, much less their prices and side effects, but she wanted to be sure that I knew why she had chosen the option she had. I was very pleased. She describes how to do maintenance tasks in such a way that I can do them non-visually. She lets me know how long a procedure will keep Ms. Pup out of commission, and is patient and affectionate, even with some of Ms. Pup’s histrionics.

Ms. Pup is terrified of the otoscope. That’s the thing the doctor uses to look in your ear, or a dog’s ear, or whatever. And it’s not because it hurts her when it’s used, because she flips out even when it’s used on her non-infected ear. You can stick needles in her, roll her over, thump her pretty much anywhere, or mess with her paws, and she’s fine with it. Take her temperature, and she’ll just roll her eyes and give you a look like, “Don’t you humans ever get tired of that?” But get an otoscope anywhere near her, and she’ll scream, roll over onto her back, wave her paws in the air, and scream some more. Craziness.

My only complaint about Dr. Becky is that she’s an itinerant relief vet, so she’s always traveling around. Sometimes I have to get rides to some pretty remote places to see her. But it’s totally worth it. Oh, and Ms. Pup adores her, so that’s also a plus.

Post #: 35/49
Total so far: $1272.34
Make that total higher! Donate to the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.