Today was an incredibly busy day for Glacier and I. We were picked up by a friend at 10 AM and didn't return home until almost twelve hours later. I thought that since we did a lot of harness work today that I would tell you about a few of his cues. These cues are used between the handler and the working dog. It is expected that a well seasoned working dog probably wouldn't listen to anyone else issuing the cues. Let's start with our morning.
This morning we took my wedding dress in to get altered. It did not need to be hemmed, but the sides were in dire need of being lifted up a bit. Plus, some bustling definitely was in order. When we got out of my friend's lime green bug, I put Glacier's harness on and told him "forward" and then "find the door." "Forward" is exactly what it sounds like: you ask the dog to walk forward. Glacier has many "find the..." cues. I use "door," "curb," "counter," "stairs," "elevator," "escalator," "chair" and many more that I have taught him along the way. When we were at massage college, we would set up our tables in random fashion and I would spread a blanket out for Glacier to have his own spot. If I left to go to the bathroom or something, upon returning I would ask Glacier to find "your spot." Regardless of where I had set the blanket, whether it was on the left side of the room or the right, the back or the front, he always found it.
After entering the alteration place, I asked him to find the counter and I spoke with the seamstress. She told me to go get changed and I again asked him to find the door. This can be a bit confusing for the dog. I asked him to find a door to come in. He has to decide whether I want to leave or if I want him to find a different door. I knew the general direction of the changing room, so pointed vaguely with my right hand hoping to help him out a bit. He took a hard left and walked right into the little curtained off cubicle. I was pretty happy with him, but what made me the proudest was when I left him there completely untied and walked out to be made into a walking pin cushion. I left the cubicle telling him to "stay" and walked about five feet away with my back turned to him. Many dog trainers will tell you that as soon as you turn your back it is showing your dog that they aren't submissive to you anymore and that this action could potentially cause them to act out. Glacier didn't budge. He laid still for twenty minutes or so while the seamstress scooped and pinned the wedding dress's skirt and train.
After the wedding dress alterations we headed over to my friend's house. She told me that her and her mom had a surprise for me and when I arrived, I found out that they had bought my wedding shoes for me. They are beautiful, but this post is not about my lovely blue shoes. It is about Glacier's brilliant behavior. After my surprise, we headed out for lunch where Glacier was asked to perform some of the same cues, but also a few different ones. We were seated at a booth as we were meeting Mr. K, Roscoe and another friend. At Leader Dogs for the Blind the dogs aren't taught a certain cue to "get small" or to scoot out of the way. So, I started using the word "under" with Glacier when I want him to squeeze under a table or a bus seat. I don't even really have to tell him anymore. I just drop the harness handle and if he sees me preparing to slide into a booth, he slithers "under." I still say the word though to keep reinforcing it. Besides, I am a very vocal handler. I noticed it at LDB and most recently have noticed it at our Rally Obedience classes. I talk away to him and praise like crazy or verbally correct him and most of the other handlers hardly make a peep. It's interesting to see varying handling styles.
After lunch we did a little browsing at a few stores and Glacier had to "find the counter" again when I used the bathroom and needed to wash my hands. He found a couple of curbs going into and out of stores and even traffic checked in a parking lot. I think I have explained traffic checking before, but basically it means the guide dog stops if there is a car coming that the handler didn't notice. He was having problems with this a week or so ago, so I was over the moon when I felt him screech to a halt. It's pretty hard to move 75 pounds of labrador when he thinks something is unsafe. I told him to "leave it" as well in the store. This basically means no sniffing or quit looking at what you are looking at; pay attention you gigantic furball. :)
After our little shopping trip, Glacier spent the rest of the afternoon at my friend's mom's house just being a dog. I went off to get a pedicure, but not before I used the cue "park," which is Glacier's word to do his business. I've been told a few times by LDB staff that "park" was used because it is "crap" backwards. Whatever the roots of the cue may be, I kind of like it because it is different and someone can't just come up and try to get your dog to potty. It's also a bit more discrete than singing out some of the other "potty" cues. Did I mention that I am a very vocal handler? Jetta even had a "go park" song I made up to try to encourage her to do her business, but that is for another day.
Glacier obviously knows the basic obedience cues like "stay," "sit," "down," Etc. He has a few other directional cues like "left or right," which mean a hard turn to that direction. If I tell him "left left," or "right right" that means slide over a bit to that side, or make a gentler turn. If I say "Glacier left left shoulder" I am trying to encourage him to hug the left shoulder of the road. He has also learned "where's Roscoe," which means find Roscoe and Mr. K. As I have said before the LDB dogs, and most other guide dogs for that matter, are taught "follow," but Glacier does not follow so well. He responds better to direct communication between him and I and no amount of familiarity with the person he is following will keep him following for long. Even in malls he will just randomly stop following Roscoe and then I, or Mr. K, have to try to find each other. We've had security guards reunite us after asking one or the other of us, "are you looking for the woman/man with the big yellow/black dog?"
Despite his lack of interest in following, I was very happy with Glacier's work today. It is really amazing the words the dogs learn and remember. I had named a bunch of different classrooms on campus when I was attending university and Jetta usually could take me to which ever one I named. Glacier and I haven't gotten that far in our working relationship yet. We have moved too much, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the university campus in Scotland.
I hope you have enjoyed learning some of Glacier's cues. Just remember though, that these cues are only to be issued by the handler and each guide dog school changes certain cues. "Go park" may be "do business" or "get busy" somewhere else.