Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where Do I Go From Here?

It's funny how things are always changing and nothing ever turns out quite the way you thought it would. Not that that's always a bad thing: I have had some amazing life experiences because things didn't go as planned. I met Mr. K for example. I've actually sort of come to expect it and enjoy the curve balls I'm thrown, but the latest one has got me all sorts of confused and a little overly emotional.
I have come to the very difficult realisation that Glacier and I are not working properly as a team. We have had ongoing issues since day one at Leader Dogs, but when I raised my concerns I was reassured that they were just growing pains that come with a new working team and that eventually they would all work out. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. In fact, things have gotten worse. I have four main concerns and when I sat down to write them out in an email to his trainer, I concluded that the situation was much more serious than I had originally thought. Upon completing the email, I reread it in order to edit and I was taken aback by what was written there. If a friend had sent me that email, I would be genuinely concerned for the working team's safety. I knew then that drastic steps had to be taken in order to keep both Glacier and I safe when we were out working together.
First of all, here are his issues in a nut shell so you can see what I am talking about.
1. Glacier was one of the best traffic checkers when we were at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Traffic checking is when the dog uses Intelligent Disobedience and refuses to cross a street/driveway/sidewalk if a car is coming. Since moving to here, Glacier has walked me out in front two cars. The first one I didn't even hear and it was traveling at very fast speeds. Thankfully Mr. K and his friend were with me and able to stop us. The second car was moving much slower and I actually heard it after we stepped off the curb and I was able to correct him and get us back up on the sidewalk before anything happened. In this second situation, Glacier had not even stopped at the curb like he is supposed to and had just leisurely wandered out into the street.
2. Glacier basically stops guiding. It's like he gets confused or just doesn't care and stops walking in his harness. The dogs are supposed to stop if there is an obstacle in front of you. This allows the handler to assess the situation and direct the dog as to what the next move should be. If he stops for obstacles I often don't know and can't praise him because he stops too frequently for no reason at all. He also gets very light in the harness when we are going somewhere he doesn't want to go. This means, he is just walking beside me as if in a "heel" on a loose leash even though I am holding the harness handle still. I cannot read his body language this way and thus I am not being guided. Sometimes Jetta would do this, but I could get her going again by being all happy and it was more towards the end of her career, which alerted me to the fact that she didn't want to work anymore. That said, some days he is spot on and blows my mind, but the problem is I need a dog I can rely on. I can't be guessing as to which Glacier I'm going to get.
3. Glacier's "shoulder" work is also a problem. Shoulder meaning the little strip beside the road that we walk along if there aren't any sidewalks. If he is between me and the curb he is fine, but if I am the one next to the shoulder, he walks down the middle of the road. I use the proper cues to move him over and these just seem to confuse him. He quits walking and looks around all dazed.
4. He is also overly sensitive to collar corrections. If he didn't need them, it wouldn't be a problem, but if I give him an assertive collar correction, he shuts down and stops working. If I make him rework a corner so that he gets it right, he shuts down. It's like his confidence is very shaky and I'm not sure why. (Collar corrections for you non-guide dog people means that we use the leash to make the chain collar make noise. We are not trying to choke the dog or violently jerk them. The quick snap of the leash is to make the chain collar go "zing." It is like if you were to shake a jar of pennies or clap your hands sharply if your dog was doing something you didn't want it to. The most important thing to know is that it is about the sound and we are taught at guide dog school how to perform these properly so that we are making noise and not physically hurting the dog. Leader Dogs for the Blind uses chain collars with particularly large links in it to ensure the noise is effective and that there is more of that and less choking going on). With Glacier I could gently collar correct him and he just ignores me, but if I am a bit more assertive he stops walking and won't move until he's recovered. Again this depends on the day. Some days, I can collar correct him for sniffing a bush and he'll snap back to attention and move on, other days I could correct him the same way for the same thing and he'll slow his pace down and pout.
Needless to say, something has to be done; especially since I am moving to another foreign country at the end of August and will be trying to navigate a university campus for two years. So, with the help of Mr. K, I implemented a plan and explored some of my options.
My immediate plan has been to go back to Leader Dogs for the Blind's home Routine 101. This means, Glacier is now attached to me by a leash at all times. This teaches the dog not only to watch what you are doing, but it helps you bond. I can praise him more frequently when he does something I ask him to-like "sit" when we are standing at the kitchen counter and I need to pour my coffee-and it creates a sense of concern and respect that is mutual. It also keeps the dog from being able to do whatever he/she wants to. I believe this sense of "I can do what I want when I want" is causing a lot of our problems. This new leash regiment started today and we'll see if it helps or not.
When at guide dog school, all students are taught a sort of obedience routine. It is used to keep the dog's skills sharp and encourages them to listen to their handler. It can be fun and a positive experience for both handler and dog. I have been a bit relaxed with this routine and will be making sure that we do it at least twice a day. It only takes a few minutes, or it can go on for a while. So depending on time constraints I can adjust it. I will also make sure we get a good play session in afterwards to reinforce our bond. Mr. K and I purchases some high end wet food and three small Kongs last night so that the puppies can have some down time in their crates while Glacier have some time to ourselves.
We have also vetoed all furniture privileges for both Glacier and Roscoe. Glacier and Roscoe don't sleep in our bed, but they were allowed to be on the couches in our house. When we visited other people, that was not something they were able to enjoy because we both felt if it's someone else's furniture, then our dogs didn't need to be on it. Mr. K agreed to keep Roscoe off of the furniture as well just to make it easier for me to show Glacier that it is not his right. I think some of the problems we are having is because I have become lax with some of the more stricter practices. Not anymore! Glacier is no longer allowed to greet people at the door or be petted by others. All of his positive attention has to come from me so that he only looks to me instead of seeking out loving from others.
I've also decided that I have to get meaner when people talk to Glacier in harness. I will say something if people pet Glacier when he is working and even then, I don't always speak up. If it is just a quick pat, I carry on because it is less hassle than stopping and explaining to someone. That said, I don't say anything when people talk to him in harness and that is not a good practice. People patting their legs, calling his name excitedly or "puppy" happily is just as bad as someone petting him. It is distracting for both of us and I think it is contributing to his concentration problems.
I know some of his issues have gotten worse because I have been complacent. If he would go into a "down" I didn't give him crap if he sniffed the spot on the floor in front of him. I figured, "oh well. He's down." This is not a good attitude to have. Give him an inch and he'll walk all over you. Now he immediately goes into a "down" even if I ask for a "sit" and swings his massive head about sniffing like a fiend. I think I got emotionally invested in Glacier way too soon and instead of being a handler, I became a dog mom. Well, no more Mrs. Nice Mom. There will be no sniffing even if he is in a pretty "down" and when I say "down" he must "down" even if he very cutely puts his gigantic noggin in my lap for loving. It will be "down" first and then ear rubbing.
That said, I know where my faults lie, but what about his? This is a partnership and his diagonal street crossings were something he came with. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention those. This is also unsafe. Guide dogs are trained to cross straight from curb to curb, not veer out into traffic and pick which corner they feel like going to. He doesn't always do this, but that brings me back to the inconsistent behavior that makes me nervous. So, besides my own behavior modification, Glacier has some behaviors he need to have re-trained as well. That is why I contacted Leader Dogs for the Blind and proposed two options to help rectify this situation.
1. Glacier and I return to Leader Dogs for the Blind and go through training class. That way, he gets retrained and so do I. The trainers can catch our bad habits and give me pointers on how to get the results I want. Maybe they can also work with Glacier as well and reteach him traffic checking.
and 2. I retire him and get a new dog. This is NOT what I want at all. Retiring him not only complicates life greatly, but I love this dog and do not want to give up on him. We've hung in this long, there has to be a way to retrain us both?
If worst case scenario occurs, I would want to find Glacier a home with family or friends so that I know where he is and how he is doing. That said, I have no idea who would take him. If I have to get a new working dog, Mr. K and I will probably have to give up all of our Dachshunds because I will have to be focusing on a brand new relationship and will not have the time or energy to give to Aria, Balloo or Doc that they deserve. We love our little guys: they have become our fur babies and the thought of giving them away breaks my heart. Also, if Glacier has to be retired there is the question of where to get my next dog from. I would have to research and see if any of the schools in the United States or Canada perform the Rabies Tider tests on their dogs automatically. If not, then our move to Scotland would be either postponed for six months and I miss my Graduate program start date, or I will have to get a dog from the UK. Then there's the joy of learning a new city/country with a new dog. There are so many things to take into consideration and my over active imagination is not making things easier.
I am hoping Leader Dogs for the Blind will be quick with their response and I hear from them tomorrow. I emailed them Friday after hours and they do not open back up until Monday morning. What I hate the most about this is not knowing. There are so many "what if's," the biggest one being "what if Leader Dogs doesn't want to retrain him," or "what if they do and it still isn't working? How will I know when to throw in the towel?" I am a bit stubborn-I prefer persistent-and that can cause problems for me sometimes. :) But until I hear from Leader Dogs, there is not much I can do; except keep the "what if's" at bay and continue my stricter, more structured regiment with Glacier.


Frankie Furter said...

I will cross my paws that they will agree to ... some retraining. That sounds like the best for both of you. Please keep us posted.

Lisa, Ellie and Hosta said...

Good luck with everything with Glacier. I have high hopes that with your plan to back up and start being more strict about those other tiny things will really help!

Anonymous said...

I hope retraining will be the next step. I'll be waiting to hear how it turns out.

Torie said...

When Ushi "stopped" mid flow, I was really worried too. At one point I wanted to give her back because she was stopping nearer and nearer the house. I thought I had done something to make this happen. After alot of reassurance and the instructors coming down to see what the problem was, they said that she was just "bored". Now with routes with a purpose the stopping has stopped, and we are mostly a happy team again. At the time I felt horrible.

As for him crossing at weird angles at street crossings, whenever you feel him veer, can you not stop breefly and say "no. straight on". This might help. I don't know if you do this, but if you have the lead with your harness, try taking the lead in your right hand to encourage him straighter? I'm just suggesting things.

As for the traffic, i'm not sure what you could do. Over here we can "reinforce" what a dog should do. This is called the "near traffic response.". We stand at a down kerb, and when a car drives slowly in front of us, we say "forward" quietly. The dog shouldn't go. You only do this on quiet streets. This is so that the dog knows that if a car is in front of them, they do not go! If we are walking across the road, however, and a car comes in front of us, the dog will stop again. this one you can't reinforce though. It is called the "far traffic response". You only do this if you get caught out and you are in the middle of a road, as if you did this when crossing, it could cause an accident. Do you not do this kind of thing?

This is only a suggestion, but did this get worse because of the extra obedience you had written about? Maybe withdrawing him from that until he has settled down?

Let me know what happens. I hope that if necessary they will retrain him.

I think that keeping him with you at all times will let him kknow that you are deffinetly the boss, and he can't get away with stuff any more.

Things will get easier i hope. Take care, and huge hugs. Xxx. This isn't your fault at all.

Ettel, Charlie Poodle, and Emma Pitty said...

I don't know much at all about guide dog training, but it does seem like he's lost his motivation to work. I don't know how often you reinforce good behavior with treats/toys/etc., but maybe some remedial training, with or without Leader Dogs' help would really help you both out. In the end, though, if you feel he's not happy working and would rather not be in harness, it may be up to you to stand up for him and decide he needs a career change.

And I'm sorry to hear about people distracting the two of you when you're out in public. I'm always awed when I see Guide dogs working. People should really have more respect for the vital service he's trying to provide for you. I'm sure you already do, but maybe getting some really big "don't pet me, I'm a service dog" badges might help?

Brooke, said...

I hope Leader Dogs can help you out. I know how much you've worked with Glacier to get over some of his less desireable habits and would hate to see you having to give not only him but your other family members up. Just in case things don't work out there though, I was reading through a blog soemwhere (will look for it again) that has a woman attending Seeing Eye and moving back to New Zealand when the training is all over so you could talk to them as a just in case nothing else works...because she mentioned in her blog about them doing the necessary tests for her dog to be able to return to NZ with her.

Sophia said...

You have chosen the right thing to do.It was probably hard for you to admit that you needed to be more strict with Glacier,but it is better than the alternative,giving him up.
You know that you can do this! If you decide to give up the babies , you will have the opportunity to adopt more once you have established a solid relationship with Glacier.
Love Mom and Dad

Jess and Glacier said...

Hi everyone: first of all thanks a lot. :)
Tory: We have stopped the extra training I was doing with him. I don't think it was making him better or worse, but we are done. Your suggestions are good and some of them I have done already. The quiet street traffic checking work is probably something I can do with him. It's something I knew we could do, but didn't think of it because my logical brain had shut off. :)
Brooke: Thanks. I'll contact Seeing Eye and see what they say. I've emailed a few other guide dog schools just to get a feel for what some of my options could be.
Attele: I think I spelled your name wrong. Sorry about that. :) Guide dog training doesn't use treats or toys for rewards that much. Your dog wants to work for you because they want to. lol We treat if we are trying to teach a specific maybe a particular classroom on campus or something like that. But you are right-if I figure out in the next month or so that he has lost the desire to work, then I will definitely have to put my feelings aside and do what is best for Glacier. My first dog made me decide too. :)
Thanks Mom.
Again, thank all of you for your encouragement. Be prepared for the next couple of posts to be all about Glacier. :)

browndogcbr said...

Hi Jess,

I'll keep y'all in my prayers.

In business I always told my people, when something goes wrong don't worry about the who or why, lets get to a solution.

Sounds like you're on your way to the solution.

Please keep us posted.

BrownDog's Momma

Jess and Glacier said...

Hi Brown Dog's Mama: That is fantastic advice and I will keep that in mind...probably for other things in life that may pop up too. :) Thanks for the prayers: I appreciate them very much.

Kolchak Puggle said...

Sounds to me like you know what you need and you have taken steps that will (hopefully) lead to you getting it. Trust yourself, follow your heart and do what is best for you. We're rooting for you and Glacier to find your team dynamic again.

The Pawpower Pack said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the struggles in your partnership. Is Glacier clicker trained at all? I'm not sure which programs use clicker and which don't. If you are using c/t with him; have you thought of going back to a high rate of reinforcement and start from the beginning? I hope things can improve. I've been in a similar situation with my now retired border collie guide, Gracy. It sounds a great deal like what happened with us. It is hard. You are in my thoughts.

L^2 said...

Oh, No! *hugs* I really hope LDB will agree to help you and Glacier with these issues soon. When I was having issues with Willow leading me into traffic about a year after we were partnered, they didn't want me to come back for more training, they wanted to send someone to my home to work with us - but no one ever came out here. So I just began to test her all the time - I'd set up situations where I knew there was a car coming - Like Torie described - so if she decided to go forward into traffic I could confidently correct her.
I think the plans you've outlined here to go back to the basics and be more strict sounds like a good starting point, and I really hope it helps you guys.

Jess and Glacier said...

L^2 I was worried about them not wanting to be helpful, or just wanting to send a person out for a day. That won't help, but we'll see what happens.
Coal: Thank you so much. You and yoru Mama are very sweet.
Paw Power Pack: Thanks. :) And I know, I am worried that he is done.