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.