Today is the day we leave for Leader Dogs for the Blind in order to begin mine and Glacier's retraining. My suitcase is pretty much packed and Glacier had a visit to the groomer's yesterday to have a bath and get his claws trimmed. I wanted him smelling his best. :)
I'm not really sure what to expect. I've gotten a new guide dog twice now and have an idea of what that process is like, but I have no clue what to expect when we arrive just before supper time today. One thing I do know is that Leader Dogs for the Blind feeds their clients very well and there is an endless supply of coffee. :)
There are a few things I do want to speak to my trainer about. I don't know who he or she is, but it's not my original trainer from when I was issued Glacier the first time. I actually think this will be an advantage as it will give the trainer an opportunity to see habits with a fresh pair of eyes. Our first trainer will be a part of the training group as well and I also think this is advantageous. I think her input will be helpful, but the indirect observation may be more productive. Anyway, I got off track.
I would like to have an equipment change. Since being at my parents' house, Glacier and I have worked a lot and I've had my mom walk a fair distance behind us to give me some visual feedback. I'm glad I did because she confirmed something I have suspected for a while. Glacier's belly strap of his harness slides up under his armpit and rubs the tender skin that is under there. It is the adjustable metal buckle part that inserts itself between his leg and belly whenever he puts any amount of pressure on the chest strap. I believe this is contributing to his guiding problems. It forces him to cross over a bit into my walking path and I think after a while, the rubbing gets to be too much and he stops leaning into the chest strap. This causes an issue as most guide dog handlers read their dogs' body language through the pressure that starts at the chest strap and then works its way up the harness handle. I wouldn't want to pull either if a piece of sharp metal was digging into my armpit.
I also want Glacier's working collar switched to a bigger one. I thought it was too small when we were at Leader Dogs for the Blind the first time and Glacier has filled out since then; gaining seven pounds of muscle and bone structure. With the collar being so small, my collar corrections turn into me yanking Glacier around instead of snapping the chain link collar to make a zinging noise. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the choke chains that working dogs wear are not for choking/yanking, but for making a lot of noise. It is the noise that is the correction. I am hoping with these two vital equipment changes that I'll see some improvement in Glacier's work ethic.
That said, I have been trying to expose Glacier to a myriad of working environments to see what are our problem areas. It was confirmed that we struggle in wide open areas like large hallways in malls or the Concourse at my old university. I don't know if it is because he doesn't have a landmark like a wall to follow, but it will be something I will mention to our trainer, whoever he or she may be. We also struggle in sidewalkless areas. Sometimes he is fine, but other times he tries to cross diagonally or just quits guiding because I corrected him for trying to walk his own route. He can be a bit people and dog distracted, but I know those two things can definitely be worked on since I have been cracking down on his looking about at people or dogs when out working.
What is exciting though is that I have seen a lot of improvement just in the last week. We've ben out working every day because we have the opportunity and I think that is helping. Baloo has also found his forever home and I think that one on one time that I am able to give Glacier is improving the situation. Jetta is living here at my parents', but she is low maintenance and I don't think Glacier feels threatened by her presence. Mr. K still has Aria and Doc with him for now, but they are back in SC. So, that gives Glacier and I a lot of "us" time, which I think was long over due.
As I said above, I have no idea what the training regiment is going to be like, or who my trainer is, but once I get to Leader Dogs for the Blind (AKA LDB), I will fill everyone in. I want to thank you all for the encouraging words. I am always blown away how amazingly supportive this blogging community is. Your comments have really helped me along in this confusing time. So, THANK YOU!!! :) :) :)