Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Retraining Day 2: Monday Musings

I know I am a day and a half behind, but it's taken me this long to figure out that there is not a wireless connection and then where to plug the stupid cord into the wall. But now the internet is up and running and I am ready to tell you all about yesterday and the rest of Sunday.
Our travels to LDB went very well. There was a bit of turbulence into Detroit that made me sweat a bit and Glacier pop his huge head up, but otherwise everything went very smoothly. We also arrived at LDB just in time for dog and human feeding times, so I was a happy camper. I was instructed to hang up Glacier's harness and just heel him around the school campus. This is a normal practice for handlers and new dogs. I was fine with that because I figured going back to the basics was probably the best course of action.
At supper I was introduced to three other handlers and their dogs and later learned the other three handlers' names and their respective dogs. There are also five students here from Spain, but as I don't speak Spanish I have no idea what their names are or who  their dogs are.
The six other Americans consist of three women and three men and their dogs are as follows:
-Enzo: male, Chocolate Labrador
-Blaze: male, Chocolate Labrador
-Kenzie: female, Short Haired Collie
-Petey: male, Black Labrador
-Rex: male, Golden Retriever
-Meadows: female, Yellow Labrador.

After supper, Glacier and I went into a 45 minute meeting with one  of our instructors D. There she talked to me about all of the issues I had raised and asked a few more questions. She also reminded me that this training was not a guarantee, but that they would work with Glacier and I to the best of their ability to help us. I came out of the meeting with mixed feelings. I was hopeful and also felt a little annoyed because some of the questions asked inferred that I had caused Glacier's problems. As I have already admitted, I was obviously doing something wrong, but my actions are not the sole factor in mine and Glacier's working relationship's demise. I calmed myself down, realising that she had to ask those questions and that the more open minded I was the better this would go for everyone.
Monday started bright and early with me waking up twenty minutes before the alarm. Park time around here used to be six AM, but I was informed this morning that it has been changed to 6:30. I relieved Glacier, gave him food and water and got myself ready for the day. We started with a delicious breakfast and then, J another instructor/trainer, took me aside and had another meeting with me. He asked if it would be okay if he took Glacier for a walk in the morning to gauge what some of his problem areas might be. I agreed of course and hoped that he would be able to get some information from a four block working trip. He also went over the terms of me being here, which basically says they or I can retire Glacier at the end of the training period if we are not satisfied, and asked more questions. I told him that it was very important to me that we touched base and that honesty was the best policy with me. I promised not to throw a temper tantrum and to do whatever was asked of me. :)
As promised, J took Glacier out on an adventure and came back with some suggestions. I've always known Glacier was a sensitive guy, but I never really understood the extent of it. J said that the reason he shuts down when I collar correct him is because he doesn't need them. LDB has been slowly changing their training methods, which means they are less aggressive  and more positive reinforcement. I really like that idea. Collar corrections are saved for very serious situations instead of "zinging" your dog every time it sniffs something. There are other ways to get the dog's attention and so J implemented a new way of dealing with Glacier.
When Glacier sniffed or did something he wasn't supposed to, I was told to get his attention back on me. I could use kissing noises and stomping my foot works really well as well. The foot stomp acts as a correction, but isn't so abrasive that Glacier feels the need to be submissive. Also, when Glacier slows down or stops walking, I have been directed to take his leash in my right hand and point in the direction I want him to go. This has also worked very well.
After J came back and we had our little talk, it was my turn to try my hand at our new game plan. I'm not going to lie. I have been handling guide dogs since I was nineteen and completely changing your handling style is quite hard. That said, I like this style much better and Glacier seems to as well. He seems confident and every once in a while when he sort of loses it, he is quicker to bounce back. We walked about six blocks and even though there were little hiccups, the street crossings were straight and he never one stopped walking.
Monday afternoon we went to a different area to work where there were a lot of distractions. Little squirrels, barking dogs and a very strong wind made for a fun filled afternoon. Despite these distractions Glacier did very well and so did I. We  had one little mishap when crossing a street and Mr. G thought it was a good idea to go visit the barking dog across the street. I panicked and resorted to my old habits and gave him a collar correction. It was a light one as I remembered mid correction and it didn't seem to have any ill effect. Glacier swung sharply back up on to the proper sidewalk and we were off. We did the route three times, changing direction once to shake things up a bit and each time was really good. We both still need work, but it is an encouraging start.
After our third go 'round, the supervisor, who just happens to be from Scotland, came on the bus to tell me that Glacier and I "did a beautiful job." Those four words were music to my ears. J made sure to check in after our afternoon working session as well. It makes me feel better having mini discussions between sessions in order to ensure things don't get out of control. It also means we can go over the things that are working and going right.
Monday was our first day and I saw some really amazing things happen. The only thing that I have to keep in mind is that these changes may not be sustainable for Glacier. Even if things are "fixed" before we leave here, he may decide that he doesn't want to do it anymore. If that is the case, at least I know that I've done everything in my power to give him the opportunity to choose to work. I think that is the key behind LDB's new training methods: the dog works because it wants to, not because it is scared that you will crack that leash. :) So, with a good first day under our belts-or collars I suppose would be more appropriate-I look forward to today's training sessions and hopefully the permanent changes that can be made in both myself and Glacier.


L^2 said...

Yay! I'm so happy to hear you guys are finding some success.
When I was at LDB last year for my O & M refresher course I heard discussions from a couple of long-time Leader Dog handlers about the move away from so much negative reinforcement, and while they were a bit skeptical, I thought that was great.
From what you describe being suggested for Glacier it sounds very similar to how I was encouraged by GDA to handle Jack, once we realized that he responds so incredibly well to just verbal cues and verbal corrections from me. So I really hope that works for you guys long-term too. *hugs* And we're keeping our fingers and paws crossed here for your continued success.

P.S. Was the Scottish guy, Richard? He's so nice and I LOVE his accent! He did my exit interview for my cane/GPS class. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to hear things are going well. Sounds like you and Glacier are working out those little blips. I'll look forward to reading more of your adventures in re-training.

Frankie Furter said...

I am so thrilled. I think that the small session discussions are better... why wait until LATER to get something fixed..
I just feel so hopeful about this. I believe in positive reward methods. I think they build the love and trust levels along with fixing the problem.
PERFECT. I am sooooooo glad that this is working out tis way.
I especially like your resolve.. If Glacier chooses not to be a working dog.. nothing good can come from forcing the issue. I have a feeling that he will make a wonderful decision.

Jen said...

Glad things are going well and I hope it stays that way. You seem to be handling it all very well.
I use collar corrections quite a bit with OJ, mostly because he was very strong at the beginning and responded quicker to them. I'm trying to use them less and find clicking my fingers at him snaps him out of situations quickly, but I forget sometimes.
I might learn some things from your retraining too.

Amber DaWeenie said...

Things sound like they're going OK or at least as expected. You're doing a great job and this retraining trip may be all that's needed.

Good luck to both of you.

browndogcbr said...

Hi Y'all,

It's been a busy weekend and early week here. I got to play "catch up".

It's such wonderful news to hear how wonderfully Glacier is responding.

It is fantastic that LDB has a good program in place to help you.

My grandmother used to tell me "where there is a will, there is a way." I've always lived by that. Believing that you can accomplish something is half the battle. Watching you and Glacier from my vantage point I think you've found the way.

Keep believing,
BrownDog's Momma

Sophia said...

Yeah! I'm so happy for you. Love you!
Mom and dad

Kolchak Puggle said...

Well, that is just a great update. I love hearing about the changes, sounds like Glacier is maybe more confident with the new methods and hopefully, that will make you guys a better team. Good for you for undertaking this - and for coming at it with such a great attitude. Can't wait to hear more.