Thursday, April 14, 2011

Retraining Day 5: Chaning Things Up

This morning I was up before the alarm as usual. I don't know why I even bother setting one. I laid in bed until about twenty to six, but then couldn't stay still any longer so got up and started our morning. We did our regular park, feed, shower, water routine and I also threw in our little Hide and Go Seek game. This time I rewarded Glacier for coming to me by giving him his Nylabone when he came and sat in front of me. I would let him chew for a bit, tell him to "drop it" and start the game over again. We both had a lot of fun. At one point he was so excited he nearly knocked me over when he came sliding into a sit from a scrambling run. The floors are slippery in here so thankfully he can't get going really fast.
After the humans were fed, Glacier had parked and my teeth were brushed, we loaded up the buses to head down town to the training centre. For the first time since we've arrived, Glacier and I didn't have to wait and were out first. J was working with another student who had been issued a new dog due to personality  conflicts, so Richard-the Scottish trainer-took Glacier and I out. There was the first change of the day. We began our route which was supposed to be the same as the day that the class worked in doubles. We turned right out of the building and I could feel Glacier was ready to go, but was kind of slower than usual. One of the trainers had warned me that there would be obstacles along our way, so I just let Glacier do his thing. Change number two. I could feel him taking small side steps and tight turns around unseen objects. Most of the things that they put out I still don't know what they were because Glacier didn't flinch as he successfully navigated me through and around them. The only surprise was the pool noodle they had slung across the sidewalk about chest height covered in fake leaves. I think it's supposed to mimmic a tree branch. Glacier walked me full force into it, but when we reworked it, he paused about half a foot away as if to say,
"Look!!!! I see it this time!" On our return trip he stopped well in advanced of the hanging fake tree branch, which made me really happy that he remembered.
Our route was supposed to be a familiar route, but upon reaching the block that took us back to the school, Richard changed his mind and told me to continue up the street I was on. Change three. The path we took was much longer than the original one and was full of distractions. Again, there were other working teams to negotiate and dogs in training with their trainers. There were even some trainers working under blindfold with their dogs in training that we encountered. All trainers have to work with their dogs wearing a blindfold in order to understand the students' perspective and also to ensure the dogs can guide a blind person safely. Richard  said that the reasoning for the change was to give Glacier and I a taste of "Princess Street," which is a very busy street in Edinburg Scotland.
We headed up to Main Street where we were supposed to turn into a small shopping centre, but Richard saw a "gaggle of children" ahead and changed the plan again. He told me to tell Glacier "forward" to see how he did circumscribing a group of seven year olds. The teacher was incredibly respectful and asked her students to get into a tidy group out of Glacier's way. Glacier passed by the tight knit group with no sniffing issues, but Richard decided we needed to up the difficulty. So, he asked the children to help Glacier and I train and told them to spread out all over the sidewalk and not to move when Glacier and I came by again. After the kids did as they were told, Glacier and I swung around again and walked through the little crowd. The kids were great and Glacier was fantastic. He carefully walked around the little ones and only stopped to sniff once. He moved on quickly after a gentle verbal correction. I was amazed that such a huge dog was able to be so careful and agile.
After our little kid excursion, we returned to the shopping centre that was our original destination. Richard was trying to take me into places I didn't know and let me just follow and trust Glacier. I am so glad he did this. I was waiting for an exercise like this. Again, Glacier was stellar. He stopped very assertively at the top of a set of stairs that I didn't know was there. He found the doors I asked him to and got me back out onto Main Street with minimal direction. It felt so good to be working as a team.
We did have one minor miscommunication when crossing Main to return to the Centre. I asked him to find the curb to cross the street and we ended up in front of a light pole and a fire hydrant. They were far enough apart that I didn't notice them at first. I tried telling Glacier "forward" a few times and he refused to move. Richard told me to look to my left and directly to Glacier's left shoulder was the light post. I praised him like crazy turned him left and got to the curb. I am happy to report that our morning did not have any confidence issues with either of us. I think there have been times when I have judged Glacier's caution as him not being confident. I realised that today as we walked along a narrow sidewalk and he slowed his pace until we moved onto a wider part. He was a bit lighter in the harness, but it was his way of telling me to be careful.
Richard and I had a good chat after our working session and he told me that he thought we worked as a team this morning. He was very impressed with both of us and I told him that I think part of our problem before was miscommunication and me not understanding Glacier's signals. Richard also filled me in on some little tid bits that will help us in Scotland.
1. Guide dogs in Scotland are not trained to paused at the opposite curb when crossing the street because you will get run over. I am glad. I prefer that Glacier slows a bit to indicate the curb, but keep moving.
2. Guide dogs in Scotland are taught to pause at a curb when crossing the street, about a foot back from the edge because if you are too close to the edge you will lose a body part. Again, I'm glad because Glacier needs encouragement to move up really close to the seam of the street and curb. I guess he's been practising for Scotland all along. Also, I never liked that we stand so close to the edge for precisely the same reasons that Richard brought up.
This afternoon was a big change as well. The other students stayed back at the campus and had their photos taken, an interview for their local newspaper and a final vet visit. Glacier, Richard, an apprentice instructor and I loaded up in a very empty bus and headed off to a strip mall of sorts. It was a pretty upscale strip mall though and Glacier and I were asked to wind our way carefully through a women's perfume section and other expensive clothing. Glacier's work was outstanding. He brushed me up against a 3D map of the shopping area, but after I showed it to him once, he was sure to clear it. He even made sure my arm didn't come into contact with the sharp corners on our way back. We had another encounter with the evil "arm crusher" as Richard called it, in a different area, but again, Glacier cleared it and I didn't even know I had past it until Richard pointed it out.
Glacier spent well over an hour guiding me around benches, flower pots, products for sale and numerous other objects with ease. He even found the escalators in the department store we visited when I asked him to. I wasn't sure he would remember since we haven't had to find escalators in a long time, but he knew exactly what I wanted. He paused on the platform before the moving stairs and waited patiently for me to tuck the back strap of his harness into my left hand along with his leash and for me to grasp the escalator rail with my right hand. He listened very well to directional cues when they were given and upon leaving the store Glacier and I got one of the nicest compliments I have ever had. Richard told me that the trip through the cramped, expensive department store couldn't have gone better. He said that it was a treat for the apprentice instructor to see a team work that well together so early in her career. The apprentice instructor thanked me. I didn't know what to say but,
"Thank him," as I pointed down at Glacier. Richard said it was both of us because I followed him and worked with him the way it's supposed to be done. He also pointed out an area that we had navigated through that would have sucked a newer team in like a vortex, but Glacier kept his line of travel and did not get lost in the irregular structure of the building.
After that highlight we did some more outside travel along the crowded sidewalks. Richard gave me some more tips for Scotland and also gave me a vocabulary lesson. :)
For our final test we went into a grocery store. I was worried about this because I know Glacier has food distraction issues. He has even been known to steal things off of shelves. That is the main reason why I started using a head harness on him. I had a wright to be worried. :)
He did well guiding me through the aisles, but he was a bit distracted; his head swinging this way and that, trying to see the goodies around him. When we got into the cheese section, it was game over. I felt him move close to the cheese fridge and I gave him a verbal correction, which moved him right along, but Richard told me later that Glacier actually had the cheese package in his mouth. Yikes! The up side is that he did drop it with just a verbal correction. That said, when we were unloading the bus I confirmed that food distractions would be something he would talk to J about and it would be something we would work on.
Other than our cheese incident, I am thoroughly impressed by Mr. G today. His curb work was much better at the outdoor shopping centre, despite a few of them being incredibly confusing to align up to properly. His confidence never disappeared and me shutting up and letting him make decisions on his own has done wonders for us both. We still have work to do, but I think we're on the right track for sure.


Donna and the Dogs said...

Glad you feel you are on the right track. I can understand Glacier's love of cheese. :-)
Leaving food must be one of the hardest things to teach a guide-Lab.

Frankie Furter said...

This is just so uplifting. I really had a feeling that the two of you simply needed to get on the same page.
It is a day to be proud of ... for BOTH of you!! Congratulations.

Jen said...

Sounds like you both worked very hard today. I think OJ could do with one of these refresher courses.
I often mistake his slowing down and being cautious as being distracted too, and correct him when I shouldn't, then feel really bad about it.
Good luck tomorrow.

L^2 said...

Yay! So cool that you two are re-learning to trust one another and really work as a team again. I know what you mean about mistaking the cautiousness for lack of confidence. I felt the same way about Jack's cautiousness at first because it was so different than the way Willow reacted, and it still catches me off guard occasionally.

Brooke, Phoenix, Cessna, Aspen & Canyon said...

I'm so glad to hear your day was a success! the cheese incident had me in tears, I was laughing so hard lol! I've been lucky not to have one of my dog's grab something as we were walking by, but one day a bra did get snagged by Phoenix's harness handle as we walked by so that was pretty funny - luckily Brandi was there and pointed out the item dangling over his back... Please keep up the updates, it's so great to hear about your adventures and to share in your successes :)

I'm having issues with my phone, so will try and call Northern Tel tomorrow when Huib is home to help me figure out the phone issues and then hopefully I'll get a chance to call you tomorrow evening or Saturday :)

Sophia said...

So glad things are working out for you. It's great to see that your confidence level is up. You and Glacier will get through this with flying colours.
Love Mom and Dad

TheBlindGuyreviews said...

Babe, I'm so glad to hear things are going well. I really want Glacier to be a "scotty" dog with Roscoe. We all miss you, but I miss you more of course. Love you so much, I am proud of your hard work, persistence and positive outlook.
Love you
Mr. K