There aren't really words to describe what it feels like to walk down a street, working cohesively and confidently with your guide dog. It's a feeling that, up until yesterday, hasn't really happened with Glacier and I.
I had noticed this feeling a few times when at LDB for retraining and the one time we took a long hike when I was at my parents' for three months this past summer, but other than that, something has been missing.
handlers can become picky about how we want our dogs to move, pull or not to pull, pause or not to pause. When you're thinking about what is to happen next or how to keep everything perfect, you almost forget to feel your dog and to just let things happen. Often people will say, it's not about the destination, but the journey that got you there and this is quite applicable to working with a guide dog. It's hard to know when to take over and be the thinking entity and when to let go and let the dog be the thinker and decision maker. Somehow, I found that balance yesterday.
Around 3 yesterday afternoon, Tenie called me. We had agreed to meet at a little square and from there she would show me how to get to the pet store. Glacier and Roscoe were low on food and so I really needed to go and get some ordered. The owners of this particular shop are really good to us. They give us a ten percent discount on any items bought for the guide dogs and also deliver the cases of food that we buy.
I harnessed Glacier up and we climbed the 43 steps down from our flat and turned out onto the street. I asked him to "find the button" and he did a fantastic job scooting me close enough to the pole that I was able to push the button, but not close enough to run me into the pole. We crossed and we stopped in the little park across the street to let Glacier relieve. I could tell he was a little overly excited as he kept forgetting to "park." He eventually did his business and we were off. The first two curbs we came to, he paused at perfectly, but he was a bit unfocused. He was prancing in his harness and turning his huge head about to look at everything. We crossed a bridge and he stopped at the curb perfectly again. The light at this particular intersection is incredibly long and sometimes I end up standing there through an extra cycle because it is difficult to determine when it is safe to cross. As we waited, he kept craning his head around my legs to sniff something to my right. I think it may have been a person. Glacier is still quite sensitive to leash corrections and snapping at him wasn't working, so I just put my right foot forward, blocking him from whatever smelled so good. This move seemed to work because he snapped back to attention and started watching the moving traffic.
We hung a left and then a sharp right and we were off swerving between tables, displays and people. The most amazing thing was how comfortably Glacier moved. He guided me carefully, but confidently through some scaffolding and didn't blow one curb. He looked once at a dog and thought about turning into an open grocery store door, but he stayed focused and responded quickly to what I asked him to do. He didn't need any encouragement to pick up the pace, which is a feat in itself because I am a very fast walker and speed sometimes poses as a problem.
Upon reaching the curb where we turn to go to Tenie's flat he paused. I praised him and asked him to "forward" and to "find the curb" and he moved forward without hesitation and stopped assertively at the curb. We had a brief party and then crossed the street safely. The whole route went smoothly. I think the best way I can describe a good working team together is "fluid." We work "fluidly" with each other. There is no break between dog and handler; we are seamless. Our entire existence, when Glacier is wearing his harness, starts at his front paws and moves up to his harness body piece, into the handle into my hand and all of the way up my arm. We are supposed to flow and that fluidity was not there before yesterday.
Sure, we had some good working outings, but I felt like I was coaching him through everything. Yesterday we worked together. He would do what he was supposed to do, I would praise or ask him to do something else and the best part was that he did not hesitate. If I said "find the curb," he found it and if I asked him to go "forward" past a place where we would normally turn, he did and that is amazing. It felt so good to be partners.
What I've written here is slightly inarticulate and a bit disorganised, but trying to describe that feeling is much more difficult than I thought it would be. There was always something missing when we went out to work and I had been looking for it. I didn't know what it was and so couldn't tell anyone what it was, but yesterday, it was there. Now I can put words to it. We needed to work seamlessly with fluid and synchronized motions and we finally did it. I had gotten so used to stopping three feet from the edge of the curb and spending the next three minutes "hopping" him up. (AKA asking him to get closer). We did that once yesterday and he had stopped only about a step back further than I'd like. There wasn't a jerky "stop, go" motion approaching curbs or larger obstacles. It was-and I'm going to use this word again because I don't know what other one to use-fluid and it was a beautiful thing
P.S. I received an email this morning from VIP Products with an eight dollar off coupon. Since Glacier and I do not live in North America anymore, is there someone out there who would like it? Their toys can be a bit pricy, but they seriously are some of the best made toys on the market. Let me know in the comments section if you would like it. Just leave me your email address so that I can forward it on to you.