I know a lot of my posts have been about mine and Mr. G's working relationship, but it's such a huge part of my life that it's hard not to talk about it. There were also so many times in the past when I didn't know whether or not just to retire him or keep going. Even though we've been working together for three years, I feel like we are a brand new team. Of course I'm not dealing with a lot of the things that a new handler deals with, like inconsistent relieving for example, but in some ways I am. Glacier and I are learning to trust one another, something that should have happened years ago, but is thankfully happening now. This is the biggest obstacle a brand new team faces, besides bonding, and it's only now that things are starting to gel.
Glacier and I have always been bonded. I think we bonded the first week we were at Leader Dogs for the Blind in 2008. We have loved each other for the past three years like any other working team, but the elements of trust and respect when it came to working was missing. These two elements are, to me, what make a working team successful. I need to trust and respect Glacier enough to let him make a decision. He has to trust and respect me enough to take a cue from me without questioning me. I wasn't trusting or feeling all that respectful and he was questioning. With an attitude adjustment on my part and an environment conducive to us working almost every day, things have begun to improve very quickly. In a month, I have gone from not wanting to go out and work my dog and contemplating retiring him for good to absolutely loving the feeling of walking confidently down a sidewalk with my big Yellow Fellow at my side. I know I've had that feeling before when we went back to Leader Dogs for the Blind for retraining, but that was a very safe and particular environment. I knew things would change a bit once out in the real world, but I just wasn't sure how much. We had to start from square one yet again upon arriving in Edinburgh.
Yesterday I went out to meet a friend to pick up a few things Mr. K and I needed. Glacier and I walked a route we've traveled only twice before on our own and instead of being nervous and uneasy the whole way, I enjoyed myself and didn't get worked up about my own small mistakes, other pedestrians' interference with our work and Glacier stopping to sniff once. Glacier seemed at ease too. He picked up the pace, which I have been wanting for so long and trotted along, moving around people and objects where necessary. At one point, someone veered into our line of travel when we were crossing a street. I think he was reading or perhaps texting, a pet peeve of mine, but either way he didn't notice us until he had run us over. The old working team of Miss J and Mr. G would have fallen apart. I would have panicked thinking that Glacier's sensitivity would take over and he'd stop guiding and we'd be stuck there in the middle of the busy street. Not yesterday; yesterday, I said, "excuse me" and Glacier kept us moving briskly toward the opposite curb despite the flustered, embarrassed side swiper mumbling an apology and trying to grab my arm and lead me across the road.
At one point, Glacier caught sight of another dog and thought that he should follow it, but with a light verbal correction, he kept us on track. Another example of where we have changed. Before, he would have just kept lumbering after the other dog and I would have to give him a harsher correction. The correction would have shut him down and then I'd spend the next two blocks over praising him for walking a straight line. I think with me treating him more like a working dog, Glacier has begun to realise the magnitude of his job.
No, we're not a new team with regards to how long we've been together, but we're new in working properly together. Every outing encourages me and we grow stronger. It's a process that should have happened a long time ago, but it's happening now. So, I suppose I'll be celebrating each little victory by blogging about it. When you're a seasoned team, the posts about how great you and your dog's work was that day usually taper off, but perhaps that is something we as handlers shouldn't take for granted. I know when Jetta and I had been together for three years I didn't think twice about how smoothly we walked to and from classes or swim practices. It blew my mind when she found my swim bag in the locker room the first time, but after she repeated this behavior more than once, I think I took it for granted. I praised her of course, but it wasn't like the first time she did it. I'm not saying we should throw parties for our dogs every time they find a curb when we are veterans because then when something earth shattering happens they will not understand how amazing they are, but I am going to make an effort to not let Glacier's outstanding work become old hat once we've solidified as a seasoned team.
It's the smallest things that really make these dogs' work significant. The fact that Glacier always takes us to our door despite there being one an inch and a half past it, is something to be celebrated. If he didn't turn left at that door and get me up close when he should, we could end up at a pub a few doors down instead; not necessarily a bad place to be, but I usually want to go home for a reason. The fact that he gets me really close to each audible signal button on the street outside our flat without walking me into the pole or being too far away that I can't find it to push the button, is something to be celebrated. A foot to the left or right, I wouldn't be able to find the pole and just an inch or two forward and I'd walk chest first into the pole. Sure, the other day when he turned around and found the door behind us I was shocked and we had a party, but it's the every day mundane things I need to remember to praise him for because without those basic behaviors I'd be lost; quite literally. It was these basic behaviors that weren't happening and with their appearance, the great, surprising behaviors have begun to sprout up. The phrase "baby steps" could never be truer. It just took a long time, a lot of patience and a lot of attitude tweaking-for both of us-and I feel safe to say, barring any crazy event, Glacier and I will be a very happy, safe and successful working team until he is ready to retire as an old man. This is a comforting thought to me because up until now, I could never say that with confidence.