Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Guide Dog Training Day 2: Paula Arrives

Yesterday was the day that our dogs arrived. The morning started early with a good breakfast, some lessons in "house obedience" and foot positioning for harness work and after lunch the beasties arrived.
House obedience consisted of teaching us how to work with our dogs through doors and proper behavior in public spaces. We worked on telling the dogs to sit when entering and exiting doors and having them tuck in for meals. Foot positions were taught outside in the tennis court and is important when working with your dog in harness.
There are two positions so obviously named position 1 and position 2. Position 1 is the stance you take when your dog has stopped at a curb. You are standing at their shoulder. Position 2 is the stance you take when about to set off. You put your right foot back, leaving your left foot closest to the dog's shoulder to prevent the dog turning its body across yours. This basically guarantees no sniffing and hopefully a straight line of travel. We practised other foot positions that are necessary when turning at corners Etc. This was all new for me as I've never had to do a lot of foot work before. The reasoning, to me, is sound for the foot positions and so I don't mind doing them.
We were issued our equipment which consisted of grooming tools (Zoom Groom, slicker brush and comb), harness, working half check collar, bell (to know where your dog is), whistle (for recall and feeding), leash, Kong and Nylabone. The whistle was new to me as well as the concept of a "working" and "play" collar.
My previous dogs only had one collar which they wore all of the time. I bought my own bells to put on them so I knew where they were during free runs. So although that is new with regards to a guide dog organisation providing them, it wasn't a foreign concept to me. As for the whistle I actually think it's a great idea.
When feeding your dog you are to place your dog in a down stay somewhere in the room. You then put their food between your feet and blow the whistle, indicating to them that they can eat. The whistle is also used during free runs for recall. By using this technique during meals, you are reinforcing recall as the dog knows that the whistle means food at their handler's feet. It was pretty cute when I blew the whistle last night and Paula came running from her bed and dove into her food bowl at my feet.
We had a great lunch of soup and sandwiches and I tried Scotch Broth for the first time. It is not what I expected. To me broth is a thin liquid so I assumed the soup would be a thin liquid void of anything chunky. Scotch broth is the farthest thing from "broth." It is quite hardy and I was incredibly full.
After lunch our trainer went off to collect our dogs from their borders' houses. This is new for me  as my previous dogs were in kennels on site. Most of this organisation has their dogs in training living in people's homes to make the transition from training to a working dog as easy as possible. The other student said I could get my dog first because it was my first UK dog. I thought that was sweet.
Around 2.40 a knock came on my door and I opened it to admit the trainer and a very excited Paula. Her name is Paula, but it may change to Nala some time in the future. I went and sat in my chair and Paula leaped on to the bed, tail wagging. She got a sharp reprimand for this and she was quickly back on the floor with all four paws. She tried a repeat performance once the trainer left, but a sharp "no" had her springing to the floor in no time. She's a cheeky little, or not so little, thing.
The trainer left us alone for about 25 minutes so we could get to know each other. Paula spent much of that time standing by the front door crying. I've never had a dog react this way and it was almost harder than when Jetta stood staring at the door for an hour without moving. I sat patiently with her though and only pet her when she stopped whining. Every once in a while she would tap my face with her nose and eventually she lay down by my legs and rolled over for a brief belly rub. It was these short breaks from the whining that told me that we could make this work.
When she finally settled, the trainer returned to take us for a short stroll around the hotel to do house obedience for real. That went well and I was very impressed with her responsiveness. She had to be reminded to "wait" quite a bit as she likes to rush a bit, but her enthusiasm is infectious.
We had another short lecture on feeding and at some point we relieved the dogs. The day was sort of a blur and I just know that every time the trainer left us Paula would resume her crying. It got to the point where she would at least be interested in her bone when we got back inside our room, but even today she cries when he leaves us.
We took our dogs to dinner with us which sometimes doesn't happen on the first day. Both were very well behaved. Paula also relieved both times I took her out which is a relief since sometimes dogs won't go for someone new. She refused to poop until this morning, but pee was what we were worried about.
Paula was born on May 28, 2011, the same day Mr. K and I had our wedding. She weighs a wapping 30 kilograms and eats more than the male Labradoodle. She's also heavier than he is which is probably normal since the Poodle in him would make him lighter.
I was a bit concerned about bed time as she seemed to be having troubles settling. We had our last relief, or spend as they call it here, time around 9, but the other dog didn't go out until 9.30. That meant when she heard the trainer in the hall, it was another while before she settled down again. That is another difference between the two programs I have been through.
Previously, all dogs went out at the same time and also on a particular schedule. Since there are only two of us, we can decide what times to take our dogs out at. I think there are pros and cons to both, but in a bigger class like the ones I attended before, simultaneous relief times are probably the best way to go. With just having two of us we can tailor the times to our own schedules. There is some uniformity in the mornings and around bed time, but we don't go out at the same time. It also allows the dogs to do their business without being distracted by the other dog.
Also, in my previous guide dog training experiences, we used "tie downs" when we didn't have our dogs with us. Not to mention, dogs were always on leash, glued to your side. It was said to help with the bonding process and also to keep them from doing bad things. Here, the dogs do not stay on leash once in our rooms and do not have a tie down area. That means they are free to roam when you are gone or when you are sleeping. I was a bit worried about this at first, but once Paula fell asleep last night, she was out-no tie down needed. The other student said her dog got up to have a good sniff around at some point last night, but eventually got back in his bed. I think the tie downs prevent such things, but at the same time, doing it this way gives the dogs more responsibility and begins the trust bond early. I think since the dogs come to us from homes, this approach is appropriate whereas the dogs coming straight from training kennels may initially need that structure.
I think it was a very successful first day. The whining was a bit difficult to deal with at first, but we're working through it. I had planned to write all of yesterday's events out last night before bed, but it was a good but exhausting day and I just fell into bed and slept soundly; once Paula settled of course. Today, thus far, has been another eventful day. So, come back later or perhaps tomorrow for another update. :)

4 comments: said...

It's very interesting to learn about the different programs and ways dogs are raised. I am a puppy raiser and always like to hear feedback. For instance, the crying would make me think "oh, the dog should be kenneled more at the facility prior to turn in day. Check" I can't wait to hear how the rest of your training goes. I hope Paula (Nala) starts to sync well with you. Wishing you the best!

Leye-Shprintse said...


It must feel difficult when she cries! My heart would break! I must say that the feeding theory really hit home at me! Paula sounds to be a lovely and joyful girl! You are in my thoughts!

Leye-Shprintse <3

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

I love reading your posts. It's neat to learn about the differences in training and expectations at other guide dog programs.

I like the whole sitting at doors, curbs and you know, hearing about how it helps with calming an energetic dog, I've started to teach this to Rogue. I'm hoping that by teaching a default sit that it'll make it easier to teach her that she can't move from a curb or stair (for example) until I give the go-ahead. As time goes on, I'm sure I'll stop this, but I think it'll help in the initial training and working years.

I'm not sure how much I like the whistle idea though, but keep me posted on how it works.

Nicky said...

Well, sounds like everything is getting off to a really positive start. I think the tie downs you are referring to are benching leads? That is what they are usually referred to here. I avoided using them unless completely necessary. I like to think that the tone of voice along with the dog getting to grips with the fact that you are to be respected and that you have the authority will work all of the little disciplinary stuff out that you might experience in the first days. Orrinm my Shepherd retreiver can be a little sensitive and we didn't use the whistle at the start too much, as with her, it wasn't so easy to always get her in the mood to eat. A more gentle approach and a lot of excitement and even sitting on the floor with her had to be done so she would decide to eat. Now, she will eat no problem at all. I look forward to hopefully meeting this little girl at some stage and I am sure that after a few days she will have realised that you are the most important person now in her life.