Friday, April 29, 2011

Fun Fact Friday

Originally I was going to do a Fun Fact Friday revolving around Leader Dogs for the Blind and some interesting facts about that organisation, but in light of the natural disasters happening around the world as of late, I changed my mind.

Fifteen Fun Facts: What I am grateful For (In no particular order).

1. My parents. No matter how long I have been away, whether it has been two weeks on a swim competition, or six months because I moved away to go to university, my parents have always provided me with a warm bed to come back to. They fill my tummy with good, nourishing  food and make me feel loved.

2. Fuzzies to snuggle with. Ever since I was six years old, I have never been animal free and don't think I ever could be. There's nothing like a purring kitty, or a wagging dog tail to put a smile on your face.

3. Glacier. I am grateful for our new found communication skills and the way we have bonded. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to traverse the obstacles of life with such a handsome and loyal set of furry eyes. :)

4. Mr. K-despite my crazy hair brained ideas and my need to see the world, he supports me and can serve as my voice of reason. How many people do you know who would make the sacrifices to move across an ocean?

5. I am grateful for the amazingly supportive friends I have. My circle reaches across Canada, into the United States and all the way to the UK and without these wonderful people in my life, I would have a much harder time.

6. Coffee-enough said. :)

7. I am grateful, and always will be, for the generous gifts that people have given Mr. K and I for our wedding. My grandparents are paying for the reception dinner; a family friend is making our wedding cake as a gift; our photographer is going to be my uncle and the pictures are going to be our gift from him and my Aunt; a friend's Mom and Dad are making the Bridal flowers and that will be our present from her and her parents; friends are singing/playing music for our ceremony; the list of generosity could go on and on.

8. I am more than grateful for my physical health. Considering what I put my body through for eight years of competitive sport, I really don't have any lasting injuries or problems that have hindered my day to day life. I also don't have to take daily medication for anything and am currently health problem free.

9. I am so grateful for the opportunity Leader Dogs for the Blind gave me to re-connect with Glacier. Without that experience, a very good dog would have been retired.

10. The opportunities I have been given in my life have just been amazing. I have had the chance to go to post-secondary education twice without incurring student debts. I have been to 13 different countries due to my travels as an elite athlete and I am about to embark on another journey. I have worked hard for these things to happen, but I know that not everyone  is able to have such experiences and so I am grateful.

11. The people of my home town. Two and a half years after retiring from swimming, I still get stopped out in public by complete strangers who tell me that they are proud of me and what I have done for the city. It is just incredible.

12. As much as it drives me crazy, I am grateful for technology. Without computers that talk and Social Media sites, I would not be able to stay in contact with the many amazing people I have met throughout my life. It also enables me to go to school with a bit more ease.

13. Music-it has always been a stress reliever  for me and I am so grateful that I am able to listen to and play music.

14. I am grateful for the freedom that I have to be myself. This may sound cliche, but in Canada and the United States-and probably the UK-we have a lot of privileges and rights that people in other countries do not have and I am so grateful for that.

15. And last but not  least, I am grateful for the people who read my blog and leave supportive and helpful comments. I am also grateful that some of you who read also write and I am able to come along on your life's journey. :)

With everything that is occurring around us, it is very easy to forget to reflect on what is good. Take a moment for yourself and think about what is good in your life.
What are you grateful for?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Coming Together

It's kind of cool to see the wedding plans coming right along. Small pieces are falling into place and I am really glad I am able to be at my parents' in order to be a part of it. Last night my mom and I put the centre pieces together. I'll try to get a photo of them and put one up. They are so cute, if I do say so myself. We are using cracked glass, round, wide rimmed vases with a darkish purple ribbon about a quarter of the way from the bottom. Where a bow normally would be, we've glued an oval, orange jewel type thing and opposite to that oval on the back, is a tiny, orange jewel-like butterfly. Once on the tables, we will be placing them on top of mirrors and dumping purple stones in the bottoms. We'll fill them with water and have three floating candles in each vase. As of right now, we have two orange, flower floating candles, but we will be scouring the city for purple ones to add some dimension and colour to the piece. We are also going to sprinkle orange jewel-like stars, butterflies, squares and ovals around the foot of the vase. I also cut the stems off of small, purple rosettes that we'll mix into the glittery bits.
I've also been in contact with LDB and they are making five by seven cards for each table that tells our guests that a donation has been made in their honour in lieu of favours. Mr. K and i figured that people just take favours home and pitch them, so why not donate the money to an organisation we can both support whole heartedly? So, that is what we're doing. The woman I spoke to at LDB is supposed to be mailing the cards to my parents' house in a couple of days. It's good to know that we're getting some of these little things done with plenty of time to spare, just in case we have to come up with a plan B.
Lindsay, long time friend and Bride's maid, and I were looking online together at bow ties for Glacier and Roscoe yesterday as well. We're not going to go crazy dressing the boys up, but a nice purple bow tie for Glacier and an orange for Roscoe is definitely in order. We discovered that they really aren't that expensive, which is even more exciting. Mom and I checked for Tinkerbell charms in Walmart last night-I want to add them to my garters, which I bought for three dollars a piece-but it appears we'll have to head over to the Michigan side and check over there as there wasn't any cheeky pixies to be found. That said, we still have about a month to go, so I'm not worried. We also had wine made for our guests a few months back and that should be ready soon as well. Mom heard from our mystery DJ after she dropped the L word (lawyer) and he has agreed to get her deposit to her so that she can pay our new DJ.
So, needless to say, things are definitely coming together and I apologise to everyone reading my blog as of late as it is full of wedding or retraining posts. Variety is the spice of life, so I'll try to ensure that I slip posts in about other topics. :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Triathlon Thoughts

Quite a while back-like in August of 2010-I thought I would try training for a triathlon. I had hired a coach and everything, but as I began to realise that finding someone to be my guide in South Carolina would be near next to impossible, I put those notions on the back burner; but the idea of training and wanting to compete never really left my mind. I had run into a few road blocks as well with the American head coach of Disability Triathlon not replying to my inquiries about the sport and wasn't really sure where to turn. With our upcoming move to Scotland, the urge to start training for a Triathlon is upon me again.
I'm not entirely sure ow hectic my class schedule will be in the fall, but if I can manage being a student, a wife and a training athlete I would love to do this. I know that Queen Margaret University has a fully loaded gym, which would be incredibly convenient. Tapping into the university's athletic population may be my answer to finding a guide as well. Not to mention, being in a Physiotherapy program may give me access to a more athletic population that I otherwise would not have had contact with.
I'm not sure how realistic the desire to become a competitive triathlete is, but I think it's something I can do. The process may take longer to get to a point where I am training properly, but "slow and steady" wins the race right? I know that being here at my parents' for two months will give me access to pool time and when I get back to SC I will be able to swim in the apartment's outdoor pool. It's probably not an ideal training facility, but it could be better than nothing. The apartment complex also has a small gym and even though some of the equipment is broken, there are a few machines that I would be able to use; at least until we get to Scotland and I can find a guide. With this lofty goal in mind, I will leave you for today and get my behind on the Elliptical. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I Said, "No Drama!"

Wedding planning, as I have been told, is supposed to be a stressful thing. I said that when Mr. K and I picked our wedding date that the drama we endured would be minimal: I think we've done a fairly good job, but wedding planning involves other human beings and thus drama has occurred. While I was away at Leader Dogs for the Blind retraining with Glacier, our D.J cancelled on us. He told my Mom that his computer had crashed and he lost all of his music. First of all, who the hell is a D.J for a living and doesn't back up his/her files at least three times? So with about six weeks to go we were forced to find a new one. The thing that worried me is that we're a border town and that weekend is a holiday weekend for the United States. Would we be able to find someone decent? The other concern I have is whether or not my Mom is going to be able to track this moron down and get her deposit back. He told her that he would give it back and help us find a new D.J, but we haven't heard anything since that email. I told her to email him back and tell him that if she doesn't see that 300 dollars by this weekend that she will be contacting her lawyer. Despite our phantom D.J, one of my best friends and Bride's Maid Lindsay, came through and found us another D.J. We met with him last Friday when I returned from LDB and all I have to do now is make a "must hear" and a "do not play under any circumstance" music list. Both lists have been started.
There have been other small dramas here and there with one of our Bride's maids and Groom's Men disappearing off the face of the planet and not telling us they were no longer going to be a part of our wedding. I've emailed/phoned/facebooked them. Mr. K has sent them messages on Facebook as has my Mom trying to obtain their mailing address so we could send them an invitation. We finally gave up at the end of February as the girls' dresses needed to be ordered  by that time.
We've also had to deal with family members from both of our sides deciding not to come because they don't have the money. How do these people not have the money? We were engaged in November of 2009. They have had over a year to save up! It wouldn't bother me so much, but one person is Mr. K's dad. I really hope that he actually comes and that we've been misinformed.
Despite these glitches, we continue to plan and I think it will be a great day. I am completely aware that things will never go according to plan and I am trying not to get upset about the small bumps in the road we are coming across. In fact, the only thing that has really made me angry was the possibility of Mr. K's dad not coming. I was surprised at how calm I felt when the D.J crapped out on us. The exciting part is the stuff that is actually coming together.
I got an email today from another Bride's Maid who will be arriving here on the 24th, asking me if someone could pick her up. My Auntie Maria was here this past weekend and she helped us figure out what the table centre pieces would consist of. She also went to the chapel and took pictures for her husband so that he will know what kind of lighting he will be working with. Their gift to us is being our photographer and videoing the ceremony. My Mom also put a down payment on her dress and Lindsay picked hers up yesterday. Tenie and Carmen will have had theirs hemmed yesterday and my dress will be shipped up here next week. For every little thing that goes a little wrong, a dozen more go right, which is very exciting.
As May 28th draws closer, I will keep telling myself "no drama" and letting the unplanned things roll off. It's going to be a day of fun and even if things don't go quite as planned, oh well because those will be the things that will create our memories.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Retraining Day 12: Home Again, Home Again Jiggedy Jig

Friday was mine and Glacier's trip home. We were packed and ready to go at 9 AM and were whisked off to Detroit airport by one of LDB's fantastic volunteers. The night before we spent a few hours sitting out in the Piano Lounge talking with the other students and saying good-bye. J stopped by briefly to give me a few things to take home. The first thing was our Identification card. The card proves that Glacier and I have graduated from a certified school and a summarized version of the ADA Access laws are on the back of the card.
Our second present was an enlarged framed photo of Glacier and I. The picture is the same one that is on the ID card. The dogs are sat on a bench beside their handler wearing a harness and the handler holds on to the dog's leash up by the dog's collar. The photo is very cute, with Glacier's ears perked up and his eyebrows furrowed because J was talking to him from behind the photographer.
Our third present was the best one out of all of them. J handed me a piece of paper saying,
"I printed this off before you got here, but since we didn't need it I thought you could take it home with you as a reminder of your hard work."
It was the Surrender form that I would have had to fill out and sign if we had determined that Glacier needed to retire. I laughed so hard and got a little teary. I put the form in front of Glacier's nose and told him that this was his ticket home. I also reminded him that I could still mail it from Scotland if he didn't behave. :)
Before  we left Friday morning, I made my rounds hugging the students and staff and thanking them for all of their support. D told me to email her any time and she would help me any way she could. I got a bit leaky again and even more leaky when I hugged Enzo's Mama. LDB had decided to send Enzo, his Mama and D home to finish their training there. Enzo's Mama was having a hard time, but they wanted to give her the best chance to be successful, so she too left LDB early. I wish her and Enzo all of the luck in the world. D told her that if things weren't working though that she would have to take Enzo back to LDB with her once the training class was over. D said that her goal was to make sure Enzo stayed with his new Mama though so we are all hoping this happens for those two.
The flight wasn't so bad, but the landing was so horrible I think Glacier may be a bit traumatized for a while. The wind was so strong that we kept dropping down really fast and then zooming in quick circles. When we finally landed, Glacier whined a bit and wouldn't stop until we got off the plane. I also thought he might have to park, so upon not finding my parents waiting for me, I told him to find the door and went out to find him a park spot. My parents arrived twenty minutes later because they had been held up on the bridge crossing from Canada to the United States. But when all was said and done we arrived at home safe and sound and Mom and Dad made steak, crab and other yummy food for supper.
So, with retraining behind us, Glacier and I will be moving forward; mostly by me implementing the new techniques the trainers at LDB have shown me. We've gotten a lot of good work in in the last couple of days and I think we're definitely moving in the right direction. Thanks to everyone for their words of encouragement and support and I hope all of you had a wonderful Easter. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Retraining Day 11: Learn From Your Mistakes

I can't say today went perfectly because it did not, but I can say that the mistakes were mine and that it made us stronger. We went to the down town centre both this morning and this afternoon. Some students traveled into Detroit, but as I am comfortable with the "people mover" and large crowds, I thought working with Glacier one on one would be the best option. If I had gone into Detroit then the trainers would follow me throughout the route giving me directions and I wanted to work with Glacier alone since we are heading home tomorrow.
The morning was crisp, but the sun finally decided to grace us with its presence. I picked the P route again as we had difficulty with it a few days ago. I also don't know that route as well as the others and I wanted to put stress on both of us in order to test our working abilities. It worked and I learned that we are pretty strong together. The route started off well with Glacier expertly guiding me around the objects the trainers had set out on the sidewalks for obstacle practice. Glacier did very well with distractions of other dogs, people and birds. The mistake that was made was mine and I realised it almost too late.
At the top of the P route there is a cemetery and let's just say, Glacier and I went to pay our respects. Instead of having him turn left at the street that is before the graveyard, I had him cross the street and carry on. I thought it was one of the apartment's driveways that we nearly turned down last time we did this route. As I walked along I knew something was not  right. First of all, it was way too quiet. There were not any traffic sounds at all. I stopped Glacier and swept my foot in front of him and to his side to check what we were walking along; turns out it was the shoulder of a road, which was indicator number two. I was supposed to be on a sidewalk not walking along the shoulder of the road. The good thing was that Glacier hugged that shoulder and did not have me wandering out in the middle of the street, even if it was only the cemetery's road. :)
I turned us back around and slowly started making my way back to the street that I wanted to turn down. Glacier was a bit unsure, but kept working for me and didn't shut down. That was a relief. As I was approaching a grassy shoreline, D showed up in the van and gave me verbal directions to get out of the cemetery and back on the right track. Glacier was great about following my cues and we made it back to the correct sidewalk.
Our next mistake was again mine. When we reached a street we should have turned down, I crossed it. I'm not sure why I did, but as soon as I reached the opposite curb, or the "up curb" in guide dog language, I knew I had made a mistake. I turned Glacier back around, and waited for an opening in the traffic to cross back to  the correct side. It took a while, but we finally were able to cross and made our way back to the centre; successfully navigating the obstacles again.
I learned from the morning that we can definitely get lost, or make mistakes, and will be able to get ourselves where we mean to be...eventually. :)
The afternoon's routes were short, but had six large obstacles we had to work around. Glacier did great, but was hesitant to turning when I asked him to go back to the centre. I think he was annoyed that our walks were so short. That said, he guided me very carefully past a group of little kids playing on the sidewalk without any sniffing or veering. We did skip one curb, but it was my fault as I said "hop up" very happily and did my leash directional pointing thing as we approached the curb, which caused Glacier to think it was okay to go and he crossed the street. He did pause at the up curb though and we carried on. Other than our little curb hopping, this afternoon's work was very good, but I can tell Glacier's ready to go home. He is a bit unfocused and silly. His focus was great yesterday and I think doing the same routes, or routes that are similar, every day has become boring for him. D even said that she thinks he's ready to get out of here after our working session this afternoon. She said that we did very well. It's nice to know that my instructors have faith in me. J told me the other day that I am a "very competent handler," and that "it comes naturally to me." J has known since Saturday that we were ready to go home together, but I needed the last couple of days to know it for myself and I am definitely ready now.
Tomorrow we leave LDB at 9 AM and I hope it's at least another six years before I am back here getting a new dog. :)

Retraining Day 10: Working Hard

Wednesday morning started off rainy and cold. We loaded up in the buses and headed to a residential  area that was supposed to be full of barking dog distractions. It also had long blocks and off set curbs at street crossings to challenge the handlers and the dogs as well. Glacier and I only completed the circuit once as the weather  was gross and my feet got soaked again. Glacier's work on the off centred curbs was great and I never once questioned his line of travel. We did have one small incident at the beginning of the route though that was completely not work related.
Along our first block there were several barking dogs, some of whom were jumping on their respective fence doors. Upon reaching the first curb, Glacier started acting strangely, twisting around in his harness and kind of walking sideways. I had no idea what was going on until Richard pulled up and said very calmly,
"take my arm." I did a little worried that Glacier and I had done something wrong, but realised quickly that there were two dogs following us with their hackles up. Richard shepherded them back to their home and knocked on the door, waking up the sleeping owner. Apparently she was nice enough and put the dogs back in the yard. It made me a bit nervous as Glacier and I have been attacked once already and even though it wasn't too bad, that sort of thing makes me a little jumpy.
In the afternoon we boarded the buses again and headed out to another little city in order to work through its main streets. The traffic was much heavier here than at the down town centre and we had a lot of street crossings, obstacles and distractions to work through. Glacier and I worked in doubles with another student and his Golden Retriever Rex. Both dogs did great and we were rewarded by stopping off at Starbucks and waiting for our trainer to come and bring us back to the van. They figured sitting in a coffee shop was much better than cramming on to a vehicle and waiting a few hours while everyone else got their work in.
Both dogs were excellent in Starbucks. We were seated near the door and so were bombarded by the other customers coming and going, but neither yellow fellow got up. The group from Spain also made their way in and Glacier stayed in his "down" at my side even when one of their Golden Retrievers Ivy was sniffing his head.
When it was our turn to return to the van, the apprentice came to get us and warned us that there was a dog tied up to a parking metre. She didn't think it would be a problem, but when Glacier and I approached it, the dog lunged at us and snapped at Glacier. Mr. G being the big "happy go lucky" guy that he is, just carried on untouched and probably not caring. That too made me a bit jumpy. A, who was our instructor the first time through the  program, told the apprentice that she had the Spanish students go the opposite direction to avoid the dog. She thought it looked aggressive. Regardless, we got back unscathed and got a lot of good work in.
Glacier was confident in his harness and guided me carefully around obstacles. He didn't forget to pay attention to me, or be responsible for me even though we were working with someone else. His street crossings were perfect and he behaved himself very well in the coffee shop. The more I work with him, the more I know that we'll  be fine. We may go through a phase of sorts once we get to Scotland, but I have tools now to deal with situations and I think that Glacier and I will be a strong team for many years to come. :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Retraining Day 9: A Good Day

Things have been moving right along here at LDB. Glacier and I have ben put through a few tests and yesterday was no exception.
We started the morning session with group obedience, which is usually a daily occurrence. The instructors put us  through the obedience routine while bouncing balls around our dogs and D brought a fluffy, stuffed squirrel on a rope out and dangled it near the dogs. Glacier was pretty good until J hit the "play" button on  a singing, dancing monkey dressed up in a leather jacket and bandanna. Glacier couldn't stay in a sit and kept letting out very loud, excited whines. I remember when we were here  the first time Glacier being very excited by a singing fish. I don't know what it is about these kinds of things, but they make a well behaved, composed dog go nutty. :) It's something we'll have to work on when we get home. Anyone feel like going to the mall and playing with singing stuffed animals? :)
After our "monkey business," we were sent out on a very long route called the P route; simply because it is shaped like a capital P. There were birds and squirrels out in full force, but Glacier ignored them all and continued on as if nothing was going on. There were also yaping dogs, but after a verbal correction and a leash directional point, he moved on quickly. Driveways to an apartment complex served as a bit confusing for both Glacier and I. He thought they were street crossings and paused at the curbs, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. At least I would be able to judge whether or not it was safe to cross. We were also traffic checked twice on this route and Glacier stopped perfectly for both. The only problem is that I think Glacier recognised J in the van and was cautious whenever he saw him. I wanted Glacier to be surprised by the traffic check and react accordingly.
Upon returning to the training centre, I talked to Richard and let him know how our route went. I explained my concerns with the traffic checks and he told me that he would take care of it. I suspected he would be traffic checking us on our  next route.
The second time out that morning we were allowed to "freelance," which means we are allowed to pick our route and go to wherever we wanted to. Two other students and I took the opportunity to head to a local coffee shop. I can't remember exactly how the other students got so far out in front of me, because I walk incredibly fast, but they were way far out ahead and Richard took the chance to zoom in front of Glacier and I. I had not heard him as he was driving a quiet car and I nearly had a heart attack. However, Glacier handled the situation like a champ. He stopped quickly and threw his weight backwards trying to stop me. We had a party after that traffic check and Richard said that it was "beautiful." After that it was smooth sailing for Glacier and I. At one point, one student went trotting out into traffic on Main Street and the other student almost went in after him, but he realised his mistake and was quickly back up on the sidewalk. We found the coffee shop and enjoyed a warm cup of coffee on a very chilly day.
The afternoon's work session was to a local park, with fearless ducks and squirrels as our distractions. Glacier was a bit of a crazy man at first, but settled into a nice controlled trot after a few verbal corrections and the dropped harness/verbal correction combination Richard and J have had me work on last week. About a quarter of the way into our walk though, it began to rain a cold rain. By the time we arrived back at the bus, the fat drops had soaked through my shoes and Glacier was a stinky, wet guy. J teased us about going again, but no one was getting off of the warm bus to try that again. :)
After human feed time last night, I took Glacier over to a fenced in, off leash area. He was so happy to get a chance to run that he took off like a shot after I released  him from the "sit" I had put him in. He ran so fast that he was spraying gravel up behind him that kept hitting me. I also found a Kong that belongs in that area and we played with it for a while. Some time during our playing, it started raining/snowing again, so once Glacier had stopped racing around and his sniffing, we headed back in: my hands were frozen. It was about a ten minute leash free run, but it was enough to get some of Glacier's "beans out, as we like to say.
It was a very productive day and it definitely boosted my confidence in Glacier's abilities. We've worked in doubles twice now and been traffic checked quite aggressively  and he has done fabulously. I think it is safe to say that Mr. G will be taking a plane ride on Friday, wearing his working gear. :) The next two days will be just polishing our work and making sure that our changes are sustainable. :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Retraining Days 7/8: A little R and R + Snow?!

Sunday was our seventh day of retraining and it was a day of rest. Glacier and I spent the day pretty much hanging out in the Piano Lounge or our room. I had found a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book in braille in the library and even though I have listened to it, I wanted to read it for myself; so that is pretty much what I did all day. The book is ten volumes long as braille takes up way more room than print does, and I am already working on the sixth volume. I loved the book the first time I read it, but I am very much enjoying reading it for myself. I also made sure to do a few obedience sessions with Glacier in various rooms to ensure he stayed sharp.
Monday, our eighth day of retraining, was a bit of a nutty day. We headed down for breakfast as usual and were told that it was snowing. Snowing?! We went to the down town building for the morning's work and Glacier and I went out twice.
The first route was quite short-only about six blocks. Despite the slippery, wet sidewalks Glacier did a fantastic job. When we first exited the building he pranced along-I think the snow felt strange under his paws-but after the first block he settled into his loping trot that I am used to feeling. His guiding was great. We didn't miss any curbs and made it back to the building in no time.
The next route we worked in doubles. I had told J at our Sunday meeting that working doubles was something I wanted Glacier to be able to do safely. I wanted to make sure that he could focus on me and be responsible for my safety instead of relying on the other person/dog to look after us. Our match was quite a bit slower than us since no one here walks as fast as Glacier and I do. My shoulder was incredibly sore by the end of the sixteen block route because I had to slow him down as not to lose our partner, or run her over. Other than that, it was a very enjoyable trip. Glacier was spot on and was good at refocusing when a "kissy noise" and a "leave it" were issued from me. J also tried to get a few traffic checks in (that is when the instructor drives in front of you on purpose and the dog is supposed to stop), but the slippery conditions made it hard for him to cut sharply in front of us without endangering us. So, the traffic checks were more like obstacle work. J had to pull in front of us so far in advanced that Glacier approached the parked van slowly and showed me it was there. As if to say,
"look Mom, the sidewalk's blocked. Which way should I go?"
I still praised him because he was careful and waited for my cue as to what direction I wanted him to take around the van. J said we'd try traffic checking when the weather conditions were better.
 Upon returning to the campus, I changed my jeans and socks and put my running shoes on the heater to dry them for the afternoon's excursion. My pants were soaked clear up to my knees on both legs and both feet were drenched from the slushy snow we had been walking through.
The afternoon was spent at a different location about a 25 minute drive from the campus. Glacier and I did the route three times as it was quite short and we had a mishap  on the second time around. The first time was good. One block is crowded with planters, light posts, benches and whatever else merchants have plopped out along the curb. I am happy to report that despite all of the clutter, Glacier did not even brush me up against anything. This is even more impressive considering he had to navigate around other working teams. Our mistake on the second round should be really considered my mistake.
There used to be a road about half way down the block, but a park was built and the road was closed. The annoying part is that they left tactile markers in the pavement, which used to indicate a curb. On our way back to the bus, I mistook one of those tactile strips as our curb and turned Glacier into the park. He was more than happy to oblige. I realised my mistake about twelve feet into the park because I could hear women in high heels walking in a chaotic  fashion around us. If we were on a sidewalk, the sound of their feet would have a more organised pattern. Recognising my mistake, I turned Glacier back around and was about three feet from the sidewalk when a trainer from a different team training dogs yelled at me from across the park to turn around. Our instructors were busy dealing with other students having far more trouble than I was and I don't think they even noticed that I had strayed from the sidewalk. I started taking his shouted directions, but quickly realised that he probably couldn't see me properly as he was sending me all over the place and getting me even more lost. Thankfully, one of our trainers noticed and came and rescued me. I decided that once back on the sidewalk that Glacier and I would be doing that route again to impress up on him that we were to stay on the sidewalk and to make sure I didn't make the same mistake again. The third time around was a breeze and I felt much better when he found the bus door for me for the last time that day.
That night the other students had a lecture about sighted guide and guide dogs in the workplace, but since I've heard it twice already in my life and my head felt like it was going to explode with a horrible headache, I headed back to my room and spent the majority of the evening tucked under the covers. Thankfully, I woke up feeling great this morning and Glacier and I were able to have a very productive day thus far.
Stay tuned for today's  recap. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Retraining Day 7: Easy As Pie

Today was our outing to the three floor mall. Since the weather is not being very cooperative, the trainers thought it would be a nice change to work indoors. So, we all piled into the buses and headed out to the mall. We arrived well before any of the stores opened, but the place soon became very busy. The instructors seated us in the food court in a little area out of the way of the majority of the clamoring crowd. I was one of the last students to take their walk so the mall was plenty busy for Glacier and I.
We started our walk by just walking a wide hallway. J noted Glacier's left sided tendencies and we had a conversation about it. He said that a lot of dogs who have been out for a while tend to walk close to the left hand side of hallways/sidewalks/pathways. One reason for this is because it is usually the path of least resistance with regards to obstacles. It looks clearer to them and it is easier for them to keep their human from banging into objects that unknowing merchants have littered the sidewalks with. I told him that Richard and I had talked about it as well and that I didn't feel it was a problem for Glacier or I. Glacier might have a few bad habits, but running me into things is not one of them. Sometimes he messes up and brushes me up against something, but for the most part it is clear sailing. I said that I didn't want to fight with him for the next five days or so to walk in the centre when there were issues that were much more pressing. J agreed and we moved on.
Our walk consisted of me asking Glacier to find the escalator down and showing J that we knew how to get on and off safely. Glacier found the moving stairs without hesitation. We then headed to a department store where we did some tight turns and worked on "follow." All along the way we were navigating people and at one time someone decided that walking between J and I was a good idea so I accidentally whacked them when I gave Glacier a hand signal for him to turn left. My philosophy is that you shouldn't walk so closely. My hand was close into my body and J was probably only two feet to my right, why that person thought they could fit is beyond me. J told me not to worry and Glacier found the staircase I had been directing him to. He tried to hop up the first few steps a bit fast, but after a gentle harness correction-which is me pulling back on the harness sharply, but not too sharply because it's Glacier and I'll hurt his feelings-he slowed down and guided me up the stairs carefully. When we reached the second floor again, J had me turn into a candy store where there were many temptations right at Glacier's nose level. Within the first few steps in Glacier sniffed a shelf vigorously knocking a package to the floor, which was rewarded with the drop harness/say "leave it" routine and he moved on. He thought about more sniffing for the rest of the store, but didn't. We exited the store and then re-entered for another go. The second time around went much better and there were no sniffing incidents. He got big praise when we left the second time: even J was excited.
After our little candy store adventure it was time to head back to the food court. As we approached I was acutely aware of how loud the food court had become and I felt a bit nervous. Would Glacier do as well finding our table as he had guiding me out? There was an exhibit set up, promoting heart health and there were a lot of people eating. There is also a large merry-go-round that was playing loud music. I knew the noise wouldn't be a problem for Glacier. Loud noises have never impacted him. In fact, the other day while waiting for Richard, a maintenance man was vaccuuming right in front of Glacier's nose and he didn't budge. The man had been worried, but I said that he would be fine. He still wasn't convinced so I said,
"he'll get over it." If I make a big deal out of loud noises or other things that could potentially worry/scare Glacier I would be making the situation worse. It's the same way a child will look to a parent after it has fallen to see if it should be upset or not. Anyway, the point is I knew the noise wouldn't bother him, but I was worried he would be distracted.
We entered the food court and he was very excited because there was a Leader dog puppy in training at the heart health exhibit. Glacier was a bit ridiculous about the puppy. He wanted to meet it so badly and really wasn't paying attention to me. After I dropped the harness and got his attention back on me though, things improved. I knew J was near me, but with my hearing problem I had no idea where he was or where I was. All I could do was put faith in Glacier and follow him. He guided me past the restaurants with not even a glance at them; he wove me through the crowd and didn't walk me into anyone; he maneuvered around tables, chairs, dropped food and garbage cans all without flinching. Eventually he stopped walking and it was because we had arrived back at the tables where the rest of the students were sitting. J said,
"you couldn't hear me could you?" I said that I couldn't. He asked if that was stressful for me and I said that it had been, but it felt good now that I was back at the table and was aware of how well Glacier had done. He wasn't following J or anything. He just found his way back to our spot. I was thoroughly impressed and encouraged by his performance.
This afternoon was spent inside at the campus due to the weather. We started with a lesson on teeth brushing, flea/tick medicine application and Heart Worm preventative; all of which I am very familiar with. I went to the lecture/demonstration though so that Glacier could be in a busy environment and have to behave. We then were taken out individually around the campus building working on stairs, elevators and revolving doors.
Glacier had an almost flawless performance. The only minor issue he had was getting too excited about the up stairs. He would plant his front paws on the first step and almost forget to wait for me to say "forward." Despite that little blip, he found doors and the top of the stairs carefully, but quickly. He is very assertive when he reaches the top of a flight of stairs and having him stop perfectly at the top three times made me feel confident. He has also demonstrated in other work this week that stopping for stairs down is a non-issue. I like that because the hazard of falling down stairs is much greater than falling up them. :) He did stray from our line of travel once to think about sniffing a garbage can, but a verbal correction got him back to where he should be. J and I had our little talk after our indoor route and he basically said that Glacier going home with me is my decision. He said that they are happy with his work and feel confident in his abilities; especially with my new way of handling him.
I told him that I was leaning towards to keeping my Fat Head, but there were two more tests he needed to pass before I made the decision.
1. He needs to be traffic checked and be able to stop me confidently. Traffic checking is one of my main concerns and if he can't meet that requirement, despite his fantastic work, I would not feel safe taking him home with me. Running into a person in the mall or having him steal a package of cheese is embarrassing, but it is not unsafe; unless the store manager tries to run me down. :)
2. We need to work in doubles and Glacier needs to be able to handle it. His confidence must not disappear nor his ability to concentrate and look after me. Mr. K and I will be going places together in the future and Glacier needs to be able to work effectively even if there is another guide dog around. He needs to know that he is still responsible for my safety.
I told J that if these two things happened then Mr. G and I would be heading home together on Friday. J agreed with me and promised that these two things would be addressed. Glacier did traffic check a car idling in a driveway on our route yesterday, so we'll see how he does in the days to come. Tomorrow we have the day off, so we won't be working. I think it was a productive day and I am very happy with Glacier's work. Glacier seems happy with himself too as he is curled up on his mat taking a nap. Little does he know that I am going to rouse his sleepy bum so that he can accompany me down to the exercise room as soon as I am finished writing this post. :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Retraining Day 6: Variety Is The Spice of Life

It was another bright and early morning here at LDB. Cream of Wheat was part of our breakfast and although I normally don't like it, I poured some Maple Syrup over it and the world was right again. Glacier and I did two obedience sessions this morning, once in our room and one out in the "piano lounge." There is carpet in the piano lounge and a lot of smells to distract the dogs. Our room routine was perfect, but the piano lounge one left a bit to be desired. That said, it was much better than yesterday's and I saw it through to the end. One student came in and tried starting one with her dog, but gave up after her dog dropped to the floor, all four paws in the air.
Our outing this morning was to a department store called Myer. It is a chain that is present only in Michigan I think; or at least only in the Northern United States. It is similar to Walmart in that it has groceries, pet aisles, automotive parts, clothing and whatever else your heart could desire. Mr. K's mom always says,
"if you can't get it at Myer then you don't need it."
The students were instructed to sit in a little cafe just inside the doors to wait for their turn. Glacier and I wet last as we weren't doing the regular lessons. Usually this trip is used to teach students how to negotiate around the store using a dog and pulling a cart behind you. It is also the lesson where the cue "follow"  is practiced. We did use our "follow" cue and I was shocked at Glacier's accuracy. He even refused to go through a small area that Richard squeezed past. Go, go intelligent disobedience. (Intelligent Disobedience is when the dog refuses to do what you ask it because it judges that you are incorrect and your decision would put you and the dog in danger). We worked through the store with Glacier's Newtricks on in order to keep him from stealing things. Richard was also testing theories that we have been throwing around and had me work Glacier with the leash in my right hand. J and I had discussed earlier this week that the correction hand makes Glacier shut down and this exercise confirmed it. I didn't totally grasp why  Richard had us do this since we already knew leash corrections are only used in emergencies with Glacier, but I am assuming it was so that he could see Glacier's reaction for himself. Glacier didn't completely shut down, but he sure wasn't happy about me holding the leash in my right hand. Richard said we would have to be creative in order to correct Glacier's food distractions issues since we can't use traditional leash corrections. I've been thinking about it  though since our return to the campus and I don't see why we can't use light ones. Glacier responds to these and also doesn't shut down. I'll have to bring that up this afternoon.
We tried a few different techniques in order to create our own way of correcting Glacier's food sniffing. The most interesting one consisted of me standing still, dropping the harness handle and saying "leave it." This was to get Glacier's attention back on me and turn his head back to me. It worked, but I'm not entirely sure how effective it will be in the future. Another form of correction that I sort of did insticntually was me just slapping my thigh sharply and saying "leave it" calmly. The sharp noise gets Glacier's attention back on me and also corrects the behavior. Richard did point out that the stand still/drop harness handle method was not as invasive as hard collar corrections and aren't as demonstrative. Meaning, people don't look at you  like you are killing the dog. I have mixed feelings about all of this.
First of all, so what if the public stares at me for correcting my dog. If the correction is effective and both he and I are safe then they can think what they want. We already get stared at. I don't think this was Richard's main point though. His point was to come up with a way to correct Glacier without snapping the corrective collar.
I think that if this method works, then good, but it's kind of inconvenient. Stopping every time Glacier sniffs is slightly irritating. Slapping my thigh worked just as well and kept us moving. However, I think Glacier and I are an interesting case and LDB's training program is under construction so to speak, and we are a good experiment. I say "experiment away" if it means we leave here a good working team. It was an interesting morning to say the least. All I know is that the Newtricks may be a situational tool if Glacier's food distractions are the only thing we can't fix.
Richard also taught me a training method to teach dogs to walk straight down an aisle way or sidewalk. This technique would work is you  have a willing sighted friend/relative and an area that you travel often and you need your dog to walk down the centre line. The handler uses the dog's harness handle as per normal and walks along. The sighted person walks near the dog's rear flank so the dog can still see, but so they can create a barrier that will stop the dog from drifting to the side; basically the handler and sighted person are sandwiching the dog without touching it. We could use this in grocery stores that we use regularly or something like that in order to keep Mr. G's nose off of the shelves. I think it's kind of neat that I am being involved in the training and being shown training techniques. It's always been something that has interested me, but part of me is screaming,
"just give me a fixed dog damnit! I don't want all of this fancy crap."
I think it may just be the mood I am in today because I know normally I would have found these things fascinating. I think I may talk to D or J after lunch today to get their perspective and maybe they can explain some of these techniques better to me. I guess I just don't understand why  we are doing all of these fancy things if slapping my leg works? The apprentice instructor was following us again, so I believe that we are also a learning tool for her. That is kind of cool: if we can help make her be a better trainer, then I say,
"bring it on."
We headed back to the training centre down town this afternoon. We were allowed to pick from two routes and then we were sent out on our own to try to complete the route to the best of our ability. The instructors would be driving around in vans making sure that the students were safe. They carry walkie talkies and stay in contact that way, giving updates about the various teams they are watching. We were instructed to use our problem solving skills, concentrate on curbs and to trust our dogs. All very sound and useful advice; even for mine and Glacier's situation.
Glacier and I went out twice. The first route was about sixteen blocks and we both did really good. I didn't have to use one leash correction and he didn't jump a single curb. He did slow down at one part and seemed a bit cautious, but I just encouraged him through and we were off again. I was so proud of me because the old reaction would have been me grabbing that leash, giving a big correction and telling him "forward" assertively. This time, I did grab the leash but only to point in the direction I wanted and jiggled it a bit while happily telling  him "straight." We were back too fast so J wasn't able to traffic check us. Hopefully we'll work on that on Monday as tomorrow we're heading to the mall in the morning to avoid the rain that is in the forecast. Glacier and I did run across one of the students from Spain working with her dog Ivy. I don't know any Spanish and walked behind her for a bit trying to figure out how to pass her without causing too much of a problem. I even stopped twice in the attempt to put some space between us, but I would always catch up. Eventually, I said "excuse me" and "sorry" and ran past her. She seemed to know that Glacier and I were behind her and didn't get confused or turned around because we past. I knew she was having problems with the route as J and the translator had stopped in the van to help her out. I didn't want to get her dog all excited and then have her get lost. When I asked J after our training session, he said that she had been fine.
The second time around we only went six blocks because I wanted to get Glacier to do something different to ensure he wasn't on auto pilot. The shorter route also allowed me to concentrate more on him than on him and try to remember how many streets we had crossed. He did great. I did use one leash correction when he was overly distracted by a woman and her pet dog, but Glacier didn't shut down.
I also had a chat with D after lunch about everything I am learning and how overwhelmed I feel. She said that was understandable and she confirmed that they were just trying to give me tools for problem solving when I get to the UK. She was incredibly supportive and understanding and I felt a lot better after talking with her. She told me that the changes in training methods are even confusing for her since she's been at it for 23 years. So, it's nice to know that it's not just me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Regardless, we had two very good work sessions today and emotional roller coasters are to be expected along this journey: my first trips through LDB weren't without ups and downs either. I'm looking forward to seeing how Glacier does in the mall tomorrow. Can you imagine twelve dogs turned loose in a mall on a rainy Saturday? Can we say people distractions? :)

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.

Retraining Day 4: Walking Wednesday

Apparently I am not good at waiting for the alarm because I was up twenty minutes before it again. Despite discovering that I had an extra half an hour of Z's, my body snapped awake at two minutes to six. Glacier was stirring on his little doggie mat in the corner and I think he was ready for the day to start too. I have always been a morning person and find that I am way more alert and focused than after six PM. As Enzo's Mama said,
"she expires at six." She's so right. :)
We did our usual morning routine of parking for Glacier and then breakfast for him. A shower for me and then some water for Mr. G. I talked to Mr. K this morning as well, which isn't part of our usual morning, but it was nice to talk to  him before our day officially started. Breakfast was a bit disappointing. It was breakfast sausage with waffles, but the waffles had sat and they were cold and hard. I also managed to pour half and half into my coffee instead of Irish Cream coffee creamer, but I fixed that on the second cup by opening the package and smelling it before I dumped it in.
Most things are labelled in both braille and large print at LDB, but the creamer container on the gigantic Lazy Susan in the middle of the table is not. I love the Lazy Susan. Anything you could possibly want is arranged there for easy access. If you want butter and it is on the other side of the table, you just spin the Lazy Susan and it will soon arrive right in front of you. If I had a huge family I would have a table like that made...I'd need an enormous dining room to fit it in, but you know. :)
After breakfast I stood just outside the doors and put Glacier through is obedience routine. I wanted distractions and boy did I get them. There were students in the dining room eating, some leaving and trainers coming and going from the office that is located just inside the dining room doors. He did all right, but it's definitely something we need to work on with distractions. In our room I can do an obedience routine with him leash free, but get him out there where there are dogs, people and food and he is all over the place. We'll keep working on it.
When we got to the down town training centre this morning, we were greeted with a group obedience session. Glacier was doing well until J came out with a tennis ball. Glacier didn't freak out, but he sure was interested. At one point, J bounced the ball in front of Glacier and Mr. G lifted his bum from his "sit stay," but after a verbal correction he quickly dropped his rump. Again, something for us to practice.
This morning's route was short, but filled with distractions. It was such a nice day here today that everyone and their brother was out walking. There were also classmates and their dogs and trainers from different classes training potential Leader dogs everywhere. Glacier did very well with his confidence and skipped one curb. He jumped it after I "hopped" him up past a trainer and a crazy young dog in training. After a verbal correction and a reworking of the curb, he didn't jump another one for the whole trip. I was proud of him. J said he was impressed with his dog distractions. Glacier would look and think about sniffing and greeting, but with my direction he could be brought back to where he needed to be. J and I talked about it in our little chat after our walk and he explained that most dogs will not completely ignore other dogs: it's almost too hard to fight that instinct. He was happy with Glacier's level of responsiveness to me and said that it would be something we would keep working on.
Glacier's people distraction issues were also quite good. Again, not perfect as he tried to do a drive by sniff of a woman, but again with direction from me we were off on our merry way. During our chat J told me that he thinks Glacier is doing very well. He also told me that he would love to have a dog like Glacier for his students as he is a solid worker. This made me feel good.
This afternoon was a longer drive out to a busier area. Again, pedestrians and pet dogs were out in full force. The sun was shining and it was quite warm for a Michigan April day. I spent most of my wait time sitting on a lawn soaking in the rays, but realised my behind was wet from the damp grass and moved on to the bus.
J took Glacier and I on a route that was a bit different than the other students in order to address some of my concerns-oh, and also because the dude had to "park" himself. We headed out like everyone else, but when we reached the nearest intersection, we turned into a community college building. Glacier found all sets of doors with no problems even though a few were on strange angles. He walked along the wide, open hallway with no hesitations. The rest of the route was spent outside on sidewalks and finding train tracks. Most guide dog schools teach their dogs to pause or slow down at train tracks. It's been a while since Glacier has had to do this, but he paused assertively at each set we came to. He jumped one curb again, probably out of excitement more than anything, but guided me safely past joggers, pet dogs, other working teams and spilled ice cream all without me knowing. He got some big praise when he "found the bus" when I asked him. J and I had a long chat after that walk and he said that he is happy with Glacier's progress. Again, we visited the realistic possibility that his improvements could be due to the structured environment, but as one of you fabulous readers said,
"where there's a will there's a way," and if Glacier still wants to work safely, then I will put that harness on him.
J informed me that some time later this week, we will be taking a trip to the mall where he will set Glacier and I loose and I am to follow Glacier wherever his little heart desires. J will be watching to make sure nothing happens, but this exercise is to teach me to follow Glacier's lead instead of trying to give him directions all of the time and also to give Glacier the opportunity to make decisions on his own and gain confidence from them. I am sure I will have plenty of stories for you that day, but for now, I say good night as I am past my expiry date. :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Retraining Day 3: "Taking It One Step At A Time" Tuesday

So yesterday was another busy and productive day here at LDB. I was up before the alarm again and quickly took Glacier out to "Park." His relieving schedule has been very predictable and I am thankful for that because the students with their new dogs have a bit tougher time getting their dogs to go when they are supposed and to not go when they are not supposed to. It's all part of being a new team and I am grateful that Glacier can do his business in a timely fashion. :)
In the morning we went out to where LDB does their "country travel." This means we are in an area without sidewalks. Every experienced student and trainer I know groans when it is country travel day because it is not an easy concept for the dogs to get. D told us that training a new dog to follow the shoulder and not wander out into the middle of the road makes her back and shoulders hurt. I was equally nervous, but for different reasons. In sidewalkless areas Glacier has been giving me a hard time. I knew that going into this we may have a frustrating morning, but I sucked down two cups of coffee at breakfast and was too hyped up to remember that I was supposed to be stressed out. LOL The morning was cold, but the sun was shining and the birds were singing and I decided that Glacier and I were out on a beautiful morning walk.
Things couldn't have gone better. He hugged the shoulder like a champ and hardly strayed away from his line of travel even when side stepping sewer covers. We had two streets to cross and I was a bit concerned he would just blow right by them, but he stopped and took cues very nicely. We got to make the trip twice and the second time was our only small incident.
J has been telling me to go light on the leash corrections so I have, but it is so instinctual to reach for the leash when I want Glacier's attention. Upon arriving at our second street, I heard a little yapper across the street letting us know that he/she was there. Glacier was pretty focused and crossed in a very nice straight line. I was impressed, but once we reached the opposite curb he couldn't keep his eyes off Mr. Yappy. Not knowing what else to do because my leash hand had been retired, I started hopping up and down and calling his name excitedly. He snapped out of his little staring contest quite quickly and stared puzzled up at me. That little instant of his eyes on me gave me the time to point right for our next move and away we went. I couldn't do anything but laugh. Later J said over a phone consultation "kissy noises are quite effective too you know?" We both laughed and he  commended me on my enthusiasm. J and I have been having either in person or over the phone consultations after each training session and I think they are extremely beneficial.
In the afternoon we were back to the down town training centre where people worked in doubles. This means that students work in teams of twos and take turns leading. I wasn't paired with anyone as we are still seeing how Glacier does on his own. Plus, no one walks fast enough to keep pace with the Fat Head and I. LOL  We walked a sixteen block route and he was great. We had one instance where his confidence dropped off and he sort of  was hesitant in his harness, but with a bit of encouragement from me he was good as new. Pointing in the direction I want him to go with leash in hand really makes a difference. J even said I am allowed to do light leash corrections now and even though I used one for excessive sniffing, Glacier didn't shut down. This is  a huge step for both of us.
After our afternoon session we headed back to the campus for dog watering/feeding times. The humans endulged in Potato Toppers, salad and a crazy weird peanutbutter bar. I ate half the bar just trying to figure out what was in the stinking thing. I finally gave up when the marsh mellow stretched clear up from my plate to my mouth. Enzo's Mama, Kenzie's Mom and I nearly peed our pants laughing at our speculations of the mystery bars. We finally were able to ask the woma who serves us our meals and she confirmed that they had peanuts and Chinese noodles in them. They were not tasty and not because of the Chinese noodles, but more because they needed chocolate and a bit more sugar. :)
We didn't have lecture last night, so it was early to bed for Glacier and I. We were both worn out from our day. I went to bed feeling hopeful, but still keeping in mind that it was only the second day and that these changes may not stick if/when we leave LDB. The familiarity of  and structured environment may be what is causing the changes in Glacier. On the other hand, I haven't seen him this excited to work since our first year together and he is taking initiative when making guiding decisions. J even said he tried pushing Glacier out into the intersection when they had their little walk on Monday and very instinctively Glacier shoved back. All of these things are promising and so we'll see if Glacier and I both continue down the right path.
PS: Thanks for everyone who is coming by to visit our little blog. I really appreciate all of your comments and once I am in a normal living situation again, I promise to stop by and visit you too. :)

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.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Retraining Day 1: Leader Dog Bound

Today is the day we leave for Leader Dogs for the Blind in order to begin mine and Glacier's retraining. My suitcase is pretty much packed and Glacier had a visit to the groomer's yesterday to have a bath and get his claws trimmed. I wanted him smelling his best. :)
I'm not really sure what to expect. I've gotten a new guide dog twice now and have an idea of what that process is like, but I have no clue what to expect when we arrive just before supper time today. One thing I do know is that Leader Dogs for the Blind feeds their clients very well and there is an endless supply of coffee. :)
There are a few things I do want to speak to my trainer about. I don't know who he or she is, but it's not my original trainer from when I was issued Glacier the first time. I actually think this will be an advantage as it will give the trainer an opportunity to see habits with a fresh pair of eyes. Our first trainer will be a part of the training group as well and I also think this is advantageous. I think her input will be helpful, but the indirect observation may be more productive. Anyway, I got off track.
I would like to have an equipment change. Since being at my parents' house, Glacier and I have worked a lot and I've had my mom walk a fair distance behind us to give me some visual feedback. I'm glad I did because she confirmed something I have suspected for a while. Glacier's belly strap of his harness slides up under his armpit and rubs the tender skin that is under there. It is the adjustable metal buckle part that inserts itself between his leg and belly whenever he puts any amount of pressure on the chest strap. I believe this is contributing to his guiding problems. It forces him to cross over  a bit into my walking path and I think after a while, the rubbing gets to be too much and he stops leaning into the chest strap. This causes an issue as most guide dog handlers read their dogs' body language through the pressure that starts at the chest strap and then works its way up the harness handle. I wouldn't want to pull either if a piece of sharp metal was digging into my armpit.
I also want Glacier's working collar switched to a bigger one. I thought it was too small when we were at Leader Dogs for the Blind the first time and Glacier has filled out since then; gaining seven pounds of muscle and bone structure. With the collar being so small, my collar corrections turn into me yanking Glacier around instead of snapping the chain link collar to make a zinging noise. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the choke chains that working dogs wear are not for choking/yanking, but for making a lot of noise. It is the noise  that is the correction. I am hoping with these two vital equipment changes that I'll see some improvement in Glacier's work ethic.
That said, I have been trying to expose Glacier to a myriad of working environments to see what are our problem areas. It was confirmed that we struggle in wide open areas like large hallways in malls or the Concourse at my old university. I don't know if it is because he doesn't have a landmark like a wall to follow, but it will be something I will mention to our trainer, whoever he or she may be. We also struggle in sidewalkless areas. Sometimes he is fine, but other times he tries to cross diagonally or just quits guiding because I corrected him for trying to walk his own route. He can be a bit people and dog distracted, but I know those two things can definitely be worked on since I have been cracking down on his looking about at people or dogs when out working.
What is exciting though is that I have seen a lot of improvement just in the last week. We've ben out working every day because we have the opportunity and I think that is helping. Baloo has also found his forever home and I think that one on one time that I am able to give Glacier is improving the situation. Jetta is living here at my parents', but she is low maintenance and I don't think Glacier feels threatened by her presence. Mr. K still has Aria and Doc with him for now, but they are back in SC. So, that gives Glacier and I a lot of "us" time, which I think was long over due.
As I said above, I have no idea what the training regiment is going to be like, or who my trainer is, but once I get to Leader Dogs for the Blind (AKA LDB), I will fill everyone in. I want to thank you all for the encouraging words. I am always blown away how amazingly supportive this blogging community is. Your comments have really helped me along in this confusing time. So, THANK YOU!!! :) :) :)

Friday, April 08, 2011

Fun Fact Friday

Hi everyone! Miss us yet? :) Roscoe's birthday was on  April sixth, so i thought I would feature him on today's Fun Fact Friday. (I will try to give you a very long winded update tomorrow. So, if you stop in, make sure you have some snacks stock piled).

Fifteen Fun Facts About Roscoe
1. Roscoe is a 68 pound black labrador.
2. Roscoe is one of the shaggiest labradors I have ever seen. His coat is quite thick and a bit fluffy. One of his nicknames if Shaggy Dog because of his fluffiness.
3. Roscoe is a talker. If you get his harness off the hook to go out to work, or if you are getting the dog dishes ready for breakfast/supper, he is constantly talking to you. He gets particularly vocal when it is working time though. No barking, just kind of grumbling. :)
4. Roscoe has the worst doggie breath you will ever smell. We don't know why. The vet says his teeth look good. I brush his teeth on a regular basis and he eats hard food and chews bones, which should help the breath situation. We had to switch his food a few times to find a food that didn't make his breath so bad. So, it's better than it was, but it's still awful.
5. Roscoe loves to give kisses. He is good at sneaking and giving you a wet one when you least expect it. His saliva is also slimy. We tease him by saying that he has Slimer tongue and that he should have been a Ghost Buster character. :)
6. Roscoe can kind of swim. If he is swimming out from shore and into the waves, he waves his front paws around like a maniac and ends up whacking the water up into his face. If he is swimming back to shore, with the waves, he does much better and his paws stay under the water where they belong.
7. Roscoe doesn't really have any bad habits except for having a certain affection for stinky things. If there is animal poop-not dog or cat-he will roll in it. We took him camping once and let him  and Glacier  off leash for a run and Roscoe found the dead fish along the shoreline and rolled in those too.
8. Roscoe is very patient. For a while he was having a lot of ear infections and I had to clean his ears quite frequently. He hates it, but he would hold still and let me pour the solution into his ear. He hates having his teeth brushed, but he waits patiently for me to get that done as well.
9. Roscoe may be patient when he is being groomed or if a little kid is pulling on his ears, but have him wait too long for a light to change so we can cross the street and he starts talking. He also  talks if he thinks we've waited long enough for the bus. If the harness is on, he figures he better be moving.
10. Do any of your dogs snore? Maybe we should have a snoring competition because Roscoe is the loudest  snorer ever! :) Sometimes he snores so loudly he wakes himself up. Once he was snoring away and Glacier got annoyed and kicked him to wake him up. You'd think they were married.
11. Roscoe is a good sized lab, but because Mr. K is six foot five, they have the longest harness handle that Leader Dogs makes. Next time, Mr. K may need a taller dog. He definitely couldn't get anyone shorter.
12. Roscoe is one of the best guidors I have ever seen. (I'm not sure that is a word. lol). If we go into a place once, it is a guarantee that all Mr. K has to do is tell Roscoe to "find the door" and he will get us right back out.
13. Roscoe also has quite a few nicknames.
-Moscoes (Mr. K's niece was not even two when he got Roscoe and that is how she pronounced his name).
-Shaggy Dog (for the reasons outlined above).
-Roscoe P Coaltrain (I'm sure you can figure that one out). :)
-Mr. Rudeness (given to him by our vet tech when he sat on Glacier's head when they were getting their annual check up).
14. If Roscoe is asked to "park," which is our "do your business" cue, he will squeeze out the smallest of pees just to make you happy. He was very helpful in potty training the puppies.
15. Roscoe and Glacier are best buddies. If we are out working and Roscoe is leading, he always looks over his shoulder to make sure we're right behind him. He loves curling p with Glacier on the same doggie bed even though we have two and ever since we left last Saturday he has been giving Mr. K a hard time because he misses his friend. If they both retire at the same time, we would have to find them a home where they could both go because by the time they are nine or ten, they will be incredibly attached to one another. Either that or we'll have to keep them with us together through their retirement. :)

So there is a small glimpse into the wonder that is Roscoe. We always joke that we have a polar bear (Glacier), a monkey (Aria), and a Moscoes (Roscoe) who is an animal all on to himself. :)