Guide dog school 4: It isn’t all work and no play
By Brian Fischler
Nash and my second day of working together went pretty well. We worked on going forward, right and left turns. A very common misconception about Guide Dogs is that they read traffic lights and tell you when to cross the street. This is not the case, as dogs are color blind. I have to listen to the sound of traffic, and tell Nash when I think it is safe to cross the street. He is trained not to walk into oncoming traffic.
This is definitely going to take some getting used to for me. It wasn’t too long ago that I could still see the crosswalk signal. So not only am I learning to walk with a guide dog, I also have to learn how to listen to the surge of traffic so I know when it is safe to tell Nash to cross the street. When I do think it is safe, I then give Nash a verbal and hand signal telling him to cross. Wow, this is a lot of information to take in.
The trainers at Guiding Eyes for the Blind are truly amazing people. While their work is very rewarding, think about this: They do this four or five times a year, they take a dog at about 18 months, train him, grow attached to him, then train him with the students, and then have to see him go off with their new owners, most likely to never see them again. It can’t be easy. Helping the trainers, are a great bunch of assistant trainers and volunteers, making the training of a guide dog and handler a total team effort.
We have a morning walk with our dogs and an afternoon walk. The best way to get in sync and accustomed to your dog is through repetition. It is still very strange walking with a dog leading me around. It is going to take some time for me to trust Nash leading me across a busy New York City street, but I’m sure we will get there.
Nash became a little rambunctious late in the afternoon and, for a while, he stopped listening to the sit and down commands. I thought “Great. All the training they put into Nash, and I broke him in only four days!”
The trainer told me, “What do you expect? To be walking on water in only four days?” No, but for a bit it did feel like we were back to day one all over again. It will be interesting to see how things go tomorrow.
It’s our sixth day together and I got to have Nash off-leash for the first time today. Up until now, Nash has either been on his leash or a tie-down, which is basically a long leash that is attached to the wall. We had our first play time today. Nash got to run all around the large indoor exhibit hall. I got to break out some toys for him to play with.
I would launch the toy across the room like it was a grenade, and Nash would run and get it. A few times, he would bring it back to me, wait for me to put my hand out, and drop it in my hand. A few times I would call to Nash, and he wouldn’t come, as he was enthralled with the toy, so I would put a treat in my hand, and call to him. Sure enough, he came running over every time for the treat. Dogs sure do like to eat.
I am not a little kid, but this entire playtime experience was quite thrilling, as I never had a dog growing up, so when I think back about it, this is really my first time playing with a dog, and the best part is, it’s my dog!
Read Brian’s entire Guide Dog Training series from the beginning starting here.