To say that dogs are a common sight on the downtown San Rafael streets is a bit of an understatement. It’s a pet-friendly place, for sure…but it’s more than that. Our class’s six new guide dog teams are practicing routes downtown. As I soon discover, trainers from the school also come here to walk under blindfold with the younger dogs who are preparing to be guides. Though this is my first time to walk these streets, it is certainly not Wella’s.
The environment is perfect for learning. There are ample opportunities for distraction, including multiple invitations by other dogs to socialize, or otherwise lose focus…But my little girl handles it all like a pro. She briefly entertains the potential for distraction once or twice. All I have to do is to cue her with the leash, or give her the command to resume pace, and she is immediately back on track, resuming both her pace and line of travel. Wella leads me around various tables, occasional bicyclists, several groups of people, and many sets of stairs—all without my knowledge—until Larissa makes me aware of them, pointing out what tremendous judgment it takes on Wella’s part to appropriately negotiate such situations, navigating us safely around and through them. What a smart little girl!
It’s now Tuesday, and a much hotter day. I’m not sure what is up—maybe we’re both just overly tired, but Wella and I have a tougher time staying in-sync this morning. I feel so overwhelmed and frustrated by the fact that I sometimes don’t know when to use what commands. I know I (all too often) say the wrong thing. It has to be confusing for Wella…It’s certainly frustrating for me.
Mid-morning, I get to feeling unworthy and think: “She’s such a sweet, smart little dog. She deserves a handler that knows what the hell she is doing! She certainly deserves someone who is more consistent than I’m capable of being right now. What a precious dog! I hope I can be that person for her someday.”
It’s almost lunchtime. It’s been a long, disconnected morning, but Wella and I are finally in-sync with one another, walking in tandem as one unit. Despite the morning chaos, we emerge as a team!
In the afternoon lecture, we discuss the process of re-working problems.
During the afternoon work session, the instructors have set up various types of distractions for the dogs—some of which they pass, and some of which they don’t. This affords me the opportunity to observe Wella’s level of attentiveness to each task with which she is presented. I then have the responsibility of evaluating any missed step or inattentiveness on her part, bringing the error to her attention, following up with the appropriate form of correction, and finally re-working the error—affording Wella some redemption by allowing her the chance to correct her approach—a timely lesson for both of us.
As we load the dogs into the van for our return to campus, Larissa comments that Wella wags each time I touch her. Despite my shortcomings as a handler, I touch her, and she wags. What a capacity for love! What welcome news at the end of this long, “beating” of a day!
Copyright (C) 2015 Donna Mack Anderson. All rights reserved.