Editor’s Note: This blog was Originally published October 20, 2014 on Vision View Point, the predecessor to The Outlook from Here.
I’m looking back on my second week at the Seeing Eye in New Jersey. The week had a few challenges as well as some very funny and cute experiences with Laura.
We walked about a half mile and had to deal with cars pulling out in front of us. Some situations were staged traffic checks, while others happened with real drivers who were either just not paying attention or they were being inconsiderate. The staged traffic checks are done with Seeing Eye staff who drive around our walking route and either pull into a driveway in front of the dog or cut us off at a street crossing. They do this to check the dog to see how it and the handler respond to every possible situation. Given the short training period, it is impossible to experience every situation. A lot of it depends on the graduate and the dog guide relying on each other at all times.
After a day or two of training on the route, we had to do it solo.
Laura and I, plus another student/dog team soloed the route together while the instructor stayed back to let us work out any issues on our own and to see how we handled things. If there was a major problem, they would obviously jump in to assist.
The solo route is the same one on which we had been trained, but this time we were on our own. Everything went well, except Laura ran a street crossing. She was supposed to stop at the down curb and wait at the crossing for my instruction. Instead, she just kept walking. I realized she messed up about half way through, but, by that time, I wouldn’t make her turn around and do it over. While crossing a street, the worst thing you can do is stop and turn around in the middle. It just isn’t safe.
One of the challenges I experienced with Laura during this week happened when she decided that she wasn’t going to listen to me. I finally made her do what I wanted. The way to accomplish this is with lots of praise and coaxing and not with yelling and getting mad at the dog. Laura is a fantastic dog and an awesome worker. She makes a few mistakes, but who doesn’t?!
The biggest thing for a new student who wants a Seeing Eye dog is learning to trust the animal with everything during travel. The human half of the team has a great amount of responsibility to know where they are going and how to get there, as well as to determine when it is safe to commit to a street crossing. The dog will watch for traffic, and it is responsible to avoid cars that are in the way or nearby. The dog is not responsible for knowing when the light changes from red to green, green to red, etc.
The Seeing Eye has a 1/3 mile path that winds around campus. Students can use this to get outside when there are no trips into town. For the most part, this happens on the weekend. Other fitness equipment is located inside. The Seeing Eye has a small exercise room with a treadmill, stair climber, exercise bike, and some weight training machines.
This was a great place to be with lots of friendly and supportive staff and to make new friendships with many of the other students. In the end, it is always nice to go back home with a dog, knowing that he or she will make travel to and from work, the store, or any other destination much easier, safer and more enjoyable.