Patty here reminding you that though the basics of guide dog training and behaviors are the same for all schools and handlers, each school and guide dog team do things a bit differently.
Here’s Peter with his experience on his first days with his newest dog.
Peter Altschul, MS
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: https://www.dldbooks.com/peteraltschul/
December 17, 2021
At around 3 p.m. on a mild December Wednesday, an 85-pound male Black Lab exploded into my shoebox-sized apartment dragging Melinda, a trainer responsible for supporting that dog and me to develop a working relationship. For the next ten minutes, Fredo dug for crumbs on my five-year-old throw-rug. He threw a bone against the wall, then dashed to pick it up so he could repeat the process. He drank from the toilet bowl instead of the water bowl lying three feet away. All while thwomping his tail against any surface it connected with. Melinda tried to channel the explosion into a more positive direction while providing a play-by-play of his antics. After the F-bomb had burned off his excess energy, Melinda left, leaving behind some supplies for Fredo and me to stow.
Exploring Fredo’s supermuscled body was almost intimidating. I wondered if I would be able to control this behemoth as he followed me around. “Feed me, feed me,” his nose implored as I dumped two bags of dog food into a dog-proof container behind a closet door. His tail banged the wall as I tossed a bone for him to chew as I sat beside him telling him about his wonderfulness.
During the next ten days, Melinda and I worked at least two hours daily, teaching Fredo and me the route to and from the church that I regularly attend and to other nearby places. I soon realized I had much to learn: a couple of new commands; how better to use food to reinforce good behavior and to counter distractions; how to find two poles onto which buttons are affixed that people can push to hear a synthesized voice tell us when it’s safe to cross a street; and unlearning those bad habits that we dog handlers fall into.
Things really began to click between Fredo and me connected by a harness handle the following Tuesday. I smiled and puffed as he walked at around a four-mile-per-hour clip. Guided by Melinda’s patience, humor, and experimentation, we learned that treats were more of a distraction than a help in most places. We learned how to better use my voice to encourage him to cross streets straighter. I learned how better to slow down when he slowed down. While birds, squirrels, flapping flags, rustling leaves, a neighborhood Goldendoodle, and friendly pedestrians distracted Fredo, his goofy cheerfulness and resilience, coupled with treats to distract him from those distractions, got us through the rough patches.
One morning in my apartment, Fredo crawled into my lap as I sat on the floor and probably would have stayed there for hours. He destroyed a tug-of-war toy advertized as being totally indestructible after three play sessions. He started kicking around and attacking an eight-pound medicine ball that my sister gave me on my 30th birthday.
A week after Fredo’s arrival, Melinda and I took him to visit the space where the jazz trio to which I belong rehearses. He slept through the rehearsal after which he played in the fenced-in back yard with four dogs of varying temperaments. All went well until—
“Fredo, NO!” Melinda howled, followed by an enormous splash. After two more splashes from the fish pond in the yard, Fredo dashed over to rub his wriggling, soaked body against my jeans, his tail wagging.
As Melinda drove Fredo and me home after rinsing him off with a garden hose, she told me that he had later sprayed water everywhere from a bucket full of rain water with his two front paws.
“When I told him to stop,” she told me, “he gave me a mischievous look and put all four of his feet in the bucket.”
“Sort of like what my mom called the `fuck you Granny` look,” I told her, recounting how one of my prior guide dogs had given Mom that look as he lifted his leg on her couch.
The following Sunday, Fredo and I made our final trip to the church with Melinda trailing behind. It felt almost peaceful even with Fredo’s flakiness.
Like dog, like human.
Melinda left us for the last time two hours later, and now the real work begins as that gentle giant known as Fredo the Potato or Fredo the Noodlehead and I continue to build on what she taught and modeled: patience, focus, a sense of humor and fun, establishing a routine, and over-the-top encouragement. We’re still making mistakes, though more subtle and less frequent. We’re cuddling and rough-housing, with the help of a more durable tug toy.
We’re becoming a real team.