(This post is part of a series that begins with "Getting a Dog, Day 1." I'm at the Seeing Eye, getting my first dog guide.)
Paige knows everything about guiding. She's had four months of training, during which she's had obstacles block her path, had cars pull in front of her, had people's pet dogs try to distract her, had people walk in all crazy directions in front of her and around her... and she's been taught how to handle those things.
What Paige doesn't know is how to work with an inexperienced handler. She shifts easily from working with Barbara, her trainer, to Ralph, mine. She isn't so sure what to do with me.
I, on the other hand, know nothing. The walks on the carefully-planned routes late this week were devoted to three things: teaching me how to communicate with Paige and how to understand what she was telling me; teaching us together how to handle obstacles, traffic, and distractions; and beginning to establish the relationship between us that we will need for the next eight to twelve years.
Late on Wednesday we began working our dogs inside the school. Up to now, we've had them on leashes. What a difference! We glide around smoothly. No more dogs in tangled messes. No more huge traffic jams at the tops of the staircases (try to imagine ten or twelve blind people with no canes with excited dogs on leashes).
Paige's long training really paid off. While she could really be a silly dog on a leash, she became a trained guide in harness. She showed me every step, took me to every door, came around every corner without walking me into anything.
On Wednesday we walked the same simple route we had walked on Tuesday, but now obstacles and "traffic checks" were added. A traffic check is when the dog stops for a car. On Wednesday, we were walking along a seemingly safe residential sidewalk when suddenly (I was told in advance it was going to happen) a van turned from the street into a driveway right in front of us. Paige stopped and took a step backwards. I stepped with her. A pluses for both of us.
Thursday and Friday we walked a new route. This one was not much more complicated in terms of finding our way, but it had a lot more going on. Some of the intersections had traffic lights, some didn't. There were restaurants with outside tables, a flag blowing at face level, turns in the sidewalk, a pet shop, and construction. Ralph and his co-conspirators added other complications to this: they blocked the sidewalk completely at one point, so that the dogs had no choice but to guide us into the street. Cars turned abruptly across our paths numerous times. Someone held a dog on a leash near the sidewalk. Ralph talked us through all these things the first time and sometimes the second.
Paige encountered a fire-breathing dragon! There was construction at one point on the route. We could hear heavy machinery and maybe a truck up ahead. As we came near, I heard the men shouting to each other "hold up! Hold up!" so I knew they were waiting to let us pass. Paige did not have this information. She slowed and watched them as we got close. I told her to go ahead, so she walked cautiously in front of the men an the equipment. Suddenly, we were hit by a blast of hot air from the machine. Paige started and trotted out of the way. She craned her head to look as we went, and acted a little scared. I gave her a pat and she calmed right down and went on.
The next time we passed there, there was still construction but it was a few feet away from the sidewalk. She slowed and looked all around for the dragon, but it didn't threaten, so we went on by.
On one of our walks we were working along with Graham, one of my classmates, and his dog. Graham was in the lead and Paige and I were right behind. The team ahead of us moved into a tight spot, and we started to follow right behind, when I saw a table and chairs to my right (I have some peripheral vision, usually enough to get me into trouble, sometimes enough to get me out). I stopped Paige immediately, realizing that a restaurant had put tables outside on the sidewalk. We took a short step back, turned right, and went around the restaurant. Meanwhile, Graham's dog marched right through without turning his head left or right, without being distracted by the food, the people, the noise... A pluses for Graham and his dog!
Paige does everything in a hurry. She has a brisk pace that I love. She doesn't mind passing people on the sidewalk, and she figured out quickly that I'm appreciative of this. When we do the route with Graham she always looks for opportunities to pass him and his dog. I love this, since we'll be going to New York, where not passing means not getting where we're going.
We're a little rough on some things. We've mastered the dog-under-the-chair maneuver, but now we have to work on getting through doors. We went down to the tech lab the other day to use the braille printer. Paige and I went flying down the hall to the door of the lab, I figured out which way the door went, opened it, and we blasted through into the lab. Theresa, another of our training partners, was using a computer. She announced, "It's Crista and Paige! I knew it was you because you always burst into a room!" We all had to laugh. I guess I need to work on having more decorum.
Today, we go solo. this will be a great exercise. There probably won't be a dragon on the route, since it's Saturday, but I'm not worried even if there is. The biggest thing we need to work on is not having Ralph right there. Paige is very aware that he is calling the shots. She hears my commands and follows them, but if she's at all unsure, she looks around at Ralph. Today, she and I will have to communicate without an interpreter. She'll have to know that I mean business and that I really mean it when I say to turn left.