Yesterday was full of exciting new experiences! Everything is leading up to preparations to match us with our dogs this afternoon. (In case you're just tuning in, I'm at the Seeing Eye, getting my first dog guide.)

We had breakfast at 8:00, then went into a Morristown neighborhood for Juno walks. According to Ralph, one major purpose of these walks is to help the trainers determine which dog is best for each student. All the trainers took their small groups to the same area, so we saw our classmates and their trainers.

Our group practiced crossing streets, turning, giving commands, and holding the leash and harness.

I was curious to know how a dog whose head is two feet off the ground could tell if my head was going to brush a tree branch. Ralph explained that it's hard for them to tell and the best way for them to learn it is to make a mistake. I think it's a good thing my trainer is taller than I am. In any case, my cane was always very bad at that.

After the walks, all of the members of the class gathered in one group at the school for a lecture. We learned a little about dog psychology and about how our dogs' lives have been up to now. One very interesting point: our dogs have likely never lived with a person with vision loss before. This will be new for them.

At lunch, Roger, one of the students in our small group, told us stories of his experiences with his first dog. The other three of us, all first-timers, hung on his every word. One person wanted to know when we would use our canes. Roger seemed confused by the question, as if he couldn't think what cane we would use or what we might think we'd use it for. "Like in a public washroom or something," one student said. "Oh, no, you use your dog. You use your dog for everything! 'Find the sink... find the garbage...,'" Roger explained. He went on to say that he carried a cane in his bag just in case, but never used it during the eight years he had his dog.

The afternoon was the highlight. Ralph gave us our leashes, the ones we'll use tomorrow with our dogs, and brought us four dogs from the kennel. These are not our dogs, or at least the chances are infinitesimally small that any of us got our "own" dogs. This was, again, to help in determining which dog was right and to familiarize us with how to handle a dog.

It was much harder than I had expected. I've handled lots of dogs before -- my own pet dogs, other people's pet dogs, and I've dogsat for dog guides in the past. But here, Ralph was explaining things and I was trying to do everything right. The dog was excited and happy to be in a new place. She wanted to check out all the nooks and crannies, while I wanted her to walk at heel down the long hall from the lounge to the dining room. One big difference between walking with this dog and walking with someone else's pet dog: she was to walk at heel on a relatively loose leash, so that only my command and her training put her in the right spot. So, I had to continually correct her position. She was extremely willing and eager to do what I wanted, but I was very clumsy at letting her know what that was.

In the dining room, we practiced getting the dogs into the right position under the table. After a few tries, it seemed easy, but at first I didn't know what to do at all. I had a dog, a table, a chair, and myself, all in a chaotic tangle. Luckily, once I got her pointed in the right direction, she knew what she was supposed to do and came in from my left side, went in front of me seated in the chair, and laid down on my right with her nose pointed out into the walkway behind me. It's a good thing one of us knew what was to be done. I know a lot of dog guide users and it always seems to me that they go up to the table in a restaurant, sit down, and their dogs disappear. They make it look so easy. I can't wait until tomorrow evening when twenty-four of us are all in the dining room at once!

The four dogs in our group were very different. One was a black lab, two were golden retriever/lab crosses, and one was a large shepherd. While we were waiting for instructions, Theresa's dog kept rolling over on her back and asking to have her tummy scratched. Mine sat alertly, as if she were expecting something exciting to happen. Roger's spun around on the end of the leash for a minute or two, then laid down at his feet and took a nap. Graham's intermittently stood up and sat down. I was ready to go home with any one (or all four) of them.

We ended the day with a get-together that allowed the students to get to know each other better. My classmates are from all over the US and Canada. Some have had multiple dogs, and some are here for the first time. Many are college students who are home for the Summer.

What do we do today? Well, I'll start with a run on the treadmill, of course. This might be my last chance for a morning run, since I'll need to feed and walk the dog first thing every morning after. After breakfast we'll go for Juno walks. We'll have a meeting at 11:00, followed by lunch, followed by... the Big Event — We'll meet our dogs.

Read We Meet the Dog!