Crista Earl with her brand-new dog guide, Paige Crista and Paige

Her name is Paige! She's a black Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever cross. She looks exactly like a lab to me. Her coat is short like a lab's and she's as black as black can be. She's a very high-energy dog.

Ralph called me to the lounge just down from the women's dorm, and I went down to meet her. She pushed close, then laid down on the floor and asked me to scratch her tummy. She got up and scooted under my chair for a moment, then wanted to sniff all around the room.

We walked down the hall to my room. The instructions were to keep her on the leash and not to groom her yet, but just to spend time together.

We hurried around the room, checking all the edges first. She walked into the bathroom, leaned over the edge of the tub to see what was inside, then climbed in to get a better view. Bored with that, she hopped out and finished her tour of the rest of the room.

After the tour, we sat and I scratched her all over. She washed my ears and pulled at my ponytail holder with her teeth. That wasn't interesting enough. She wanted to stay by the door, in the hopes it would open again and somebody more interesting than me would come in. Several times Ralph popped his head in to make sure all was well. That made her happy, since he is very interesting to her.

On one of his trips, Ralph brought a harness and I practiced putting it on her. I was a clumsy mess, but she stuck her head into it and helped me out. I figured out where the straps went and got it buckled, then took it off and put it on a couple more times.

Finally, the real treat. Ralph came back and we put her into the harness again. We adjusted everything so it fit her better (she's a size 44, whatever that means) and we went for a short walk.

First, Paige walked at heel until we got outside. Then we went for a loop around the leisure path with me holding onto the harness the way I'd learned to do in the Juno walks. Ralph had added a second leash and had control of her. When she veered off the path, he corrected her and got us back on track. She walked fast, but not too fast. She pulled, but not too hard. She slowed and veered when we neared the gazebo and seemed to need to decide what to do — was it an obstacle she should go around, or could we go through it? Ralph helped her decide this time. Tomorrow maybe we'll let her really do her guiding.

Dinner was exciting. I expected to get little to eat, being busy keeping my dog in place with all the other dogs around. We went to the dining room in shifts to avoid creating traffic jams. Many of the dogs carefully placed under the tables popped up when their friends came into the room. Most of us were very busy keeping our dogs where they were supposed to be. Irene, who serves our table and who has worked here for many years, said, "They'll be quiet tomorrow." I'm sure she's right.

The rest of the afternoon the students praised, petted, groomed, and walked around with our dogs on leashes. We spent a lot of time together, partly so that our dogs could get used to being in groups, but under control, and partly because we wanted to hear about each other's dogs.

It's fascinating to see how different dogs are treated differently. Theresa has a quiet, calm Golden/Labrador cross. I have the same breed, but mine is high-energy. Ralph is giving us exactly opposite first-day instructions — I'm to correct everything my dog does. I feel like a nag. Paige, heel. Paige, sit. Paige, no. Paige, quiet. Paige, down (I like that one. I laugh every time I say it.). Theresa is to let everything slide. She's not to worry about anything her dog does today.

The last structured activity of the day was park. The park is a large rectangle of concrete with a fence around it. The dogs are taken there to relieve themselves. For today, the students didn't have to clean up after the dogs. I'm glad my dog is learning to do this on pavement — a friend of mine had a lot of trouble getting her dog used to New York when she moved from someplace with a lot of grass. Morristown is grassy, green, and beautiful, but I'm leaving for New York City in a few weeks and we won't find grass very often.

Paige slept quietly through the night. She whined a little at 10:30 when she heard people and dogs in the hall, and she is whining off and on now while I'm writing this, but I tell her "quiet" and she quiets right down. At 5:30 we'll get the wake-up, then a trainer will come by with food. After that we'll go park again (that means all the dogs will go relieve themselves) and then another big day begins!

Read the next post, Learning the Basics with a Dog Guide.