The first time I worked with Verona on a boardwalk was in Atlantic City, New Jersey. We stayed at one of the hotels there and after checking in, set out to find a nearby delicatessen. Within minutes, Verona figured out that she needed to stay in the center of the wide expanse to avoid foot traffic in both directions. After a few blocks, I noticed she was slanted and I asked my husband to follow us and tell me what was happening. He dropped back and after a short time, he caught up with us.
“She’s walking funny. I think the boards are slanted and she won’t step in the cracks.”
We both stopped and started laughing. I never thought of that. It must seem very odd to a dog that the slanted, herring bone patterned boards could be not only confusing but also feel strange; after all, she was doing it in bare feet.
We hupped up and finally found our shop, and then headed back to the hotel. By the time we returned, Verona wasn’t walking funny anymore and had apparently gotten accustomed to the strange walkway pattern she had encountered.
When I first began training with Verona, I didn’t understand the feelings conveyed through the harness handle. Now, thanks to a few years of experience, I know them well. For example, I know when there is another dog around just from the way she prances and pulls. I know if there are birds distracting her, too, as she drops her head and jerks left or right. I know her side-to-side shuffle to warn me not to take another step or I’ll be sorry. I learned that one the hard way when I didn’t stop and slammed my right knee into a low, concrete bench. I know the hard, frantic pull telling me she has to relieve herself. Best of all, I know the tail wagging, jaunty, and endearing pull telling me she sees a loved one. How she manages to walk and wag still mystifies me.
We’ve been back to the boardwalk once more since that first time and she seemed to remember those strange boards, because she was no longer walking funny, and in fact, appears to love to strut out in the fresh sea air and sunshine.
What’s your favorite place to go with your guide dog? Tell us in the next Reader’s forum.