On Friday, August 3, 2012, a trainer from Guiding Eyes for the Blind came to visit me and brought a new dog with him named Joel. The purpose of his visit was to see if Joel looked like a good match for me. After introducing the dog to me, we put the dog in harness and took a walk to see if Joel’s speed matched mine. As we walked, the trainer used an additional support leash, which was attached to the dog’s collar, in case the dog needed additional guidance or control. It was a hot, humid morning and it had been many months since I walked with a dog.
This dog is a big German Shepherd, weighing around 85 pounds, and as we walked together, I had the feeling that he was going to be my next guide dog. His speed matched my speed and he almost immediately focused on me and gave me all of his attention, despite the fact that his trainer was there with us as we worked.
After going for a walk, we brought the dog inside and gave him time to cool off and rest. He again was very focused on me, like he knew that his mission in life was to be my next guide dog. The trainer and I had a long discussion about the dog but at the beginning of the discussion, I told the trainer that I would like to keep him. He also agreed that it looked like it would be a match, so the rest of our discussion centered on making sure that I understood all of the house rules for the dog, his feeding schedule, his relieving schedule and some other odds and ends. The next step would be for the field rep to come and perform ten days of home training.
As all of this was happening, I felt a sense of relaxation that I never felt with Meyer. This dog just seemed more settled, more focused, and more content with the situation. It just felt right the moment I met him and that made me feel great.
That afternoon, we took Joel for another walk at a local mall, where we encountered lots of people, sounds, stairs, elevators, and escalators. Through each situation, Joel concentrated and did an excellent job. After the walk was over, we stopped and got some lunch while Joel rested. The trainer reminded me that Joel is a particularly large dog, so, when getting seated at restaurants, I should strongly consider seating along a wall and at a table, giving Joel room to stretch out, without being in the way of people or restaurant staff.
After returning home with Joel, the trainer left and Joel and I began the process of bonding together. Again, I noticed how focused Joel was on me. He watched everything I did and he listened to every word I spoke, even if the words I spoke were not commands he had been taught.
So, it looked like I had found my next guide dog and our next step was to begin our training with the field rep at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning. We had lots of exciting and challenging adventures throughout our training sessions, as you’ll read about in next week’s article.