On Saturday, August 4th, Kathy, the field representative from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, came to meet Joel and me for our first day of training. We began promptly at 7:30 AM. The first thing we worked on was getting Joel more comfortable while I put on his harness. We did this because when I began to bring the harness to him, he would back away from it. Since Joel is very food motivated, Kathy instructed me to have some treats in one hand and the harness in the other. So, I fed Joel as I slipped the harness around his head and neck. After a few tries, it worked great.
We took our first walk on a familiar route and as we walked, I noticed that Joel responded well to my verbal commands, as well as my verbal praises and corrections. This again amazed me, since we had only been together for one day and this was only our second walk together. When we walked near the usual barking dogs, he did get distracted, but when I gave him a verbal command, it brought his focus right back to me.
After we completed the walk, Joel had some time to relax and cool off back at the apartment. Then, we went for lunch at a local restaurant. One thing that Kathy pointed out to me is that Joel is quite large. This means that when we go out to eat, it is a good idea to sit somewhere out of the main path of people to avoid Joel getting tripped over or stepped on during our visit. She said that it is easiest to sit at a table in a corner. I know that some people dislike sitting away from the main area of a restaurant with their guide dog, but I don’t mind if it is the safest place for the dog.
One of our activities during the week was to take a ride on the bus to downtown. My first dog, Whitlee, disliked riding busses, so I was very interested to see Joel’s reaction. When the bus arrived, we boarded and found our way to a seat. Again, it was recommended by Kathy to get Joel under the seat to avoid anyone tripping or stepping on him. As the bus traveled along, Joel took great interest in watching people board and exit the bus. As the trip progressed, he seemed to be delighted with people watching and did not make a sound. When we exited the bus downtown, we worked our way around and did another route. Joel thrived as we worked our way around obstacles such as newspaper stands, trash cans, benches, and other people.
After we finished the walk, we made our way to a park, where we could relax and give Joel a break. He does like small animals, such as birds, squirrels and cats. The park was a great place to work him because there were lots of small animals around the man-made pond. With each route we walked, I again noticed how easily Joel worked as he responded to my verbal prompts. He is not a dog that needs hard leash corrections and he is a dog who aims to please me.
So far, this new partnership is working out great.