Joel and I have now been together for eight weeks. This is a short amount of time, but it seems like it has been a long time since we first met.
I never understood what my friends who have guide dogs meant when they said, “All the dogs are different.” But it turns out that they were right, and I have been learning how to deal with the differences between Joel and Whitlee.
First, Whitlee was a very vocal dog. If we rode on a bus, she would become vocal and I never came up with a good way to keep her quiet. Whitlee would become vocal if we were shopping and I stood looking at something for too long. If I asked her to lie down, she would then become quiet. So far, Joel hasn’t been vocal at all, in any situation that we’ve encountered.
Whitlee was also taught to step into her harness. If I picked up her harness at any time, day or night, she would promptly get up and briskly step into it. Joel doesn’t step into his harness because he wasn’t trained to step into it. In fact, he is a little anxious when I put the harness on him. He will occasionally back away from the harness and we’ve had to work together to get rid of this anxiety. I have been careful to do this activity slowly and calmly. He does best when I get down on my knees, pet him for a bit, talk to him and slowly put on the harness. If he doesn’t back away, I reward him with food. Over time, he is slowly improving with this skill.
Whitlee used to walk at a fast speed, no matter where we went and no matter the time of day. I used to work her two miles a day before and after going to work. As she got older, I worked her less, but she still could do 2 miles with no real problem. She stayed focused and kept a great speed all throughout the walks. In fact, I was able to do the same route with her all week long and she never seemed to become bored with it. On the other hand, Joel is not a morning dog. He likes to eat his breakfast and then take a long, hard nap. Most days, I have to wake him up in order to get him ready to walk to work. Initially, I tried to walk him for 2 miles before heading into the office, but I found that his speed was slow and he quickly became bored with this morning routine. I was concerned about this and have talked to some of the trainers at Guiding Eyes to see if they had some suggestions. They were very helpful in dealing with the situation. Now, Joel never knows if there will be a morning walk. Some days we do a morning walk and some days we just head down to the office. If we do a morning walk, the route is different each time. Sometimes, instead of a morning walk, we do a walk at lunch time, or we do a walk after work. He never knows when it will happen, or where we will go. This has helped him stay interested and focused, which has resulted in his picking up the pace as well.
As you can see, there are drastic differences between Joel and Whitlee. It is still early in the game, but we are managing to work through our daily lives together quite well. Joel is a great dog and just like Whitlee, he is an individual. As the days pass, I am working to keep an open mind and striving to learn what motivates him and use this to help us as we journey together.