Feature Writer Steven Famiglietti – Six Months with Joel and Learning All the Way: Part Two

When I had Whitlee, my first guide dog, people told me it would take a year before we would really know each other. Since I never had a dog before, I figured that they were kidding me when they told me this. But after working with Whitlee for a year or so, I noticed that these people were quite correct. When you are working with a guide dog, there are so many situations you encounter, places you go, and people you meet. It really does take a long time before you know your dog, and vice versa.

When I got Meyer, I figured, well, this is a new dog, but I already know everything because I had a dog for 9 years. That was not true. All these dogs have different personalities and they react different to situations, places, and people. There have actually been times when I wished that I could have Whitlee back again, so that I could work with her with the knowledge that I’ve gained from having Meyer and now Joel. For example, both Meyer and Joel enjoy playing with their toys. Playtime is an important part of their daily life. It helps them relieve stress, have fun, and bond with their person. When I had Whitlee, we didn’t do much playing. She did enjoy a tennis ball, but I don’t remember that I made playing a big part of her daily life. Perhaps this would have been a good thing for her, though. Whitlee loved to work and she was always very focused. However, when we came back from a walk, I always let her do her own thing as a way for her to relax and rest. I could tell that she appreciated this by the way she would stretch out across the living room floor. When Joel completes a walk, he usually likes to come into the apartment and run a few laps around the house. So, I take his ball and throw it around for a few minutes so that he can work off any stress that he built up during our walk. He has lots of energy and it doesn’t all get used up during a walk, he needs that extra outlet to run and play with his toys.

Whitlee was very good at going into the harness and snapping right into work mode. If I was in a hurry, I could quickly gather my things, get her into harness, and rush out the door. This is not the best way to conduct your life but, sometimes, you have to rush around for many reasons.

Joel, on the other hand, does not do well if I start rushing him around. We really fall apart if this happens. I’ve learned over these few months together that I must slow down, and be clear and direct with him. If I start rushing around, it winds him up, and he is not focused and he is not listening to me. Then, we have to stop everything and start all over again. This has been one of the most difficult things for me to do in the transition from one dog to another. The good part of it is that I’ve realized from my experiences that this is how Joel works and I have to adapt myself to it in order for us to succeed together. I’ve actually come to enjoy his way of working because it has caused me to be slower and calmer in order to work well with him, and it feels good to slow down, pay attention, and get tasks done the first time around, instead of stopping and repeating things because I was working too quickly. When we encountered some ice a few days ago, it was so very important that I slow us down and carefully let him help me work through it, until we got back onto dry, safe ground.

So, all together, there has been lots of learning for me over the past six months and the past year. I’m glad to have all these experiences and I am looking forward to more experiences over the next six months and years to come.

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