The day started out a rainy, gross, misty, and generally soupy day. I wasn't looking forward to it because of the forecasts of scattered showers for the whole day. When it rains here, unless it's a hurricane, thunderstorm, or tornado, we go out. I haven't been here during a snowstorm though I came once right after one, but I think that unless it's a b lizard and they haven't ploughed sidewalks, you work too. So, consequently, a train and bus trip wasn't on the top of my "want to do" list this morning, especially because I knew that we had to wait in unsheltered areas for short periods, hopefully.
I'd done this trip before with my first dog, so I thought it would be relatively easy and low stress. The trip itself went well, but since I have to deal with a condition where my bones break easy, I am always terrified of falling. Right now, I don't trust Velvet to always stop for large flights of stairs (down especially), so we'll continue working on that, but today she seemed to do well. We haven't been working in groups much with our class, but today, I got to work with another person. Sometimes, when the dogs aren't used to working with another dog, they either go really fast to try to catch up with the other dog in the lead, or when you are in the lead, they have problems guiding. Usually, when we do class with groups, one person leads for a block, and then another person leads. That way we can figure out if the dog will deal with working with other dogs, and also this helps to save the instructor time. It's up to the instructor and the class makeup (skill level, walking speed, etc.) whether or not they want to work in groups a lot.
Velvet did very well during both the trip to Madison on the train--an eight minute trip--and the fifteen minute bus ride back to town. Of course, we had to test the dogs again in intelligent disobedience to going over the platform edge. This always freaks me out, but I try to remember that these dogs are very well trained, and really don't want you going over the edge because of this training. They train them to be wary by either hanging their front paws off of the edge to teach them respect for drop offs, or actually falling off of the platform themselves and making a big acting production of it to emphasize to the dog that it needs to avoid the edge. Velvet passed the test wonderfully which is comforting since I really don't want to spend my final moments lounging face down on the electrified third rail.
It always amazes me how these dogs are so tolerant of things. When the train came up, I thought it was loud, but Velvet didn't even flinch. I can't even imagine what it's like to have this really huge thing thousands their size, coming at them. And the size isn't all. The noise has got to be painful. Amazing as it seems, Velvet led me along the platform and to the doors. The steps were steep, and I felt pressured because I didn't want to hold up the commuters, but I did fine.
After finishing both legs of the trip, we landed in a coffee shop that we've passed by before on our routes on Elm and South. It's much better to sit inside somewhere and not eat or drink anything than having to sit in the van over an hour. Neither myself or the guy who I was with got anything, but we spent the hour and fifteen minutes that it took the other group to get done with the trip talking about random things like cribbage. Finding someone else who likes cribbage and who enjoys talking about cards is a great stress reliever let me tell you.
The afternoon trip was to practice working our dogs in a "country" setting. We're not talking "Find the third trailer on the left past the fourth blue barn which used to be by the feed store" kind of country, it simply means working our dogs in environs which lack sidewalks. There's lits of that kind of travel that I could possibly do or have access to where I live, so this trip was particularly interesting and useful to me.
Dogs naturally are trained to walk on the left side of sidewalks. So on country work, it's natural for the dog to walk on the left side of the side of the street. That allows you, and the dog for that matter, to be as far away from the traffic as possible, and allows you as a dog guide user to effectively track where you are. It's not as easily done on a country route, but I think that if I practice it enough, we'll be better at it. It's a whole new animal as far as working a guide though because you can't easily, or I should say the dog can't easily, find exact intersections since they're following on the left of the curb. So you have to be cognizant as blind person to know when you're starting to turn the corner onto the next street and either go straight across the road or go with the dog. A dog guide team is just that, a team, so it's important in this type of work more than ever that we work together to get the job done: getting me from point A to point B safely. Velvet did wonderfully well at following on the left. I'm getting more confident with this dog the more I work with her. That's how it's supposed to work :).
Just a note, I've been writing this entry from a bit after dinner time (6:00) until now, about 10:00. The quality will probably suffer as I continue, but I feel like I really need to write, so I'm going to continue to push through.
This afternoon was our vet visit with one of TSE's veterinarians. It's the basic visit where we find out all of the health history of our dogs and get a packet that we can take to our vets where we live. I also had a microchip implanted in her just in case, God forbid, she gets lost or most likely so I can go somewhere internationally with her. Velvet has been and continues to be healthy, and all is well. Her birthday is April 5, 2006, and she weighs 58 pounds right now, a bit more than Fiona weighed when I got her. She's got a major problem with jumping which keeps exhibiting itself. At the vet's office for instance, she jumped up onto the edge of the counter where you check in. When we got done with the exam, and she saw the cookie jar where they have doggie treats, she put her front paws on there. It's extremely cute, but not something I want her to do, especially on a regular basis. She's also taken to getting lose when I go to the bathroom and then when I emerge, she goes absolutely crazy, turns in circles, bounds around and off the floor, and ends up on the bed. when I ask her to get off, sorry demand her to get off, she thinks it's a game, and bounces on the bed a while before I pull her off.
What's happening I think is that she's testing me now. It happens with every new dog, and it's normal, but that doesn't make it easier to transition to this dog.
After dinner we had an instructional hands-on lecture on putting together our thrice coated with oil harnesses together. It's not hard, but I'd forgotten which piece fitted into which piece, and how to get everything to work. The night instructor and another one of our class instructors were able to show us all by example and explanation, which, for a room of blind people without a clue, is a talent. I got the harness together pretty well, and provided it doesn't rain too badly tomorrow, I'll stop using it. I've actually switched from using one of the old training harnesses they give us right after getting a dog to using Fiona's old harness. It seems to be helping me detach my human attachment between the harness and Fiona. The harness is just a harness. Fiona is just Fiona, and she's retired. It's almost like a part of you dying though when you have to retire a guide. Fiona won't ever put that harness back on, and if I can use it with Velvet, much like a loved one's old shirt you might wear to remember them, it's getting used and I'm able to remember her with the good times we've had. Fiona doesn't need it anymore, so if Velvet can use it now, I say that that's ok. It's taken me a while to get to this point, but actually using the harness on a daily basis has helped with this. I still struggle ... I'm struggling a bit right now actually ... but it's just something I'm going to have to work through.
The night instructor stays here four nights a week to teach lectures, and also so that she can take us on night trips. I've wanted to go on a night trip for a while, mostly so that I can test Velvet on her traffic issues, but also so I can see how well she does at night. Well tonight, I was crazy enough to volunteer to do the first night trip, and also I was crazy enough to be one of the first hands to raise. Lucky or not, I don't know.
These trips aren't unlike any of the other trips we've taken around town, but I was interested to go out with another instructor, and also in different conditions. So we hopped into the Prias, headed into town and started working. Velvet does great zipping in between crowds, around sidewalk cafes, and around trees and that kind of thing. That's called clearance work. We're still having problems going into the street though, and it continues to frustrate me. I know that this is just another one of those valleys in a person's training process that one must work through, but I came from having a dog that was totally in tune with me to one that I'm having to learn. We're working on a relationship, and tuning our multifaceted orchestra, and right now, the winds are drifting flat and they're throwing me off. I'm still trying to keep praising her as I go into the street and she shows initiative. I'm still trying to show her love and pets and hugs. She goes into the street most times. But it's those times that she's afraid of the traffic and is overcautious, that's hard.
Thinking positively though, the route was really long. Shannon said that she did a really good job traveling through a really dark passageway near some construction. I had no idea how well dogs can see due to the fact that her eyes reflect available light much like night vision goggles. I guess that that's why animal's eyes glow at night. She did well following, turning and zigging around the park in the middle of town, and crossing most streets. I have some things I need to work on, but I think we're progressing. Shannon had lots of tips for me, and I'm still digesting it all, but I think the take home message was that I have things to work on, but that we're working towards fixing them, and Velvet's working hard to keep me safe and making me happy. It was a tougher trip, a longer trip, than I expected it to be, but it was good overall. I continue to be worried about a lot of things, falling on the top of my list, and trusting Velvet not far behind, and that didn't help me in showing Velvet that I was confident. I think Velvet wasn't too scarred, she got crazy again this evening and bounded around on the bed before I could catch her, so I guess she's feeling ok ... like me, tired but ok.
And with that, and a long entry behind me, I need to rest and recover. Perhaps tomorrow will be a soggy yet good day. Maybe it won't be soggy, but somehow I doubt that will be the case. I know one eventuality that will happen, and that will be the calling of my soft bed.