Guide Dog Equipment and Upkeep


Did you know there are three parts to a harness?

 

At the top of the picture is the harness handle, followed by on the left is the body of the harness and in the bottom right there is the small belly strap.

There is the harness handle: 

 

There is the body of the harness:

There is the belly strap:

Other common pieces of equipment for guide dog teams are the leash (of course), the collar (different collars are used but many from GDB use martingale collars), and many guide dog teams often use gentle leaders as well. (No, they aren’t muzzles). A martingale collar is where it has a few chain links (not prongs), so that if you need to do a correction, you can, but the rest of the collar is fabric so it is comfortable for the dog. A gentle leader is a piece that goes across the dog’s nose and behind their neck and is very useful to a blind handler to feeling where the dog’s head is moving so that they can make necessary corrections if needed, but also many guide dogs are on their “tip top behavior” when wearing this.
A few months ago, I started to notice a few different things about Makiko’s equipment:

1) It was looking pretty beat up/used. I noticed it needed to be cleaned and spruced up a little bit. Why does this matter? Makiko and I are constantly in many different professional environments for work, but every single guide dog team is also an ambassador for their school and also the guide dog community as a whole. Makiko is an extension of me. I care about my appearance and care about hers, but I also care about the equipment’s appearance.

2) I also have been noticing over the past year or so that there has been more of a gap between Makiko’s body and the harness. At a recent guide dog event, I heard a few other handlers say that they have also had this problem.

3) Makiko’s collar was getting pretty worn out and pretty quickly after adjusting it to be tighter, it would go back to being loose. So, our field rep also sent us a new martingale collar.

So here is what I decided to do about it:

My boyfriend and I stopped at Home Depot when we were out running errands. We got “Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.” This stuff did WONDERS. We had purchased some leather polisher a few months ago but read on “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a group I admin on Facebook, that really it should be washed first with something that works well with leather. It took me all of 15 minutes with this leather cleaner and a shop towel to really get her harness looking better. (Why didn’t I do this a few years ago?)

When our field rep, Michelle, was out a few months ago, I showed her the concern I had with the gap in the harness. We discussed a few different reasons it could be there, such as the leather just slightly changing shape. She suggested that she send us a body piece that is one size smaller and see how it fits. She sent this to us awhile ago but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it until just now. Since we were working on her equipment, we figured that it would be a good time to do it. So far, we are pleased. Why does this gap matter? Most importantly, having less of a gap can increase the amount of feedback the guide dog handler can get from the harness. It could also potentially make her a little more comfortable (although I don’t think she was really uncomfortable at all in the first place).

The harness body on the left is the one that Makiko has worn for 4 years. It has a pretty distinct shape and has been thoroughly worn. The harness body on the right appears to be brand new. It looks “squished” because it hasn’t been worn and the leather is quite stiff. 
In this picture, you can see the gap between her body and her chest strap, right above her shoulder. This is with the old harness body. 
This is a picture of her with the new harness body. You can see barely any gap. It does need to be worn in a little bit but looks significantly better fitting. 
My view looking down at Makiko in harness. (Note: There is no leash because we are simply just trying on the harness)

She also gave us a new martingale collar to try out. I didn’t take a picture of it because it looks exactly the same as the old one but if you’d like to see it, let me know.

So now we will put it all to the test tomorrow as we go to work and about our day and see how she seems to feel it in and how it feels to me as we work. I’ll bring the other piece along just in case something does go wrong or bothers her.

Did you know that a full harness can cost as much as $500 for this specific type from GDB? That’s pretty wild, huh? Thanks to the generous donations of donors to GDB, we don’t have to pay when we have equipment problems like this. If we lose it once, we do get it replaced at no charge to us but if we lose it again, we do have to pay for it. I know weird things happen, but to me it’d be pretty hard to lose something like this. 🙂

GDB is so incredible in supporting the guide dog team throughout the whole process and I have been nothing but pleased. They are very innovative and receptive and want to find what makes the most sense and works the best for each guide dog team. They also recognize that what works best and is necessary might change over time and they are totally cool with working through each team as they go through any changes.

Would YOU show ID?


Would YOU show ID if it helped prevent fake service dogs from getting access to public establishments they shouldn’t be in and therefore harmed the reputation of service dogs in the eyes of public establishment owners and staff?

I have posted a few blog posts about fake service dogs. A fellow guide dog owner recently shared this link:

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Blogger-Dog-owners-flaunting-rules-bringing-pets-in-stores-225280172.html?tab=video&c=y

Fake service dogs are becoming more of a problem and really, it’s just ridiculous. One common suggestion is to require individuals with service dogs to keep ID’s on them that show their dog really is a service dog. Because remember as it is stands currently, an establishment is only allowed to ask someone two questions: 1) Is your dog a service dog? and 2) What tasks is your dog trained to perform? So with Makiko all I would have to answer is, “yes” and “guiding me.” Also remember that one can easily purchase service dog gear (and certification for that matter) online.

The reason these are the two questions only allowed to be asked is for privacy reasons. Guide dogs pretty much tell straight away what their handler’s disability is but some service dogs work with handler’s who don’t have so much of a visible disability, such as individuals with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or seizure alert dogs. These individuals appear to be “normal,” or without a disability but in reality they really do. So not requiring them to show ID protects their privacy.

Personally, I would be okay with being required to show a service dog ID. The way I see it is regardless of what type of service dog you have and if your disability is invisible or visible, the service dog alone shows that you have a disability. I’d also like to think that most people have a certain level of dignity and respect that if they ask for your ID they won’t go telling all the staff or others around what your disability is, if that was a concern of yours. Showing ID would then help deter individuals from portraying their pets as service dogs and getting access to places their dogs shouldn’t be allowed.

Remember, the reason it’s a big deal, as discussed in the article/video above, is service dogs more than likely have stellar behavior. Other dogs have been known to use the restroom, chew, bite, sniff, lick, smell, shed, and do other inappropriate things. This puts a bad taste in the staff’s mouths and a true service dog handler may not have the same level of care, access, and services that they would have been if the establishment didn’t have the bad experience with the fake service dog.

So if the federal government was to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to allow establishments to be able to ask for identification, what is to say that people won’t get fake service dog IDs much like people get fake ID’s to get access to bars or other age restricted locations? There are already sites that sell fake service dog certifications, I can only imagine this business would grow if this were to become the law. And that disgusts me, it really does, but I don’t really know of a solution.

The other problem with that is currently a service dog doesn’t have to come from a professional school. Service dogs can be trained by an individual, even the service dog handler. So then what would happen when ID’s were mandated? Would these service dog handlers be required to go through a course or certification test? I don’t see a problem with that but it would be an additional obstacle that one would have to jump through to be able to get the same access rights as their peer service dog handlers who went through an official or certified school.

One last thing, even as the current ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is written, a dog who is jeopardizing the safety of another, such as trying to bite, or is defecating or something of that nature, the public establishment CAN ask the service dog to leave. Maybe if more asked dogs who exhibited bad behavior to leave, it would help weed out the fake service dogs? I’m not sure.

So here is my question to you, whether you are an able-bodied person, a person with a disability who also has a service dog, or a person with a disability who doesn’t have a service dog or is looking into getting a service dog in the future, how do you think the problem of fake service dogs should be remedied? Do you think requiring ID’s is the answer? I am really interested in what you have to say.

Would you go up to a pregnant stranger and rub her belly? Do you pet with your mouth?


I would sure hope not. What about taking it down a step and just petting a random stranger’s arm? No? Well there is no difference between petting a pregnant woman’s belly, petting a stranger’s arm, and petting a person’s guide dog or service dog. Seriously. This has just gotten out of control and I am sorry if you feel like I have ranted about this a lot lately, but this is OBNOXIOUS. I was pretty much at my point of being almost angry today and so I feel the need to share why. Do you have popcorn? What about a soda? You may need something because you’re in for the long haul on this one.

We did a decision-making activity in class last night and my “decision” was whether or not to tell every single person that tries to touch Makiko it’s NOT okay. I had to weigh the pros and the cons. Afterward, I was asked about how many times a day we are interfered with. I said 5 on days I just work in my apt and then go to class and 10 on other days. And it is sometimes in between there, sometimes greater, sometimes less. But then this got me thinking and it really doesn’t matter the number as much as the level of impact each individual has. And lately these people have been coming out of the cracks and really impacting us.

So I’ve obviously explained the first part of the title of this post and I’m guessing a lot of you are wondering about the second part. One of my very best friends has a guide dog and we were talking about us having issues with the public. It is going to happen to us ALL. One of the guide dog handlers on a forum I am on said to me, “Welcome to the guide dog community and lifestyle.” And I’m TOTALLY for advocating, and I will continue to tell the people, even if its the same people that I’m telling over, and over again. But anyways, back to our discussion. So we were talking about some experiences we have had recently. She admitted that her dog is probably pet a lot more than she is aware of because she cannot see much of anything anymore. I notice it and I will not stand for it any longer. These dogs are really smart, that is how they are guide dogs. Even if you don’t say their name, if you make eye contact with them, use a certain pitch, have certain body movements, they WILL pick up on it and think you’re talking about them.. aka “petting with your mouth.” If Makiko tries to get your attention, you can tell me subtly but don’t do anything directed anyway toward her direction and you won’t be “petting with your mouth.” Oh how I love that phrase!

Another analogy for you– would you run up to a blind person unannounced, take away their cane, spin them around in many circles, and then run away with their cane? No. Their cane is essentially their eyes and my guide dog is mine. You just don’t do that. This was an analogy my good friend also gave me. Dang I have a lot of great support from individuals with disabilities and without alike. I’ve also thought about saying, “You do realize that you are putting me at risk of getting killed AND harming the $30,000 training of a guide dog? Would you like to pay that money all back AND face legal action?” Now that might be a little extreme but it’s the truth. When I said $30,000 just to clarify, the total cost to place a guide dog with a handler over their lifetime together is close to $60,000 but I’ve heard different smaller numbers about the formal training of the dog part of it. Another one– how would you feel if you, as sighted person, were crossing the street and suddenly someone came and blindfolded you. You knew you weren’t being kidnapped, you were just going to have to make it across the street blindfolded. You heard the surge of traffic coming at you and after you passed the median you knew there were cars also coming in the other direction. You know you’re going to get hit if you stay there, you can’t go back, you can’t go forward, you can’t go to the left or right, or at least you don’t think you can. This is kind of what it feels like when you seriously distract a guide dog from their work. You don’t know what to do, the dog has lost focus, and you’re stuck and your safety is seriously jeopardized. Not cool.

So why does this make me so mad? I could tolerate it until most recently when now it is somewhat reversing Makiko’s training on distractions from people. She still handles the mass vajority of interactions fine. With people who COMPLETELY ignore her and don’t laugh when she does something to the point where she knows she’s getting attention, even if you think it’s subtle (it’s not to her–she’s smart), Makiko doesn’t bother. A few of my classmates have worked really hard to learn all the rules and 99.9% of the time because they DO follow the rules, Makiko doesn’t go to them. For example, I went to lunch with one of them today and Makiko sees this lovely lady at least twice a week. This gal has a dog so probably has some scent on her from it, and this gal is very sweet. She doesn’t pay any attention to Makiko and Makiko rarely ever pays attention to her. Fabulous.. that’s how we need it to work. Now sometimes there are people who also really try hard but Makiko gives them a sniff now and again and that’s not their fault, we gotta work on that ourselves.

With some people, strangers and friends alike, when she is in harness she will make an attempt to do something like rub her nose up against them or something similar and that is NOT okay. And it isn’t this poor girls fault really. I mean, yes, she should know better, but so should I and so should the public. I should have spoken up more and the public needs to keep their hands off. So I was upset about this and I had been wanting to call the Guide Dogs for the Blind Licensed Professional Counselor who is trained to help us with situations like this (for free!) and she helped me a lot. She said many things that were significant. One of the reasons that I am afraid to tell friends more than strangers is because I don’t want to offend them. I like that they like Makiko and they think she’s cute, I love that they support us, and I love them so of course I don’t want to offend them. With strangers I’m not so much worried about this. But what this counselor said to me was, “why is it okay for them to offend you and you not to offend them?” Now she didn’t mean that in the way like they do something, you do it back, but she meant it in the way that they are offending us, whether unintentionally or intentionally, by distracting my eyes and teaching my eyes something that will eventually jeopardize our safety. We are still very much in the bonding stage and still learning what’s okay and what’s not and that cannot be taught to her that its okay. Because right now I’m almost positive her way of thinking is “Oh, someone comes up to talk to Jess or Jess talks to this person for awhile, I get attttentionnnnn.” Sorry sweetie, that’s not how it works. Another thing that this counselor said to me was that I can tell the people that I have to correct this poor sweet little girl who really didn’t do much wrong because of THEIR actions and they led her to believe she can do something she can’t. And this makes total sense. Think about it if you have two toddlers at your house, one being your own and one being a close friend’s child, if the close friend’s child teachers your child something really wrong, you’re going to reprimand that child right? This is a very similar situation and you also have to reprimand your child for doing the wrong action because you don’t want it to continue but your child really didn’t do much wrong on his/her own.

This led to another something that was said to me and that was, “You really don’t like correcting Makiko do you?” I replied, “No, I don’t like correcting Makiko, who likes correcting their baby?” to which this person said, “No, I get the feeling that you don’t like being the alpha in the relationship.” I somewhat agree and somewhat don’t. I don’t like correcting her, but I will. It sucks, but I will. She is part of me though and if someone offends me, I’ll most likely speak up so I really need to extend this to her.

I sent a message to my Guide Dog instructor last night simply saying, “The public is obnoxious. They really have no hands-off concept.” She replied, “It would be interesting to do a study on which rude people will pet first – a pregnant woman’s belly or a guide dog?” Interesting idea, huh? She also told me that one of the individuals she trained would end situations/”conversations” by saying, “Sorry, I’m running late for an appointment with the restroom,” and that would suddenly make people move out of the way. I found this hilarious and I really bet it IS effective but I don’t know if I could ever put that to use, haha.

These are situations that have all happened in the past week and you’re going to think I’m joking on some of these because they are just THAT obnoxious but I’m dead serious.

  1. An individual prances around in front of my dog because she is scared. She is doing like the scared jump prance but just kind of does it RIGHT in front of us. She doesn’t move AWAY from us, she just shrieks and jumps. And she wasn’t faking it to be obnoxious. Not entirely sure I understand this reaction.
  2. A little kid is walking by us with her Mom and she just swipes her hand all the way down Makiko. Now I understand that this little girl is too young to understand and her Mom DID correct her, so while it was frustrating I understood and didn’t get upset about this one.
  3. A Mom goes “Look there’s a cute little doggie. Why don’t you go pet her?” And then encourages the daughter over and over again to come pet Makiko until she does. I didn’t hear this but another person informed me of this after. Um, this just blows my mind. The daughter obviously doesn’t want to pet the dog, she doesn’t even know she’s not SUPPOSED to, yet the Mom who SHOULD know is encouraging her dog to? Oi.
  4. Makiko and I are at a halt and Makiko makes contact with the person whether that be by eye or touch and the person “pets with their mouth,” by saying in a high pitched tone “No, I’m not gonna pet you.. No, I’m not.. No, I’m not sweetie pie..” or some variation of that. This has happened multiple times.
  5. When I get locked out, someone comes to let us into the apartment, I can’t see a thing because it’s night time and I didn’t honestly even know the person was there until I feel Makiko doing something weird. Oh, hello there, sir. Now I don’t know if he knows I am blind so this is one of those situations where I should have stood up and spoken up more but stillll dude.. her “Guide dogs for the Blind” thing IS reflected and you ARE sighted.

I’m working on getting a sign. I have a different harness than the standard GDB harness so I have to contact the company to make sure it will fit. The actual sign isn’t that expensive it’s the sleeve that fits the harness that is the expensive part and really that’s been my hesitation about getting it, is the price. But now it’s come to putting a price on my sanity and safety, and there is no price label for that so I’m going to get one if it will work.

And this even carries over to letting your dog “mount” my dog, tackle my dog, play with my dog, run in front of my dog, try to tease my dog, etc. YOUR dog is under YOUR ownership and if YOU think it’s amusing or if YOU don’t control YOUR dog, then YOU are offending ME and I will do what I need to do, within reasonable limits and the law, to defend MY dog who is actually PART of me and MY eyes. People just don’t seem to get the picture. I took a night walk around my complex with Makiko tonight. I don’t normally do that but I felt like it tonight. She was in harness of course because I couldn’t see anything, at all. Suddenly Makiko is acting strange and I know it’s either a dog or a person. It’s a dog. Gosh darn it! And this dog is practically bouncing in front of Makiko, licking Makiko, etc. We can’t continue on. I hear people nearby at the basketball court and I yell, “Can you please get your dog?” Nobody responds, dog’s still there. Okay I really think they didn’t hear me this time so I yell again, “Um, Hello? I’m blind and this dog is interfering with us.” No response. “Can you PLEASE get your dog? My guide dog really needs to get back to work.” And then they start calling their dog. I don’t think they were doing this on purpose and I think they did take me seriously but their dog was still off leash and still an nuisance and Makiko and I are trying hard to correct our behaviors with dogs and other people but it’s really hard to do in situations like that. I corrected her, corrected the people, but my power over the other dogs is virtually nonexistent.

One person recommended I use the Gentle Leader. I have thought about that. The public often thinks it’s a muzzle but it’s not. They can still eat, drink, bark (although guide dogs don’t bark) with it on. It’s just a better way to control their heads and especially for a person with a visual impairment, it is a great way to feel the direction their head is going so you can catch the occasional sniff or you can catch if their head is going towards someone that is going to pet her, etc. I may do this but I have mixed feelings. I think it would be beneficial in that I could control her head a little more and have more knowledge of where her head is going. But then that brings up another underlying issue and that is I am a perfectionist and I am self-conscious and I hate to admit when there is a problem. Makiko is an amazing dog and she is one of the best dogs you will ever meet and I don’t want to tarnish that opinion in other people’s minds by putting on a Gentle Leader. Part of me thinks that’s admitting that we aren’t doing something right, and that’s partially true. Makiko shouldn’t be doing that and I should be speaking up more. But if the public just kept their hands (and dogs) off we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with. I’m still thinking about this one though. I guess we’ll see how tomorrow goes. We’ll be out in public a lot. It’s just with the occasional person though that she goes up to them, but its with what seems near every stranger that comes up to her so that makes it a bit harder to gauge.

Another person even recommended getting a taser for the times when a specific dog or two constantly comes at us. I don’t think I could ever taser a dog (or a person) though. Another person has said if I’m feeling brave I can just start petting the person. I mean after all they are petting an extension of me right? Again, not brave enough to do this one. I’ve also been told that I should really get mad at the people because that will make them take us more seriously. I could do this more easily than the other two suggestions but then the fear of me being a small female and them being larger males comes into play and jeopardizing my safety that way, etc. I’ve been told a way someone handles this situation is “I know my dog is irresistible but you really need to try, thanks!” I’ve also been told that when they say, “I know I’m not supposed to touch the dog but he’s just so cute. I’m really trying though,” you can reply, “Great, thanks, try harder.” Snarky, but probably conveys the point. I could probably do the irresistible comment, maybe the snarky comment depending on who it is. For the situations that happen around the complex, it was suggested that I contact my apartment complex office and ask them to include it in the newsletter or put it up in every building and the office door. I have thought about this but I have already gone to them about one situation awhile back with the aggressive German Shepherd and I really don’t want to put a bad taste in their mouths about me as a guide dog handler so I’m holding off on this one for now. I don’t want to be a nuisance.  I’ve posted this situation in a guide dog forum and have gotten a lot of feedback (aka all the above). I knew this and I’ve experienced it before but not in a long while. (I say that like I’ve had Makiko for a long time but I really haven’t.) Some people will think even though they know they can’t pet the dog, because we can’t see, they can pet the dog without us knowing. Except that’s not the case many times. We are very in-tune with our dog and their movements and behaviors that we can many times detect when something is up. With me being partially sighted, I can many times see them but sometimes if they land in just the right spot I can’t but I do often know something’s up by the way Makiko is acting. Some guide dog users have funny stories about different ways they have shocked the public when they tried to do this. Again, not yet brave enough I don’t think but I’m not really sure on that one.

I mean think about this, we all know that with children or animals, you have to embed in them what is right and what is wrong from the very beginning. If Makiko thinks that getting distracted and not paying attention to what is around us with her full attention and instead paying partial attention to me and partial attention to whomever or whatever has decided to be a royal pain, when she grows older this will still be the case. We could be crossing a street.. BAM there’s another dog, and we’re stopped and we get hit. I mean, this is not an extreme case. This very well could happen. However, I will say that so far Makiko’s distractions have never put us in jeopardy. They have always been when we were in a safe area or stopped/halted. It is STILL not okay, but Makiko has always put our safety first and I have honestly not been this safe in years.

I saw a quote online tonight that said, “One person’s dog is another person’s perspective.” This was used by a puppy raiser on Tumblr who was talking about the sacrifice it takes for them and how hard it is for them to give the dog up at the end of their one year commitment but that dog WILL likely go on to be so much more and will be that person’s perspective who has a visual impairment.

Just a fair warning, this post may be edited over the next day or so. I won’t be taking anything away, just adding things that I’ve heard from others and that I feel relevant to this rant. All of the things that I wrote above were my perspectives as well as other guide dog users perspectives on what it is like to distract a guide dog, and many times you may not realize you’re doing it. One of my friends said during the first day of class, “You’re basically supposed to pretend they are not there,” and for most purposes that would be really cool if people did. I’m not really talking about my classmates. I mean one here or there will do something but its mostly others. Thank goodness that I’m in the Rehabilitation profession and don’t have to deal with that much in class. I’m sorry if I pushed the point too far into the ground but it all needed to be said and all the ways others phrased it to me I felt needed to be mentioned.

So here’s my challenge to my friends and family. If you are with me and you see someone petting Makiko with their hands or their mouth, I should tell EACH and every one of them that it’s not okay. I need to keep reinforcing it regardless of whether it is a stranger, a professor, a friend, or a family member. Cough, remind me, do something to give me the hint, please, that I’m not doing what I know I need to do. “Sorry I’m not sorry” if I offend you or if I come across as being one of those nasty words. You all KNOW how much I did not like using a cane (most of you do at least), you all know how much freedom I have with Makiko know and you know how important both Makiko and maintaining a busy lifestyle is for me. So much of that will be taken from me if I can’t trust her because she does these things. I won’t be mean when I tell others about the rules, I really won’t, but I will stand up for what is best for my guide dog and me as a working team and if you take offense to that because I’m getting stricter and confronting you.. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry.” 🙂 “Time to be a tiger” as one friend recently told me.

Sincerely,
Jess and Makiko, a very hard working girl who is confused by the obnoxious public

P.S. Since posting this, I have received a little more insight into Makiko’s childhood and she did this then too. So it’s in her nature and I just need to kind of find a compromise. Makiko is a very social dog and does love people WAY more than dogs and I love this about her, we just gotta figure this out while working. Her puppy raiser also told me she calls the Gentle Leader an “intelligence collar” because often the dog goes back to their puppy raising days when they had to wear them all the time and of course be on their best behavior so sometimes they revert back to that super good behavior. I’m still thinking about when I’m going to use it though. I also want others to know that I wrote this when I was tired and therefore a little bit more emotional. I am really not that hard on Makiko about this issue at all. I probably should be a little more firm and that’s what I’m working on as described above. I am hard on myself but I’m working on this too and that’s mostly because I don’t want a bad habit to develop that will really affect us in the future and when I’m trying to talk to someone it’s hard because I can’t see to determine if she’s soliciting attention and that is drawing somebody to us or if that stranger is just being obnoxious. Most of the time it’s the latter but I still need to redevelop things so that I know most of the time it’s not Makiko’s fault at all, ya know? Last, I will be hard on the public, I really don’t care about that. Or I’m trying not to. 🙂

Day 7 at GDB


Well, today was our hardest day yet. It was full of emotions and I’ll explain why.

Wednesday was Dad’s birthday so I was a little on edge that day but managed to get through it. I have kind of suppressed a lot of my grieving because I want to really concentrate on Makiko these two weeks. Well, I think it might have caught up to me a little bit because today I was more emotional but I couldn’t directly relate it to Dad.

Morning routine was normal.. food, water, relieve. It was our last time relieving together as a group. Breakfast at 7:30, I had scrambled eggs. Then we all got our stuff together for the day and headed to Portland. On the way to board the bus we had, of course, another dog distraction. Each day it gets a little more intense. This time one of the instructors stood about 100 feet away from another instructor and they had a dog run back and forth between the two. Makiko did great. I was very proud of her. I worked my normal route and then the instructor changed it up again so I wouldn’t know what to expect and neither would Makiko and so we practiced a little more. Since I am partially sighted and will eventually lose what little I have left, they put a blindfold on me to practice doing everything that way for when that does happen. I didn’t mind not being able to see as much as I didn’t like that thing on my face. We also wanted to practice this because at night I don’t have any vision at all. However, I think I’ll be more comfortable then than with a blindfold. With the blindfold, I did really well. I only had one issue and that was as we were crossing a street I felt the train tracks and that through me off so I missed Makiko’s cue for the upcurb. Ah well we reworked it and got it right the second time. After that route we went to work escalators. That is an interesting task — getting on an escalator with your dog. We did Juno practice first, so without Makiko and only me holding onto the harness and leash with my instructor holding onto the other end. When we finally used Makiko it went really well. She’s such a good girl! Then we came back to our dorm/campus and we had french onion soup and a delicious salad. Oh man that was a fabulous lunch. Then we had a lecture soon after, I think. During that lecture I got really sick. I got a horrific migraine, sound was miserable, I fell asleep (partially because of the migraine and partially because of the early rising). Instructor caught me, hah. They understand because it’s a lot of work but they still give me a hard time. It’s really funny because several other classmates were also drifting off but they cheated because they had sunglasses on still so they couldn’t tell. After the lecture, I went to my room, started puking so when I settled down I went to the nurse’s office and she gave me Tylenol and then I passed out (as in fell asleep really fast) and when I woke up I was fine. So I had missed a little bit with my instructor but not much. I cried when I got back to my room because I didn’t want to miss out working with Makiko and I was just feeling so horrible and also the instructor who gave me a hard time hurt my feelings. I’m telling ya, my emotions were on edge today.

Today we had goal meetings, overhead clearances, campus orientation, and free run scheduled in the afternoon. The goal meeting is a meeting to discuss where we are right now with our dog in terms of how we feel and how the instructor feels and what we want to get out of our next week. We then discussed lifestyle and what kinds of things we do when we return home so she can help us obtain the skills to work with our dog in these environments. I did really well and it was great. Next week should be a blast but a lot of work, of course. So I did the goal meeting but we weren’t able to do anything else before my instructor had to leave. So when the person who stays overnight, who is a Canine Welfare Assistant, came she took me out to the free run to let Makiko loose and then also showed me around campus. Oh my goodness my girl can RUNNNN!  She is super duper fast. There is this trail that winds around campus through beautiful trees and it has benches along the way. They named it, of course, the “Oregon Trail.” Tomorrow is a free day and we have the opportunity to get off campus for a little while but we would have to leave the dog at home. Since I have been so tired this week and not feeling well today, I’m thinking I may stay at home. But to get the “mental health” break, I may take Makiko and go cruise the trail. I’m actually really excited about that. A cool thing about the trail is they have these little “speed bumps” in the road so when we are coming to a fork in the road, we can feel the speed bump to tell us. There are all these little nifty things that I never would have thought of. We got to see where the Visitor’s Center is and the kennels.

After that I went to dinner. There were other times in there where we watered, fed and relieved our dog but that’s becoming so natural I forget to mention it. Dinner was delicious as well, I remember that but I can’t remember what it was off the top of my head. I’m telling ya, I’m exhausted. After dinner was free time, I went back to my room to talk to one of my best friends for a bit and then two of my classmates each came to my door to invite me to watch a movie with them. I thought that was super sweet. So we ended up staying out there for many hours, watching the movie, letting our dogs play, and talking. It was truly wonderful after an emotional day.

It was really cute. So “E” brought her black labrador and his chew bone. Then “H”, her dog, me, and my dog also came but we didn’t bring our dog’s bones just because we didn’t think about it. Well then when Makiko started nibbling on the other dog’s bone while they were sitting next to each other, I decided to go get Makiko’s bone. Then when I brought it out, the last dog decided he was going to go steal Makiko’s bone. Makiko is so sweet she allowed it. But I fight for her and I got her bone back lol. So then “H” went and got her dog’s bone and they were all happy except her dog still stole Makiko’s bone and they kind of switched for awhile and then when I wasn’t paying attention, Makiko wouldn’t have ANY bones lol. Poor girl. She is such a sweetheart. There are old couch cushions that they have if we ever want to sit on the floor so we all got them. “H” got hers first and her dog decided HE wanted the cushion. (Pictures below). Then my dog and “E’s” dog decided to share my cushion for a bit. So then we settled in and she laid on my lap, as always. I decided halfway through the movie that I wanted to lay down so I laid down with the cushion as my pillow and then Makiko just curled up on the pillow by my head. It was adorable. So we just laid there the whole time together.

I will tell you what, Makiko is just amazing for me. We have already bonded so much and if you know me, I really love hugs and cuddling. She has been perfect for me and today when it was rough I really really loved having her cuddles and love. Close to midnight we all decided it was probably time to go to bed. We relieved our dog one final time before we went.  Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you about that. When we got back from Portland today we got to relieve our dogs on our patio/run area for the first time. My dog is the ONLY dog that pooped out there right away and I think she’s the only one that pooped out there today period. The other dogs are taking a little more getting used to it. She peed too! lol. TMI? She’s such a great girl! She even comes and sits by my side after she poops instead of trying to go sniff out her poop like a lot of dogs do. It is nice to have her relieving in the patio/run area because now in the mornings and evenings especially I can be in my pajama’s and just walk outdoors and relieve her. The patio connected to my living area of my room is for relieving and the patio connected to my bedroom area is for relaxing. The staff water down the relieving patio quite often so it is nice and clean. I’m still responsible for picking up the poop though and throwing it in the bin.

Can you believe I graduate a week from today? The 16th I graduate and the 17th I fly back. Monday we’re gonna work on the overhead clearances that I didn’t get to learn today. Next week we have night routes, learning another route, a mall, a park, an outdoor shopping area, escalators, public transit, visiting with the veterinarian, having another goal meeting, graduation, graduation photos, etc.

Today I also heard from Makiko’s puppy raiser. She is so sweet. She probably won’t be able to come to graduation because it is super expensive. You see, the puppy raisers don’t get notified until approximately 10 days before graduation that a dog they raised is in class. The school doesn’t tell them until they are fairly sure that the dog they raised is going to be a good match. So at that point if you’re flying from like Colorado where my puppy raiser is, airline tickets are insanely expensive then she would have to probably get a rental car and a hotel room. That’s just too expensive. However, since I’m in Denver a lot I’m hoping we can meet up sometime soon. I’ll be there twice in the next 3 months so that should give us a good opportunity to meet. She has pictures and a present for me!! That’s exciting. I can’t wait to see what Makiko was like as a puppy.

So tomorrow is a free day. We still have to wake up and relieve our dogs but then I’m going to go back to sleep. Wake up around 11 hopefully, go to brunch (which is open for many hours), go to the gift shop to buy a few things hopefully, and then do laundry and nap and hang out with Makiko the rest of the day. I think the outing would exhaust me as much as I do want to see Portland. However with everything else that we are doing and as much traveling we are doing to different destinations to practice, I feel like I am already getting a good tour around Portland so that’s not that crucial. We’ll also take a few cruises/walks around campus so that’ll be nice. 🙂 I just hope the weather holds up nice for us. NO RAIN! I’m hoping tomorrow I can get plenty of rest and recover and get ready for the week. I also have 11 more Dr. Peppers to drink before the trip is over so I’m going to use them as a technique to stay awake so I don’t get teased anymore haha. It’s time to get sleep folks so here are a few pictures. I posted a ton of pictures on Facebook tonight because I had been posting photos here but not there.

These two dogs (Bamboo is the black labrador female and Corbett is the yellow labrador male) just LOVE to cuddle up with each other and love on each other. They stole Corbett's owner's seat cushion.
These two dogs (Bamboo is the black labrador female and Corbett is the yellow labrador male) just LOVE to cuddle up with each other and love on each other. They stole Corbett’s owner’s seat cushion.
Bamboo is the dog in the back and she is 46 lbs. Makiko is the dog in the front and she is 50 lbs. They both look almost identical and they both stole MY cushion at one point haha.
Bamboo is the dog in the back and she is 46 lbs. Makiko is the dog in the front and she is 50 lbs. They both look almost identical and they both stole MY cushion at one point haha.
I know this may be strange but her paws are so soft and adorable I had to take a picture :)
I know this may be strange but her paws are so soft and adorable I had to take a picture 🙂
This is what the harness looks like when the handle is removed.
This is what the harness looks like when the handle is removed.
I wanted to get a good picture of her curled up on my lap (her whole body is on my lap while I"m sitting cross-legged) so I had to take a picture with my arms outstretched above me.
I wanted to get a good picture of her curled up on my lap (her whole body is on my lap while I”m sitting cross-legged) so I had to take a picture with my arms outstretched above me.
My cuddle bug and a picture of me with her :)
My cuddle bug and a picture of me with her 🙂
Another picture of my sweet cuddle bug. I took so many pictures because i just think this is adorable and it shows how loving she is.
Another picture of my sweet cuddle bug. I took so many pictures because i just think this is adorable and it shows how loving she is.
I was leaning down to kiss Makiko and take a picture when she let out a big yawn :)
I was leaning down to kiss Makiko and take a picture when she let out a big yawn 🙂
Makiko sleeping on my lap
Makiko sleeping on my lap
Another picture of my cute little cuddle bug with her front legs curled around my leg :)
Another picture of my cute little cuddle bug with her front legs curled around my leg 🙂

Day 5 at GDB


Today was a good day but I feel more exhausted than I have all the other days.

Normal routine — Wake up, feed, water, then relieve at 7am. We had breakfast at 7:30am. The breakfast was pretty good today but not as good as the other days. It was french toast with peach compote. The french toast was amazing, but I had never had peach compote before and quite frankly, didn’t really know what it was. So I got it, and it was alright. I love peaches, just the combination didn’t quite work for me. Afterwards we got our backpacks and equipment, relieved again, and got ready to load up. As we did yesterday, we walked by a dog distraction. Today it was a huge German Shepherd. Makiko was doing really really well and not paying attention to her, only our work, so the Class Supervisor had to get the dog really close to Makiko. The purpose of this is to practice what to do when our dog gets distracted. We are starting to work our dog in more situations now so that’s awesome. In the beginning we used our cane or sighted guide with the dog instead of working her everywhere. We had to learn the basics first but now we’re really “getting our hands dirty,” and it’s awesome! We loaded the caravan, myself, Makiko, another classmate, and her dog and then our trainer. We drove 40 minutes into Portland. I had several questions that I had thought of the night before so I asked them and then she went over some class material and then quizzed us a little bit. I got them right! 😛

In Portland, we got out of the car and both worked our dogs to the center. At the center, my classmate went out for about 45 minutes with the trainer first so that was kind of nice to relax a bit. I am not a morning person. The downside of that is I got a little sleepy. Working Makiko is amazing, it’s a blast and we just cruise and I have the ability to be confident that I won’t run into anything or anybody. It’s a wonderful feeling and she takes me right up to curbs, buildings, etc. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, of course. 🙂 Working her also gets my adrenaline running so that’s not such a bad thing in the morning.

When my classmate got back we went on our first route of the day. It was great. I am having a bit of difficulty with a few things but I’m slowly working it out. It’s like dancing.. you have to do things right so your partner will do things right. I might mess up, Makiko might mess up, but regardless WE mess up in the long run in terms of getting me to my destination and getting there in a timely and safe manner. With a lot of the guide work commands, there are foot movements, hand gestures for the right hand, specific instructions on what to do with your left hand that is holding the harness, and specific verbal commands. I got each of them on their own but combining them takes a little bit of practice. So there are a few things we need to work on, but that of course is why we have 2 weeks here. I can now see why some programs go 4 weeks but as I’ve said in earlier posts, thats just too much for my life right now.

I feel bad because I trip over Makiko a few times. Poor girl. I play with her after and kibble her for putting up with me but I really feel bad. I know that’s kind of expected since we ARE blind/visually impaired after all but that’s still not very fun for the doggies.

After my first route I had lunch. It was a clam chowder. Very yummy. Then, my classmate had to take a personal call so I went on a route with my instructor. Things went MUCH better this time and it really made me feel great. I texted my sister, Mom, and boyfriend after that that had been the most free I’ve ever felt with crossing streets. It was just amazing… that’s really the best way to describe it.

Yesterday we worked on backchaining which is if you recall a way to train a dog to go to a specific destination. We start at the destination, praise the dog and kibble her, then work back a few steps, tell her to find the destination, praise/kibble, step back even farther, repeat.. for a while. In the morning route we worked on this a little more and then on the afternoon route, when we were approaching the destination I commanded her to find the door to this building and she did just that! It was amazing and she was so proud of herself. It was great. We had some fun time after that. Yesterday we worked that route in 40 minutes because we were still learning a lot. Today we did it in 15. It’s in downtown Portland and today was quite busy with pedestrians, skateboards, smokers (oh man), bikers, trains, cars, dogs, little kids, etc. Makiko did wonderfully. We back-chained the starts to the center now that we have really learned how to do it so that I won’t have to listen for the environment around me to know when we get close and instead she will just take me to the steps.

Makiko is starting to learn our patterns though and it’s pretty cool. Tonight we left the fireplace lounge and I just casually told her we were gonna go to my room and she turned the right way and then we started trotting to the lounge. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So at the center, I waited a little bit for my partner to do her route. I ended up taking a nap. We are supposed to hold the leash at all times although Makiko is really really really good at just staying by me regardless. She usually doesn’t even move. Another dog today got away from her handler and the handler didn’t notice and the dog went for my dog’s bone that she was playing with. Makiko didn’t really care. She just sat still with the bone being taken away by the other dog until we really soon realized what was happening. I got my dog back and Makiko went back to playing with her bone. BUT the instructor wanted to teach me the hard way. Apparently when I was sleeping the leash slipped out of my hand so when the instructor came up and saw that, she got real excited and kind of called for Makiko and so she started going for her and I got her back. Now, I know what to do. Yesterday we were given carabiners that we have attached to our food pouch belt. When we don’t have a hand free or when we want to just have her attached to us for awhile like that we can put the leash in the carabiner. You better believe I’ll be doing that from now on.

So after my partner got done we worked our way to the car and then we headed to Fred Myers. It’s a grocery store here but apparently it has stuff that like a Home Depot and a regular store like Target would have. Interesting. We needed to learn how to handle a store. I didn’t learn how to do the cart because we aren’t supposed to do that for awhile because then that takes away the hand gestures and right now we depend on those. I worked the store with Makiko with my instructor standing far behind and giving us queues as to when to turn left, turn right, do a moving right, and a moving left. A standing turn and a moving turn are different and are kind of self-explanatory. A standing turn is when you are in one position and you want to turn right there. It has a certain combination of hand, voice, foot gestures that go with it. A standing turn is when you know you want to turn but aren’t exactly sure where or want the dog to decide, such as like if you want to turn down the next aisle or something, and it has it’s own combination of hand/foot/voice stuff to do with it.

At the store I got two things: shoelaces and mittens. I brought mittens (Mom really prepared me for the cold weather) but they were a little long. They went up my arm a little too much. Normally I would love this but since I sometimes have to get them off in a fast manner, they were getting in the way a bit. I borrowed one of the instructor’s extra pair and then bought some at the store. I also bought shoelaces. I love my vans but it was suspected that they didn’t give enough support so I switched to an extra pair of tennis shoes that I brought. However, I haven’t worn them in years so the shoelaces were a bit worn and were too short. They kept coming untied. So I bought new shoelaces and still need to re-lace my shoes.

After the store we came back, fed and watered our dog, relieved our dog, and then hung out for a bit before dinner. We had dinner (I had chowder again, but this time with vegetables– not sure why/how I ordered two chowders in one day), had a lecture on the Veterinary Assistance Program and the Alumni Association. The Veterinary Assistance Program gives graduates a certain amount of money each year to spend on wellness visits and flea/heart worm medication. They also help with more serious medical issues so that the dog always comes first and the graduate’s inability to pay does not affect the dog. I thought this was pretty neat. The Alumni Association is just as it sounds. All throughout the country, but not necessarily wherever guide dog handlers are, there are clubs or groups that meet that are made up of puppy raisers, handlers, etc. There is also a Speakers Bureau, which is when an organization would like somebody to speak about Guide Dogs they contact those who are signed up to speak. I am seriously considering that.

Speaking of that, a few weeks after I return with Makiko, we will be presenting to a Girl Scout troop about assistance dogs. A classmate will bring a service dog that she works with that is a therapy dog. She is in a wheelchair so she works with the dog around chairs. That should be a great adventure.

Okay, so after lecture we went back to our rooms for a bit, watered our dog, hung out, and then went out for relieving. I took a little nap (accidentally) in there and then after our relieving I played with Makiko, talked to family and my boyfriend, and then groomed Makiko. We had a good evening.

The weather was nice today so I’m hoping for it to be the same tomorrow. No rain is great!!! Haha. It rains a lot here. On the topic of water, Oregon water is very gross tasting. I mentioned this casually to one of the staff members today and she told me not to drink it because it’s bad well water. Well.. after how it tasted I don’t think that will be a problem.

Tomorrow shall be another crazy day so I must get some sleep now. However, as always, I’ll leave you with a few pictures. Sorry these posts are kind of lengthy. I’m partially blogging for you all, but partially blogging for me so that I can remember all this very clearly. Good Night! 🙂

I was on the left side of the car and my classmate was on the right. This is how our dogs were laying/slept on the way into Portland today. Isn't that just so adorable?!
I was on the left side of the car and my classmate was on the right. This is how our dogs were laying/slept on the way into Portland today. Isn’t that just so adorable?!
Makiko does this adorable thing where if we are playing or spending some fun time together, she'll just come, either from behind me or in front of me and just sit her bum in my lap and then curl up on me. It is the cutest thing ever!!!
Makiko does this adorable thing where if we are playing or spending some fun time together, she’ll just come, either from behind me or in front of me and just sit her bum in my lap and then curl up on me. It is the cutest thing ever!!! She is usually more in my lap than this but she has this weird thing about moving when there is a camera near/not looking towards the camera. 

 

I love my baby so much!
I love my baby so much!