Monday, August 31, 2009

Dorena Sitting

This weekend we "puppy sat" Dorena. Glenn - who always has to give everyone a nickname - is calling her "Heavy D". She is a great pup. Always amazes me how different the personalities are. She settled in right away with the other dogs and cats - although, she LOVES to try to get the cats to play with her. She is just sure those hisses and swipes are an invitation to play. She is going to work with me today - and we are going to ride the new section of the light rail train which drops off just a few blocks from my work. Very exciting!

One of Glenn's work friends said that he is pretty sure he saw Honeydew in downtown Portland training the other day. Oh, to see her in action - that would be a treat.

Above is a picture of Dorena. She has the most amazing "cat eyes", they literally glow almost a honey topaz color in the sun. The other picture is of Honeydew meeting Dorena when she was a new baby - all dressed up for Halloween.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Phase Seven!

Oh my - The Dew is now in Phase Seven of her training. Only three more phases to go. I am totally blown away and excited. What a good girl! Who would of thought she would still be hanging in there.

She is currently working on obedience and distraction training in various environments and with new handlers. She is also doing advanced guidework training (yahoo!) in downtown urban areas - learning to negotiate difficult crossings, curb approach challenges and pedestrian islands.

I should start keeping an eye out for her when I am going to meetings downtown, maybe she will be out training. Of course, if I see her I can't let her see me - which would be sad - but boy it would be fun to hide behind a bush and watch her in action.

She is learning to keep her handler safe around traffic - even learning to back up when a vehicle gets too close. She is learning to make "emergency decisions" with traffic problems in order to keep her team safe. She is also learning how to inform her handler of objects that are totally blocking the travel path and then working out a route to go safely around them. She is also being trained to look up (above her head) for obstacles. Certainly don't want her walking her handler into a low hanging tree branch!

Keep up the good work Honeydew, we are so very proud of you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hunk a hunk a burnin' love!

As some may know...I have always had a big weakness for firemen...and if they are in a big red ladder truck (the type with a driver in the front and the back), then I absolutely swoon. So embarrassing! So, tonight, I was very excited that puppy class was going to be held at a local fire station! Hubba hubba!

It ended up being a great experience for the pups - they blew the air horn and ran the sirens. They even had a guy (probably the poor rookie) get dressed out in all of the gear so the pups could meet him. They also introduced the dogs to a medical transport gurney. All in hopes that the dogs will have seen and heard this emergency equipment before if and when their blind partner needs assistance or is caught in a fire.

I could have stayed there all night...but Glenn finally dragged me back home.

In the pictures:
1) Puppies learning about fire engines and fire fighters.
2) Pups listening to the sirens. Click on this for a closer view - my favorite picture of the night. All the pups have that cocked head - "Hey, what's that noise" look. Of course, unlike normal dogs - they aren't allowed to vocalize in response to the sound.
3) Another pup intently listening to the siren sounds.
4) Dorena greeting the fully dressed fireman. Funny how excited the pups were to great him - even though his gear smelled strongly of smoke and his voice was strange because he had the oxygen mask on.
5) Dogs investigating the gurney. Several of them slobbered on it - and one tried to jump up on it to go for a ride.

Phase Five!

Honeydew is now in Phase Five. Good for her! We are so proud of her. In this Phase, she is being tested for consistent responses to "Sit", "Down", "Heel", "Come" and "Stay." She is also exposed to heavy distractions (food, other dogs, toys) where she has to stay focused and respond to commands. This is the stuff that I think is likely the hardest for her - because she has always been so very interested in everything else that is going on around her, from other dogs to leaves blowing in the wind! She also has to refuse food when it is offered (e.g. someone trying to hand feed her a hot dog).

She is also now entering the formal harness training. This means she has full freedom to make decisions and some mistakes to normal guidework responses (e.g. stopping at streets, crossing streets in a straight line, moving forward at a constant pace, turning 90 degrees with command "left" or "right", etc.).

She also starts working with the instructor under a blindfold on urban/suburban street route (for distances of about 14 blocks). During these training exercises she has to understand the skills she needs to use to keep her handler safe, and she has to do obedience drills when distractions are present (e.g. a fun puppy across the street).

She does more challenging obstacle courses where she has to lead her handling through difficult obstacles, requiring her to develop problem solving skills and Intelligent Disobedience (which means, refusing to follow a command like "forward" if it isn't safe to do so). Amazing.

She also gets a lot more love and attention. They focus on providing extra relaxing time for the dogs during this progressively more stressful learning stage of formal guide dog training. She gets to play with other dogs, get groomed, play with her handlers and technicians, spend time hanging out at the desks of staff and relaxing walks through the gorgeous and forested campus. Good times Dew, good times!

We are thrilled that she is, technically, half-way to the finish line. BUT - so much can happen between now and Phase Ten, and each phase from here gets progressively more and more difficult to master. Good luck little miss Honeydew - we are all pulling for you!