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!