<![CDATA[Christie Bane - Forward! The Guide Dog Training Blog]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 05:32:09 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[The Big CC for Elliott]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 20:41:02 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/the-big-cc-for-elliottElliott made it almost halfway into training and then said no thanks to the job of Leader Dog.

I can't say that this was entirely a surprise to me. Elliott was a great dog to live with and to work with. He was an enthusiastic worker when it came to learning new skills, and for the most part well-behaved in public. But over all these years training a lot of golden retrievers to be guide dogs, I have gotten pretty good at spotting "golden red flags," and I knew he had some. I never wrote about them when I was raising him. In case he did grow up to be a Leader Dog, I did not think his future handler really needed to know that when he was younger, I thought that he might not be suitable for the job. I mean, if I were a guide dog handler, I probably would not want my guide dog's puppy history out there on the Internet for everyone to see, at least not the full version. 

The biggest concern I had about him was that he did not handle stress well. It wasn't so much that he was afraid of THINGS, like noises, or unusual objects. I mean, he was afraid of those sometimes, but he always got over them quickly. He just didn't handle stressful situations well. Even when he was 13 months old, I still had to put a Gentle Leader on him when we went somewhere new, at least for the first half hour or so, because he was so busy processing the novelty that he had a really hard time responding to cues that he knew very well in familiar settings. His distraction level in new places was also exponentially higher than it was in familiar settings. It's not like he was ever completely without distraction, but in a new place it was like he couldn't whip his head around fast enough to look at every new moving thing he saw. 

Also, in new places, he had a lot of trouble sitting still. When he was about a year old, I took him to the triathlon club meeting at the brewery. He sat nicely for about twenty minutes in the crowded, noisy room, then started panting hard and standing up. I kept putting him back in a down and he kept popping back up. Finally he just started lunging to the end of the leash. He wasn't lunging for anything; he was just done with being in that room with too much happening. This is something I have seen from a lot of goldens, so many that I even have a name for it: the "golden breakaway." (This is not to imply that all goldens do it, that only goldens do it, or that goldens who do it sometimes will be career changed. It's just a thing I've noticed over the years that raises a concern in my mind when I see it.)

He never did the golden breakaway in familiar places. He could lie on the floor in the instructors' office for hours without moving at all. He was fine in quiet, familiar places, but not really fine in busy, unfamiliar places. Also, he growled at noises at night. He didn't start doing this until he was almost a year old, but once it started, it happened pretty regularly. He almost never barked, but there was a lot of menacing-sounding growling when things went "bump" in the night. I know perfectly well that this is not a good guide dog quality, and usually indicates some lack of soundness. Still, he had a lot of good qualities too. He could stay calm while people petted him, something a lot of goldens struggle with because Oh my God they just love people soooooooo much!! He was great to live with and never annoying in the house. He had good skills and it was very easy to teach him new things. Overall when I turned him in I gave him about a 50/50 chance of graduating. I was realistic enough to know what I was looking at, but I also know that a lot of goldens change and become more confident as they mature, so I thought there was a chance. I would not have put any money on either outcome, though. 

His instructors worked diligently with him, but in the end he just was not able to keep his head in the game enough to be responsible or keep someone safe. We had one of his sisters in our string and I saw the same qualities in her. She was a very sweet dog and I'm sure is an excellent pet, but it got to a point where keeping her in training was not fair to her. It was stressful and she didn't want to do it, and he was the same way. 

Elliott went to live with his "other mother," my co-raiser Ashley. Ashley and I may have been disappointed that he got career changed, but I am convinced the day that he got to go home was the best day of his life. Not only did he get to jump all over both of his mothers at the same time, he also got a tennis ball and a soft toy, both of which he had been deprived of his whole life because of the need to only give Future Leader Dogs safe toys like Kongs and Nylabones. And then he got to go home and get on furniture and sleep in the bed and live the easy life of a pet. This picture says it all. (Picture is a close-up of Elliott looking directly at the camera with a big tennis ball in his mouth and an expression of pure happiness on his face.)
Elliott was my eighth puppy and I still have not had one graduate. My first one was career changed for fears, the next five in a row were career changed for medical reasons, and the two after that were career changed for temperament issues. I would like to have one graduate some day, and I have high hopes for Sonora, who is definitely the nicest, most even-tempered puppy I've ever raised, but even after all of these career changes I do not enjoy puppy raising any less. I enjoy the process of raising and training a puppy and producing a nice dog at the end that will go on to make someone else's life better whether as a pet, a guide dog, or some other type of service dog. 
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<![CDATA[You Can Always Love Another One]]>Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:02:15 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/you-can-always-love-another-oneI wasn't going to get another puppy to raise right away. I had decided that a long time ago. I'm pretty sure it was the empty space on the passenger side of my car that made me change my mind. 

Elliott went back to Leader Dog for his formal training two weeks ago. Because his "other mom" (aka my co-raiser Ashley) had broken her wrist in June and wasn't physically able to handle him while she was in a cast, he spent most of the past few months with me, which was fine since he had entered that stage where the training was mostly done and he was nothing but a pleasure to live with. I got really used to having my little buddy there all the time. For me, there is always something comforting about having a puppy eager to jump up into the car and go with me. They don't care where we're going; they just want to go. I love looking down at them sleeping while I'm driving. All is right in the world when there's a quiet puppy sleeping on the passenger seat floor while I'm driving home. 

Elliott spent a couple of days with Ashley right before he went back to Leader, and my car was EMPTY. I mean, really empty. It was very sad to think that it was going to be empty for a long time. I tried to think about how nice it would be to have a break -- a quiet house, ability to take vacation without worrying about finding someone to watch three dogs (exponentially more of a pain in the ass than watching two dogs, especially when the two dogs are middle-aged and low-energy and the third dog is an energetic young retriever), a little bit of peace for Will, who would prefer to have only one dog in the house although he has accepted the fact that I like living with a pack and that I will always be involved with puppy raising off and on. All those things were things that I was trying to look forward to, but instead I just thought about the empty house and car.

I had just filled out my application for a replacement puppy and on it I had said "February 2018" as the date for when I would be able to take another puppy. The application also asked about breed preferences. This is what I put in that section: 
1 -- male golden
2 -- male Lab/golden cross
3 -- female golden
4 -- female Lab/golden cross
5 -- shepherd male or female
NO LAB

Labs are great dogs and great guide dogs, and I love them, but I didn't want one. For one thing, raising Elliott reminded me how much I love living with a golden. They are so sweet, so cuddly, so willing to work with people, so gentle when taking treats, and so BEAUTIFUL. Maybe I'm shallow, but I love their long, fluffy coats and their beautiful tails. When we're talking about living with a dog, I just like a dog with more coat than a Lab has. Also, I really didn't want a female. Yes, boys turn into leg-lifting, girl-obsessed idiots when they get to be adolescents, but females come into heat. Yuck. So I was pretty definite about no Lab. And then this Lab became available.

She was a little bit older than puppies typically are when raisers get them because she had already been out with a raiser for a little while. The first raiser couldn't continue raising her. I don't know the details, but let me just say here that I would never judge anyone for deciding they had to leave the puppy raising program. Puppy raising is a ton of hard work and can take a toll on relationships, hobbies, and your sanity. Trust me, I know. I would much rather someone admit it when they knew they needed to leave the program and allow the puppy to be placed somewhere else where it has the chance to achieve its potential. Anyway, I saw this puppy, who happened to be a female yellow Lab, exactly what I didn't want, and was smitten right away, against my will. It was a combination of her concentration on her handler -- very unusual for a puppy of that age -- and, honestly, her looks. She is a really beautiful Lab puppy -- heavy bone, dark wheat color, beautiful expressive brown eyes, and an adorable roly-poly gait. I had to ask who she was, and that's when I found out she was going to need a raiser. I said, "I want her." Forget the fact that I had trips planned, forget the fact that I was in class with a week to go and Will was on the road, forget the fact that I knew Will was looking forward to a break from puppy stuff. I wanted her and I was going to take her, the end. 

And that was how Sonora came to be my current Future Leader Dog. I picked her up on a Sunday, the morning of my half-day off of class, which also happened to be a puppy training day at Leader and ALSO happened to be the date of Elliott's formal return. I had Sonora at 9:00 a.m., took her through puppy training that morning, left her in my room at Leader while I worked with clients in the afternoon, met Ashley to return Elliott at 4:00 p.m., and spent my first evening with Sonora driving down to the Packard Plant to take abandoned-factory-at-sunset pictures. She was a trooper, riding down without complaint in the back of my car and hanging out while I took pictures. That set the stage for her first week with me. It was totally not an ideal first week since I was wrapped up with class. I spent some nights at Leader, some at home. I had the other two dogs since Will was on the road, so I was constantly juggling taking care of my dogs and doing class stuff. 

Sonora is named for the Sonoran Desert, of course. (I said my next puppy would be named Tucson, but that's really more of a male dog name than a female name.) She is a great puppy. She jumped right into our life with enthusiasm and made herself at home.

She is a completely different puppy than Elliott -- more confident, and much more determined and strong-willed, but equally skilled at making us laugh. Even as a little puppy, Elliott never really got into anything in the house, but Sonora is the type who would grab the dangling end of toilet paper and run gleefully through the house unfurling it if she got the chance. She thinks metal bowls are things to be played with. (If they're full of water, that just makes them more fun.) She spotted the hole in the baby gate that allows the cat to access the cat food and litter box, and without hesitation leaped through the hole, which was only slightly larger than her body, and was elevated so she actually had to jump (future agility dog, maybe?) and launched like a torpedo face first into the cat food, throwing cat food in all directions as she tried to wolf it down as fast as possible while Frieda, Duncan, and the cat looked on in horror. So in a lot of ways, she is nothing like Elliott, but in the most important ways, there are similarities. She is just as cuddly as him. She is just as willing to learn as he was (and, sorry, Elliott, she seems to be much smarter than him too). And when I open the door of my car, she's just as eager to jump in and go wherever I'm going as he was. All is right in my life when there's a puppy in it.
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<![CDATA[Coming Down From Class]]>Tue, 26 Sep 2017 22:08:53 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/coming-down-from-classLong-time readers of this blog know that class is my favorite part of the training cycle and also that class is the most stressful part of the training cycle. I have just finished another class and can confirm that nothing has changed with either one of those feelings.
 
Class is a profound experience. It is profoundly satisfying in that the feeling of seeing new guide dog teams walk out the doors confident and ready to embark on their next adventure is one of the best feelings in the world. I can’t really think of anything that compares. There are a lot of people that have a lot to do with each successful team, from the puppy raisers to the O&M instructors to the people working in other departments at Leader Dog who make it possible for the organization to exist, but knowing that I was the one who directly gave the instruction that helped a team come together is very powerful. If I died tomorrow I’m pretty sure that one of my last thoughts would be that I was happy I got the chance to do the amount of good in the world that I've gotten to do as a GDMI.
 
But class is also profoundly exhausting. There is no tired like class-tired. When I’m in class, my focus narrows and everything in the outside world disappears. Every day in class, much of my day consists of fixing problems. If I’m lucky, they’re minor – malfunctioning equipment, logistics that need to be taken care of for an all-day field trip, clients who need to get something from the store. When I’m not lucky, they’re major – dog not working out, serious client medical problem, someone missing a flight, et cetera. Besides all that, I still have to take care of my own responsibilities outside of work. Someone has to take care of the dogs, pay the bills, and keep the house clean, and that person can’t always be Will; he’s on the road half the time. This daily grind takes up a lot of mental and physical energy, and the effects over a three- to four-week period of time are significant and cumulative.
 
When I’m in class, people need me all day long. They need me to organize lessons, give feedback, document stuff, answer emails, take pictures, communicate with staff members in other departments, answer questions from concerned family members, and so on. I not only don't mind being needed in this way; I love it. I knew that that was part of the job when I started this job almost twenty years ago, and I'm proud of being the kind of person who can get people what they need and fix problems most of the time. But as class goes on, I feel less and less capable when it comes to answering questions or fixing problems outside of class. Examples: I dimly remember that I was supposed to call the endodontist to set up a root canal appointment for a tooth that was too complicated for my dentist to mess with, and that I found out about that in August and they told me I shouldn't delay and somehow now it's September 20th and I've just rediscovered the referral slip in the bottom of my dresser drawer and my toothache sort of receded to the back of my consciousness because it's not a class problem and it doesn't have time to hurt. Will texts me to ask when I'll be home for dinner and do I want him to wait for me to eat, and those questions seem so impossible to answer that it's easier to just turn the phone upside down and pretend I never saw the text. I don't want to go out to eat because no matter where I go, there are too many choices on the menu. Duncan needs a vet appointment for a nagging health issue but he's not dying or visibly suffering so I mentally file it in the category of "after class" and forget about it. 

Watching the last safe, confident new team walk out the door of Leader Dog (or in this case, down the jetway to the plane with minutes to spare after a last few stressful hours of sitting in traffic, dealing with international bag check issues, rushing through the airport, and trying to get the dog to park in the airport before a 15-hour plane trip home) is a truly exhilarating feeling. I can feel the weight of responsibility being lifted off my shoulders and feel myself being set free. But it's impossible for me to just step back into my normal life and be my normal self after getting out of class. A period of decompression is required.

Not only does it take a while for it to sink in that I'm really, truly not responsible for anyone except myself anymore, but I also can't stop thinking about my clients and their travel home. I wonder how they're doing on the plane (almost always perfectly fine), whether they made their connecting flights, what the dog is thinking as it leaves the plane and enters its new life with nothing familiar except the person with whom it has spent the last three or four weeks. All this is even more true when the class was a great class like this last one was. I enjoy all my classes, but it is very rare to have a group made up entirely of easygoing people with genuinely good chemistry. This class, even with one dog change, was like a non-stop party from the first day to the last day. The weather was perfect, the dogs were delightful, and I once again scored an amazing interpreter. Seriously, I am lucky in this regard because I have never NOT had an amazing interpreter. This one is #4 for me and every one has been hard-working, hilarious, interesting, and cool enough that I actually wanted to hang out with them at the end of the day. The only problem I've ever had with any interpreter is missing them when they leave. The point of going on and on about how great everything in this class was is that, even though it feels great to be free of responsibility, I MISS these people too. Of course I wouldn't want them to be here forever, but we definitely become part of each other's lives during class, and the withdrawal process is -- for me, at least -- not immediate. I'm sad to see them go at the same time I'm happy that they are ready to leave. 

All of that makes me TIRED at the end of class. I prefer to sleep for an entire day if possible, only getting up as needed to eat and go to the bathroom. When I lay down on my bed at the end of my last day of class, it's like every inch of my body melds to every inch of the bed in one giant "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." It is a glorious feeling. When I get up out of bed, I'm tired and want to go back to bed within twenty minutes. That usually lasts all of the first day after class. By the second day post-class, I have sufficient mental energy to be interested in books and Netflix again.

Every day I get a little closer to feeling normal. Tomorrow it will be a week since everyone went home and I feel ALMOST normal. I'm back at work, back at the gym, learning a new job (supervisor), working with new dogs, training my new puppy, tackling logistics of my fall marathons... but I still think of the Costa Rican and Argentinian and Mexican clients from our class several times a day, and wonder how they're doing. I hope they are all doing well and I hope their memories from class at Leader Dog are as good as mine are. 
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<![CDATA[Puppy Days at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility]]>Sun, 20 Aug 2017 19:12:11 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/puppy-days-at-fort-dodge-correctional-facilityI just got back from Saturday's Puppy Days celebration at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and to say it was inspirational would be a vast understatement. 

First, some background. Since 2010, Leader has had a relationship with Fort Dodge, and also several other correctional facilities throughout the Midwest, in which inmates raise puppies for us. Inmate puppy raising is just like regular puppy raising except that it is done in a prison. This puppy raising model is not unique to Leader; several other service dog organizations have similar programs. This is because, in many ways, inmates are a nearly-ideal group of people to raise puppies. Their lives are extremely structured, and they have a lot of time to train a puppy. Structure and time are two things that can be in short supply for many "regular" puppy raisers, including myself, although people who are motivated enough make it work.

The downside to puppies being raised in prison is, of course, that they may not get to experience all of the real-world socialization that puppies raised outside have exposure to. Although this is always a concern, in my experience, even if puppies coming in for training from prison may show slightly more apprehension on initial exposure to new environments, for the most part they are able to adjust well. The consistency and time put into their training shows. If I was given two new dogs in my string, and all I knew about them was that one had been raised in prison and the other had not, and someone asked me which one I guessed would have better skills, I would guess the prison puppy. (Note that this only applies if I did not know who raised the puppies. I in no way want to discount the many unbelievably skilled puppy raisers I know personally, a lot of whose puppies come back with better skills than my own puppy who is about to return for training.) 

Anyway, Fort Dodge has had the longest relationship with Leader out of all the facilities, and they have the most puppies. Every year they put on an event called Puppy Days. This event was started to demonstrate the puppies' training to the people who sponsored them, and to thank the sponsors for their support.

I was vaguely aware that this event existed -- I know people who went to it because they sponsored puppies, and I had seen videos of it -- and I had always thought about going in a vague, "some day" way. I have associated the name "Fort Dodge" with so many excellent Leader Dogs over the years that in my head it was like some mythical source of perfectly prepared Future Leader Dogs. The reason I finally went this year was because a guy who was in one of my classes and was matched with a Leader Dog raised at Fort Dodge wanted to go. He told me he was going, and I decided this was the perfect time for me to go too, especially because I didn't have a race or any other trip happening in August. So I called up the prison, got my name on the guest list, and drove the ten hours to Fort Dodge. 

Fort Dodge is a town of about 25,000 people that is best known for the manufacture of animal vaccines and also, less interestingly, for the mining of gypsum and limestone. The town sits in the middle of cornfields and soybean fields, and, although I wouldn't actually call the town itself "pretty," the big wide-open Iowa sky and rolling fields were definitely pretty. (Much prettier than anything in Michigan, naturally.) The prison itself was surprisingly attractive. Keep in mind that my prison experience is limited to a tour of Alcatraz and watching three seasons of Orange is the New Black. Otherwise, I've never been in a prison and either never known anyone who's been in a prison, or never known that I've known anyone who's been in a prison. I wasn't expecting the immaculate facility, the cheerful guards, or the friendly inmates who were, honestly, like puppy raisers anywhere. 

We signed in at the front door and then were escorted through a series of three separate gates into the building where Puppy Days took place. The first thing they did was feed us lunch. I didn't take any because I had just stuffed my face at Perkins with a late breakfast, so sadly I am unable to offer any commentary on how prison food tasted. Then we walked out of the cafeteria into a long hall. The walls of the hall were covered with pictures of all the Future Leader Dogs raised at Fort Dodge. There were SO MANY. Nothing but pictures of Labs and goldens and shepherds as far as I could see on both sides of the hall. That was the first thing I noticed; then I noticed that inmate puppy raisers were standing up against the walls in the hall, spaced about 20-30 feet apart, with their puppies sitting next to them. The puppy raisers were holding signs with their puppies' names and the names of the puppies' sponsors on them. The puppies themselves were sitting next to their raisers practicing impulse control and being rewarded for good behavior.

Entering the hall was actually a little overwhelming -- where to look first?? My biggest goal in visiting Fort Dodge was to personally thank as many inmate puppy raisers as possible for the hard work they put into the puppies, and let them know how much we as GDMI's appreciate the quality dogs they send back to us. I wanted to talk to every single one of them. But I also wanted to look at the puppy pictures of all those puppies up on the wall, because I knew A LOT of them. Not as many as I thought I would, but probably 1/4 to 1/3 of them. Several had been in my strings and gone on to graduate. They are working all over the world. It was pretty amazing to think of the number of great guide dogs that got their start right here. 

There was an hour and a half between the time they opened the doors and the beginning of the official program. Filling that time was no problem as I talked to one after another puppy raiser who had raised a dog that I knew. They were exactly like any other puppy raisers -- they had questions about the training; they told me stories about things the dogs had done as puppies; they showed me the puppies they were currently raising. Another thing that happened was that the guy whose Leader Dog was raised here -- who may or may not want to have his name in my blog so I am just going to leave it out -- met the inmate who had raised his dog. Did the dog remember her raiser? Oh yeah. At first she just casually sniffed him, then she went crazy with excitement, pretty much exactly like they do at puppy raiser night at Leader during class. That was a great thing to see.

The program consisted of several different speakers -- people involved with the program at the prison, a couple of official Leader Dog representatives, a former inmate who was now out of prison but kept coming back for Puppy Days -- and several "drill team" demonstrations where the puppy raisers showed off their dogs' skills in coordinated obedience and impulse control exercises. They were pretty impressive, and I could easily see why the Fort Dodge puppies come in with such good skills. 

After the program, there was some more time to visit with the puppy raisers. I talked to three guys whose dogs will be coming back for my next string, and they all told me about their dogs. One of them told me that he's sorry but his dog still pulls on leash sometimes when he's excited. Another one said that his dog still wants to chase the ball when they practice impulse control exercises, but he doesn't let her. I told them that my own puppy had just taken his In For Training test and he didn't do stellar on loose leash walking or self-control around the ball either, and reminded them that all of these things are works in progress, and we don't expect perfection. Hopefully that made them feel better. 

The whole afternoon, it never once crossed my mind that I was talking to people who were incarcerated for very serious crimes. Some of them will be in prison for the rest of their lives. I can honestly say that I did not think of that for a second until the very end of the day. Then there was an announcement that all inmates had to go back to their cells, and that was it, they were done. This was the time where with any other group of puppy raisers we could have continued chatting, or decided to go out to dinner, but these guys had to leave, and we had to leave, too. It was definitely hard to remember that all of these great, hard-working, dedicated puppy raisers were criminals. 

It is never difficult in my business to find heart-warming stories. There are all kinds of inspirational stories of clients, puppy raisers, volunteers, and staff members. But there was something especially inspiring about that day at Fort Dodge. The thought that something so good could come from something so bad is impossible not to marvel over. I have always believed that everyone wins with prison puppy raising. The prisoners win because puppy raising gives their lives purpose and allows them to give something back to society after taking something away from it. The puppies win because they have a great early life and learn how to bond with, trust, and work with humans. Leader definitely wins because we have a steady source of well-raised, well-trained dogs coming in for training. Of course, the clients win too because of the great dogs they end up getting. I always feel lucky to have the career I do, but I felt especially lucky at the end of my day at Fort Dodge, and I know I will be thinking of it for a long time. 

NOTE: I'm sure that pretty much everyone associated with Leader has seen this video already, but for those who haven't, it's a short documentary of the program at Fort Dodge, and well-worth watching. 




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<![CDATA[I Wrote A Book...]]>Sun, 18 Jun 2017 11:21:48 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/i-wrote-a-book...and that is why I haven't written in this blog for a long time. 

I'm a writer; I've always been a writer. I wrote before blogs existed. I wrote before regular people owned computers! I've always said I was going to write a book. In fact, it's always been one of my Big 3 life goals. (The other two being finish an Ironman and get an Obedience Trial Championship with a dog, neither one of which I'm even remotely close to.) 

There are infinite subjects I COULD write a book about, but I've known for a long time that I have to write a book about guide dogs. I started one a few years ago, but scrapped it after 150 pages because I hadn't decided whether it was going to be a memoir or a training book, and it was turning into an awkward hybrid of both. So I decided I would write the training book first, even though I still want to write a memoir too. It makes sense to write the one that doesn't include personal stories about other people first. 

I wrote the book I would have wanted to read before I became a GDMI. It includes chapters on puppy raising, guide dog temperament, changes in training philosophies and methods over the years, the progression of training skills, and the process of matching dogs with clients. (I'm putting a chapter list at the bottom, for people who are curious about exactly what topics are covered.) I wrote the book with all of the following audiences in mind: 

1) people who are seriously interested in pursuing a career as a GDMI and want to know what the job is really like -- the good and the bad
2) puppy raisers who want more in-depth information on their puppies' experiences when they go back for training
3) guide dog handlers who want extensive information on how their dogs were trained
4) other GDMI's who like to debate the effectiveness of training methods
5) any dog trainer with an interest in guide dog training

I made a New Year's resolution that I was going to write 2000 words a day until I was done. Surprisingly (even to myself), I kept that resolution. Every single day between January 1 and April 17, I sat down at this computer and wrote 2000 words. Even if it meant I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning so I could write before going to the gym, even when I was teaching class, even when I was on the road, I still got my 2000 words done. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it was hard, sometimes I felt like I was writing total garbage, but I did it every day.

It turns out that the writing was the easy part. The hard part started when I realized I had a book and now had to figure out what to do with it. If I had written this book 20 years ago, I would have known what to do with it because there was only one option: send query letters and proposals to publishers and agents until someone wanted to publish it. That actually would have been easier than deciding what to do with it now. Self-publishing is much less of a stigma now than it used to be. Probably about 20-25% of the books I read now are self-published, and I can't always tell the difference between a self-published book and a traditionally published one. (Well, unless the author didn't bother with an editor. THEN I can tell, usually on every single page.)

I am going to self-publish it for a lot of reasons:
1) It's quicker. Nothing about traditional publication is fast. If I got a publisher today, my book still might not be published for a year or two. 
2) I'm confident I can put together and put out a good book without having to go through a publisher.
3) My goal is not to make money. My goal is the same as my goal for writing this blog: to provide information and to connect with other people who are interested in the same subject as I am. (But even if my goal was to make money, I am pretty sure I could make more self-publishing than I could with a traditional publisher.)
4) Publishers require authors to actively promote their own books, and hustling so does not appeal to me. The extent of my self-promotion is going to be saying on my blog: "I have a book; here's where you can get it." I don't want to worry about a "platform" or how many followers I have on Twitter or anything like that. 
5) I have no ego investment in having my book published by a "real" publisher. I recognize that it appeals to a niche audience and in all likelihood would not make a lot of money for a publisher.

Since I finished my book in April, I've been educating myself on self-publishing. It's both very simple and very complicated. If I wanted to, I could publish it today. All I have to do is upload it to Amazon and CreateSpace, and I could have the ebook in the Kindle store and the print-on-demand paperback in my hands right away. But one thing I DON'T want to do is have the book I've waited this long to write come out crappy. There are a few things I need to do before publishing it. Well, really two things: 

1) Get a cover. This is something that I will not do myself. There is technology involved, and any technology more complicated than this blog is beyond my ability. This is something I plan to pay for, and it's actually not that expensive, only a few hundred dollars. The biggest problem I have here is picking a designer from the literally thousands who are out there. 

2) Edit it. It is a little unwieldy at over 200,000 words. Anyone who reads my writing knows that I am, perhaps, a little wordy. Why use one word when I can use ten? The way I feel about writing is that it's better to throw everything on the page and then cut the fat out in the editing process. I'd like to get it down to 150,000 words, and also make sure it's not so heavy on jargon that readers who are not GDMIs will get bogged down.

Professional editing is very, very expensive. I don't think I will ever be able to afford it, not unless I give up my 50 states marathon hobby, which I am not going to do. My writing is usually pretty clean from a grammar/typo perspective -- I make some mistakes, but I catch most of them myself, on the second or third read -- so I think I am going to skip professional editing. In lieu of a professional edit, I'm going to do two things. First, I'm going to read the whole thing out loud to Will. (Nothing makes unwieldy writing more obvious than reading it out loud.) Second, I'm going to look for beta readers who are willing to read a chapter or two and give me feedback on it. Chapters are anywhere between 3000 and 8000 words long. If anyone reading this blog is interested in being a beta reader, let me know! (And if any of my blog readers are also writers who need beta readers, it should go without saying that I'll do yours if you do mine.) 

My ideal beta reader is someone who is: 
  • at least slightly knowledgeable on the subject of guide dogs
  • well-read
  • qualified to make suggestions on improving writing, both grammar and overall structure
  • willing to be critical 

That last one -- willingness to be critical, is perhaps the most important. I want people who will be ruthless and tell me, "This sucks" if it does. My feelings will not be hurt, I promise. If you know that you're likely to just read it and tell me it's awesome, you can wait for the final product :) 

As promised, here's the chapter list:
  1. Introduction
  2. Guide Dog Schools in the U.S. and How to Choose the Right One
  3. What Makes a Good Guide Dog?
  4. The Match
  5. Who Are the People Who Use Guide Dogs?
  6. Where Do Guide Dogs Come From?
  7. What Kind of Person Does This Job? Guide Dog Mobility Instructors
  8. Guide Dog Training: The Big Picture
  9. Tools of the Trade: Equipment Needed for Guide Dog Training
  10. Getting Started
  11. Collar Pressure/Collar Yielding
  12. Food Rewards in Guide Dog Training
  13. Impulse Control around Distractions
  14. The Platform
  15. The Role of Obedience in a Guide Dog's Life
  16. Introducing the Harness
  17. Stairs
  18. Early Guide Work Commands
  19. Teaching Curbs
  20. Accepting Body Handling
  21. On to the Real World: Beginning Training in Town
  22. Generalizing Curbs and Turns on Early Routes
  23. Random Reinforcement
  24. Establishing Pace and Pull
  25. Laying the Groundwork for Straight Line Travel
  26. Assessing Soundness in Town
  27. Assessing Distractions in Town
  28. Obstacles and Clearance
  29. The Mid-Cycle Blindfold
  30. Traffic Training
  31. Sidewalkless Travel
  32. Indoor Work -- Grocery Stores
  33. Indoor Work -- Malls
  34. "Parking" the Guide Dog
  35. Targeting, Patterning, and Behavior Chains
  36. Guide Dog Gear: Gentle Leaders and Booties
  37. Public Transportation and City Work
  38. Initial Client Contacts, Pre-Matching, and Custom Training
  39. Class Readiness -- Putting the Finishing Touches on the Dog
  40. Class -- Arrivals and Juno Walks
  41. Dog Day
  42. Progressing through Class
  43. Going Home with the New Guide Dog
  44. Epilogue



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<![CDATA[To the Person Who Raised This Puppy]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 22:45:08 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/to-the-person-who-raised-this-puppy9281368He's not really a puppy in appearance when I get my hands on him for the first time. He's a year old and pretty close to adult size, although he'll probably fill out some over the next year. But he's still a puppy in a lot of ways, still wildly excited to get out of his kennel, still thinks about playing more than about working much of the time, still finds other things in the world more interesting than what we would like him to be doing some of the time. That's pretty normal; it's a rare 12-month-old Lab or golden who comes in for training ready to be serious.

Anywhere from a month to a week before I lay eyes on him for the first time, you drove him here to Leader Dogs, or else you handed him over to someone else to drive him here, and said goodbye to the puppy that first entered your life as a little, fluffy, black or yellow or brown or golden teddy bear. Someone handed him over to you at the age of seven weeks, and at the moment you took him into your arms, whether he was your first or your 50th, your gut reaction was to cuddle him like the baby he was and say, "Awwww...." 

You picked out a name for him -- maybe he was named after someone you knew, or a pet dog from childhood, or the color he was, or a celebrity, or as a continuation of a theme (famous Americans, cities) that you've used with previous puppies, or maybe it was just a random name that you liked the sound of. His name was probably the first thing you taught him. Then you got him home and started house training, and the reality of how much work a puppy is became real once again. It doesn't matter how many puppies you've raised; there is always a moment when the weighty reality of the commitment you have made makes itself obvious, and you take a deep breath and acknowledge that your life for the next year is going to include constant, daily work in all weather, no matter what else is happening in your life, whether you feel sick or healthy, whether you feel like training the dog or napping all day, whether you've been blessed with an easy, mellow puppy or Fate has handed you a high-energy pistol with an independent streak. But, even knowing how much work it's going to be, in those first few days the learning was easy to watch. Every day there were little improvements. Tonight he went to sleep in the crate after only whining twice. Five nights later he slept through the night for the first time. A week later, when you said "Stay" and put his food bowl down, he didn't try to get it, but instead looked up at you while keeping his rear end planted and waited for "Okay" because he got it; he figured out how that game works.  

He got bigger, a lot bigger. He switched from the Future Leader Dog bandanna to the Future Leader Dog jacket, and suddenly looked more professional. You kept having to switch to the next-bigger collar. One day he was big enough for the big dog collar, and you were shocked -- where did the baby go? He learned all of his commands, and usually responded to them, although sometimes he couldn't concentrate if you were somewhere new or exciting, and you had to get him to a quieter place and re-engage his attention before going back in. He was good at some things, struggled with others. Maybe he was fearless in public but would not lie quietly under a table when you went out to eat. Or maybe he was the opposite, perfectly well-behaved but afraid of a lot of things. Maybe he barked for attention and embarrassed you, or maybe he went nuts when he saw another dog and forgot you existed, or maybe he had accidents in public even when he had parked before, or maybe he had allergies or chronic diarrhea or some other medical problem, and you thought to yourself, He's not guide dog material, but you kept working on it anyway because you committed to see this project through and because you never know what was just a stage he was passing through and what was really part of his temperament. Maybe you secretly counted days until it was time to send him back for training, and vowed never to do this again. Or maybe he was one of the nicest, calmest, easiest puppies you'd ever been around and you knew he would make it and your biggest worry, although you tried to keep this secret, was how are you ever going to give this puppy back?

Either way, he grew up. He went everywhere with you, to church, to the mall, to the bank, maybe on vacation, to puppy classes. You took pictures of him digging in the snow, sitting in front of the first flowers of spring, hanging out at the lake in summer with the kids or grandkids, running through the leaves in fall, sitting in front of the tree at Christmas. Suddenly he was a grown-up dog, and then it was time to send him back for his training. 

You really thought you were prepared for this. You understood his purpose, you really hoped he would make it (though if he didn't, you would take him back in a heartbeat), you always knew he wasn't really yours, but at the same time, his playful innocence and your total inability to explain to him why he had to leave was heartbreaking. You looked at him curled up on his dog bed sleeping and thought that soon he was going to be in a kennel with the other dogs. He would have a bed, but it wouldn't be this soft. He would want to get out of the kennel and be with people; you raised him to love people and be a part of a family. Would he adjust to the kennel? They all do, right? He loved other dogs; you knew he would really enjoy getting to play with them several times a day. But still... what about at night when all the trainers amd kennel people went home? 

The day arrived. You took a picture of him sitting next to the German shepherd statue outside because it's a tradition. You took him into the lobby and introduced him to the people behind the desk. They gave you some time to say goodbye to him. He was curious and excited about the new place, and wanted to check it out. Everyone there was very nice. You knew he would be well cared for. But still, there waes that moment when you walked away and he turned and looked back at you and looked so confused, like Where are you going? Wait for me! and you knew you could not possibly do this again, ever, it is the hardest thing in the world. (But you will do it again, most likely. Maybe you plan to wait and see whether this one makes it or not, or maybe you went home with a new baby that same day, but either way, walking out of there was leaving a piece of your heart behind, no matter how many puppies you have raised.)

It felt wrong in the car with him not in it, and even more wrong coming home to an empty house and an unoccupied dog bed. The first night was the worst, and every day after that you were a little more used to it, but still, you thought about him often. At odd moments throughout the day, you thought What is he doing right now? You wondered if he would pass his medical exams. He did. You wondered if he would be neutered. He was. You wondered if he had met his trainer yet, and you wondered who that person was, and whether he or she would like your puppy and would appreciate his personality. You thought you did an okay job raising him, not perfect, but okay, and you thought you had turned in a good dog, whether he makes it as a Leader Dog or not. 

When I met your puppy for the first time, I looked at him and saw the year's worth of hard work you did. I understood that your puppy, like all the rest, had someone at home who loved him and was thinking of him and wondering how he's doing. I read your puppy reports; I knew whether he is your first or twenty-first puppy; I paid attention to the things that you said about him. I let him know that I was his friend and he could trust me. I asked him to Sit and Down and he was happy to show me what he could do. I thought how proud you would be of him if you could see how happy he was, how good his responses to obedience cues were; how he wags his tail and looks at me when I drop food on the floor, like "I know this game, you're not going to fool me!", how much he enjoyed learning new things. I wished you could see him the first time he wore the harness and looked like a grown up Leader Dog. I wished you could see him lying on his back so I could rub his belly after the training session is over. I wish you could see me taking a selfie of me kissing his nose so you would know that he's not just another dog that I'm paid to train, but an individual who I am going to get to know really well over the next few months. 

Most of all, I want you to know this: your puppy will be loved for the individual he is while he is in training here, whether he becomes a Leader Dog or turns out to be better suited for some alternative career or just wants to go home and be a pet. And your hard work is appreciated, because without that good foundation built by you, our jobs would be much more difficult, maybe even impossible. 

(Also, I am a puppy raiser too. I get it... all of it.) ​]]>
<![CDATA[Puppy Raising -- Why??]]>Sun, 09 Oct 2016 22:24:13 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/puppy-raising-whyWell, this is why: 

(Photo is extreme close-up of 3-month-old Elliott's face, with his giant black nose in the foreground and little tiny black eyes in the background.) 

Seriously, though, most GDMI's do not want to raise puppies, and I totally understand the many reasons why not, as follows:

1) When you train dogs all day long, you don't really want to train dogs at the end of the work day too, do you? Well... not always. To be honest, the THOUGHT of training dogs after work makes me feel exhausted. But the THOUGHT of getting up at 3:30 every morning and going to the gym also makes me feel exhausted, and yet I've been doing it this whole year. (Okay, not every morning, but at least five per week.) When I actually do those things -- train the dog, and work out -- I feel awesome. The remedy is to not think about them, just do them. Roll out of bed when the alarm goes off without considering the possibility of skipping the whole thing, and put the leash on the dog and strap on the treat bag and get started. Somehow, it always gets done, and once started, I'm into it. 

2) We have to spend the whole day working to get dogs to do things that are unnatural for dogs to do, and we like our own dogs to be able to be dogs. Well, this is true. Frieda and Duncan get on furniture, eat human food, jump up on me, drag me around on leash, and in various other ways look pretty much like the average pet dog. (The difference being that I can get their attention and make them look well-trained if I actually need to.) This one, surprisingly, is not that hard for me to do. Even at his most-adorable, most-cuddly puppy stage, I never forget that Elliott is meant to be a guide dog, and doing the above-mentioned things just is not going to be permitted for him. One thing that is helpful here is that I really don't believe Elliott is sitting there thinking, "Why does Duncan get to sleep on the bed and I don't?" He just learns a different set of rules, and follows them. I've always had other dogs in the house while raising my guide dog puppies, and never found it difficult at all to have two set of rules in place. I tell myself that if Elliott does not want to be a guide dog when he's older, he can opt out at any time by showing that he doesn't want to work, but in the meantime, he is going to have the early foundation that gives him the best chance of being a guide dog when he's older.

3) It is hard to send the dog back to live in the kennel at the end of puppy raising. Well, yes, it is. It was even hard with Alaska, and she was nowhere near as endearing or easy to live with as Elliott is. Won't it be hard to walk down the hallway knowing he's in the kennel and would rather be out with me? Yes, of course. Here is where I consider myself very lucky to be able to harden my heart as needed, or do the Scarlett O'Hara and say, "I can't think about this now, I'll go crazy if I do. I'll think about it tomorrow," and then repeat again the next day. The truth is that I believe the end justifies the means, and if the end is Elliott being a guide dog, the means of him living in the kennel is worth it. I do recognize that this would be extremely hard for most people to do, and am not sure why it's not quite that hard for me, but I'm glad.

4) It feels like we're under a microscope. True! No one says anything judgey -- they know better -- but I definitely feel like I have to be training Elliott all the time when I have him at Leader, and I also know how easy it is to see a snapshot of someone with a dog for five seconds and make a judgment based on that. I mean, if we're being honest, _I_ do that. All the time. I certainly would do it if it was another GDMI raising a puppy. It is only human to do it, which is why I don't let it bother me. Also, really, I SHOULD be training all the time! I don't mind the external pressure because it keeps me honest. Even if I'm only going to the bathroom, I go with my treat bag and if I get a teaching moment walking down the hall, I take advantage of it. I'm sure that's a big part of the reason why he is learning so quickly and getting such nice responses to people and dogs coming towards him, food on the floor, et cetera -- because we work on it every single day. 

So those are all the reasons why I think most GDMI's would not want to raise a puppy. Here are the reasons why I personally want to raise a puppy:

1) It makes me happy. Simple! The older I get, the less I want to do anything for any reason other than that it makes me happy. I love pretty much everything about puppy raising, from the moment you first hold the little fluffball in your arms to the moment you watch them head off to "university". I love being able to shape a puppy into a well-behaved adult dog that makes good choices, makes decisions with confidence, knows what behavior is expected of it in social situations and in the house, and likes being with and working with people. The joy of watching a puppy master new skills is addicting. Even when I'm shivering outside at 2:30 a.m. wishing the puppy would hurry up and park, even at those moments, somehow, it makes me happy. Ever since 1988, although I have left puppy raising temporarily many times, I've always come back, and probably always will. 

2) The time commitment fits my attention span. Now, I love my two "forever dogs", Duncan and Frieda. They will live with me for their whole lives. But I also like getting my hands on large numbers of dogs, because working with lots of different types of dogs makes me a better dog trainer. It's frowned upon by society to get puppies and find another home for them when you're tired of them (although this societal disapproval has absolutely not stopped me from doing just that in the past, more than once, if I didn't love the dog enough to justify spending precious and limited dog-owning time keeping it in my life), but society smiles upon puppy raising. Yes, sometimes it's harder than other times to give them back, but I always look forward to the next one just as much as I miss the current one. (And sometimes way, way more. Alaska.)

3) I love being around other puppy raisers. I love puppy meetings, I love watching the other puppies in the group grow up, I love swapping stories with other puppy raisers, I love that in puppy meetings I don't feel like people are thinking of me as "the instructor" but rather, just another puppy raiser. 

4) I love knowing what's going on in the Puppy Raising department. In my opinion, they have steadily gotten better and better since I came to Leader, with seemingly no end to the improvement in sight. How we get such amazing volunteer group leaders, I cannot even begin to imagine. Seriously, where do these people come from?!?!

5) Co-raising is the best thing ever! In a co-raising arrangement, puppy raising time is split between two households. This is my second co-raising adventure, and so far another excellent experience. There are so many benefits to it, in my opinion. The puppy learns at an early age to deal with change well. Everyone gets a little relief from the never-ending demands of a puppy, which are exhausting although also delightful. Yes, I miss him when I hand him over to Ashley, but the joy of knowing that I can sleep in, and I don't have to feel guilty if I don't socialize him somewhere new every day, and I don't have to spend my lunch half-hour taking care of him, and I can let my dogs chase squirrels and tennis balls, more than makes up for it. Then, just when I really start missing him (and have completely recharged my puppy-raising energy), HE'S BACK! Bigger, better-trained, more exposures under his belt. With the number of out-of-town races I do every year, and class, and the fact that Will is on the road half the time, I really don't think I could do it without a co-raiser.

Someone asked me not long ago if it was easier to raise a puppy because I'm a GDMI. In some ways, maybe. For example, it's easy for me to know which behaviors I really want to strengthen and which ones I really want to discourage, because I know the outcome of those behaviors, good and bad, and I completely know why they are so important to manage. Also, because I work with dogs all day and spend so much time reinforcing impulse control and practicing consistency, it's almost second-nature, which makes it easy for me to stay in the training mindset when I have Elliott. 

But in other ways, I think it is easier to raise a puppy because I've raised a lot of puppies. Training adult dogs is very different from training young puppies. After a certain number of puppies, things like house training, supervision, teaching body handling, controlling mouthing, et cetera become so routine I don't have to think about them. Of course he's only had one accident, it's because I take him out every ten minutes when he's awake (well, not anymore, but when he was a baby) and as soon as he gets up from a nap and right after he eats, and I don't come back in till he's done. Yeah, he bites if allowed, but it's automatic for me to never put my hand near his face unless I'm holding an acceptable toy, and if he tries to bite my hand, I just pop the toy in his mouth instead. Or if he bites the leash, I just hold my arm straight out from my body and hold the leash high in the air so it's not right in front of his face anymore. Out of sight, out of mind. Leash-biting and hand-biting are super common, but the good news is they fade pretty quick if not allowed to develop into games that the puppy finds reinforcing. He's never allowed to be loose without my supervision, not for a second, because that's all it takes for a puppy to get into trouble. All of those things are management, not training, and they are almost reflexive for me because I have a lot of experience with puppies. 

Finally, some things are no easier for me than they are for anyone. I can't train every second even if I want to -- sometimes I absolutely have to be somewhere RIGHT NOW and he's coming with me even if his loose leash isn't perfect; sometimes I don't have time to deal with a distraction and just have to get him away from it; sometimes he eats grass or wood chips while he's sniffing in the park area; sometimes I get to the end of the day and realize I skipped grooming and I'm so tired I am just not going to do it; sometimes he sees my neighbor across the street and is kind of scared of him but I'm in see-through PJ's and not willing to go put other clothes on so I can go over and ask the neighbor to say hi to him. You get the idea. Also, I do not have any way of changing a dog's temperament. Alaska is proof of that. We did everything we could think of to manage her quirks, and had almost no success at all. She was definitely the quirkiest dog I have ever lived with, and I still really have no idea what made her tick. We worked very hard with her but never really made any progress at all. Elliott is a much, much easier puppy by nature. He doesn't really seem to have much of his own agenda, and is happy just to go along with whatever we want to do. He learns quickly, loves learning things, and really enjoys doing things we ask him to do -- all super good qualities that I can't take any credit for! He's just a completely different dog than Alaska. There definitely are easy pups and more challenging pups, and I'm happy I got an easier one this time. 

Every puppy raising experience is different, but they are all meaningful. I'm pretty sure I will be a puppy raiser for as long as I'm physically able, or I hope so, anyway!
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<![CDATA[I'm Legal -- California Guide Dog Instructor's License]]>Sat, 13 Aug 2016 20:27:49 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/im-legal-california-guide-dog-instructors-license(I originally planned to make this blog all about my experience preparing for and taking the test for my California license, but the more I thought about the whole subject, the more I felt like I would rather write about the bigger subject of state regulation of guide dog instruction in general. Also, I signed some sort of agreement saying I wouldn't tell people what was on the test, or something. I can't really remember what I agreed to not discuss, and I don't want to risk having my brand-new license revoked by saying something I'm not supposed to. So let me just say this: I studied a lot, I thought the multiple-choice questions were pretty much fair, the oral part was much less stressful than the written part because I had practiced it so many times I knew it cold, and, no matter how well-prepared I was, it was still nerve-wracking while I waited to hear whether I had passed or whether I would have to go back to Michigan a failure. I passed, in case anyone doesn't know.) 

Let me start by saying that I am no expert on the laws regulating guide dog instruction in California. I know what the California State Guide Dog Board website says and what various people have told me over the years, but have zero firsthand (or even secondhand) knowledge of interaction with the Board, or of what it is like to be a GDMI in a state where government has anything to do with guide dogs. Here is what I know for sure:

1) California is the only state in the U.S. with laws that regulate instruction in use of a guide dog.
2) The law says that only instructors licensed by the state of California can provide instruction to guide dog users in California -- even if the guide dog team has graduated from another school outside of California. (So, for example, if someone from California comes to class at Leader, gets a dog, and then needs follow-up, it is against the law for an instructor from Leader to go to California and work with that guide dog team.) 
3) The California State Guide Dog Board was established as a legal entity in 1947 to deal with the large number of unregulated "guide dog schools" that existed in California. According to the Board's website, the problem of illegitimate guide dog schools was severe in California. The website says that at the time of the creation of the Board, there were almost 20 guide dog schools in California, but that only two -- GDB and GDA -- were able to qualify for licenses.
4) Schools operating in California have to be licensed too, not just California instructors. 
5) Out-of-state instructors can apply for a license to make it legal for them to work with guide dog users in California. This is what I did. To get a California license, you have to do all of the following: submit a video between 15 and 30 minutes long showing instruction of a guide dog client in obedience, guidework, dog control, and application of orientation and mobility skills; fill out an application; pay a $250 fee for the test and licensing process; get a letter from your school saying that you have met minimum requirements according to the California Business and Professions Code; be fingerprinted; pass a written multiple-choice test covering all aspects of dog training, client instruction, client follow-up, California agencies that serve people who are blind and visually impaired, causes of blindness, and California state laws; and pass a practical/oral examination that consists of discussing eight knowledge points (the eight most critical from the 80 listed in the California Occupational Analysis for Guide Dog Instructors) and reviewing the video in front of a panel of three senior licensed guide dog instructors. 
6) To maintain licensure, you have to pay $100 a year and submit proof of eight hours of continuing education in the past year.
7) Any school that violates the law by sending an unlicensed instructor to work with a California guide dog user can be fined. (I have spent about half an hour this morning trying to find the amount of the fine on the Guide Dog Board website, and, let me tell you, reading through government regulations is exhausting. So exhausting it makes me want to stop writing this blog right now and go back to bed with my Kindle. But I will persist. I feel like I have heard somewhere that the fine is $250 a day, but don't quote me on that.) 
8) The Board itself consists of seven members appointed by the Governor of California. By law, one has to be the Director of Rehabilitation (or a designated representative), two have to be guide dog users, and all have to have shown a particular interest in "dealing with the problems of persons who are blind or visually impaired". 
9) The Board has three stated purposes: it serves people who are blind by ensuring that schools and instructors meet safety standards, it serves financial supporters of guide dog schools by making sure their money is spent appropriately, and it serves the public by ensuring that guide dog users can handle their dogs properly and that the public is safe. 

Here are the things I do not know for sure. I've heard them, all from multiple people, but cannot find any official source to verify them. (If anyone has any official sources, please share them with me.) 

1) There is a possibility that some time in the (near) future the Board will develop a process for granting temporary licenses to instructors from IGDF-accredited schools to provide follow-up instruction to their graduates living in California. I have also heard that this will not apply to home training, but only to follow-up instruction for an already-graduated team.
2) The Board is due to sunset in 2017 -- in other words, cease to exist unless it is reauthorized by the legislature. I don't really quite know what this term means despite extensive googling. Neither do I have any understanding of how often it comes up for review. 
3) During my earlier years as a GDMI (before I ever even heard the term "GDMI"; we were just guide dog instructors then), this law was not enforced and not widely known. Instructors traveled to California frequently, and I don't remember anyone ever discussing the existence of the law or expressing any concern about breaking it. In fact, I don't think I even knew there was such a law until I started working at Leader. The law started being enforced recently, within the last couple of years. I don't know why it is enforced now and why never before. 

Here are the reasons why I decided to get my California license: 

1) Leader serves clients from California, and therefore we should be able to provide follow-up services for them. 
2) At the time I decided to get my license, Leader only had one instructor with a California license. It's great that we had one instead of zero, but if something were to happen to Bryan, we would be back at zero. Getting a California license isn't a quick process. They only test applicants twice a year. You don't want to wait until you need a California-licensed instructor to start the process of someone getting a license.
3) No matter how I (or anyone else) feel about this law, it is the law. While it is surely possible to send instructors to California to work with Leader grads without the Board finding out about it, that is a shady thing for an organization to do, in my mind. 
4) Leader supported instructors getting California licenses. Any GDMI who wanted to pursue it could have. I would have paid for the whole thing myself if I had to, but I was glad Leader was willing to do the right thing for its grads and back licensing.
5) It's another professional certification, and I like those. I admit it. I don't think that having my license makes me a better instructor, but I do think that participating in the process of getting it gave me a better understanding of the larger guide dog world, something I am always trying to work on.
6) I would be lying if I didn't admit that the thought crossed my mind that having a California license would make it possible for me to get more trips to California over the course of my career. Everyone knows that I am from California and think the West is superior to the rest of the country in all ways. While I decided long ago that I would live wherever my career dictates, I will also do whatever I can to spend as much time in the West as possible. If a trip to San Diego comes up in February and Bryan is busy, you can bet I will be the one volunteering to go. 

So what do I think about all this, now that it is done and behind me? Well...

When I first heard about this law, my knee-jerk reaction was something along the lines of, "This is a bad and unnecessary law. Government involvement in guide dog matters is a bad idea. Guide dog schools regulate ourselves in the form of IGDF standards and accreditation. The law actively hurts Californians who choose to go out-of-state for guide dogs." But the more I researched this subject, the more I realized that it is really much more complex than I had originally thought. It's not that I've entirely changed my mind -- after all, 49 states don't require licenses to provide guide dog instruction, and unless someone can show me stats to prove otherwise, I don't believe that either the public or guide dog users in California are any safer than the public or guide dog users in any other state -- but I have come to realize that the subject is not quite as black and white as I had originally thought it was. Is it necessary to have a State Board at all? I absolutely think it is not. But does that mean the Board should go away? I'm not quite sure, and here's why. 

Let's start with the assumption that at the time of the creation of the Board (1940's), it seemed like a good idea and like the only way to fix the problem of unqualified trainers and guide dogs. Society at that time would not have assumed that people who were blind would be able to do their own research on guide dog schools, or be able to tell a legitimate school or trainer from an illegitimate one. (And really, because the whole idea of guide dog schools at that time was so new, maybe no one, sighted or blind, WOULD have been able to do that.) I can imagine the growing problem and the feeling that something needed to be done and the feeling that government was the solution. Government sometimes IS the solution. The ADA, for example. Not a perfect law, but far better than no law at all. I can understand the perspective of the people pushing for government regulation in the 1940's.

What about modern times makes it different from the 1940's, where the need for guide dog school regulation is concerned? The obvious big one, to me, is the existence of the IGDF, or International Guide Dog Federation. It was officially created in 1989 to facilitate communication, share information, develop and maintain standards, and advance knowledge in the industry. Membership in IGDF is voluntary, but all of the reputable U.S. schools are members. To be a member school, an organization has to meet basic operational and instructional standards established by IGDF. IGDF-accredited organizations also have to be assessed every five years. The anti-Board argument I hear most often is that, now that IGDF exists, there is no need for the Board to be concerned with an instructor from an out-of-state school instructing a client in California as long as the out-of-state instructor is from an IGDF-accredited school. That is a good point -- there is no way that the Board, which consists of people who are not involved in the operations of guide dog schools, can possibly do as good a job assessing the quality of out-of-state schools based on a multiple-choice test and a 45-minute oral presentation as an IGDF assessor can. An IGDF assessor is someone who has made a career working at guide dog schools, has a great professional reputation, knows the right questions to ask, and looks at every aspect of an organization before saying yay or nay. As a GDMI, who do I think can do a better job setting minimum standards for an organization -- an IGDF assessor, or the California State Board? The answer is obvious. (What may NOT be obvious is that, when I say that the IGDF assessor is capable of doing a much better job than the Board, I am assuredly NOT saying the IGDF assessor does a better job than the panel assessing my presentation. I was honored to be assessed by those three people -- who would probably just as soon not have their names in my blog -- and would have accepted their judgment no matter what. But those assessors are not the Board.) 

Is there any GDMI out there who can honestly say, "I think the California State Guide Dog Board should continue to exist?" If so, I am truly open to hearing WHY. I respectfully and honestly have to say that I have never heard one reason that the Board is necessary or one actual accomplishment that it can claim or one person that it can say it has helped, while it is easy to come up with examples of people it could potentially harm. Examples: a California graduate of an out-of-state school who is having serious work or behavior problems with their dog that could be putting the safety of the person and/or the public at risk, a long-term graduate of an out-of-state school who has moved to California and needs a home training, a deaf-blind client who lives in California (as far as I know, no California schools accept deaf-blind clients; only Leader and Guiding Eyes do). I legitimately wonder what the members of the Board would say to those people? "Convince your school's instructors to get licensed," maybe? Okay, but what if the school did not support that? Is that person really just out of luck, then? Also, what about owner-trainers in California? Would they be fined for not having a license? Would they continue to be fined every day that they work with themselves? I would really like to know the answers to these questions. 

But, on the other hand, from the government's perspective...

I was a government employee for six years; I know some things about government employees. One thing I know is that most of them are genuinely well-intentioned, want to help people, and most believe that government is, though not perfect, at least a means to making life better. So if you are a government employee -- say, one on the panel reviewing the existence of the Board and determining whether it should continue or not -- probably what you will see is "protecting blind people and ensuring public safety". You would not necessarily know that many people who are blind would find it offensive that the state of California doesn't give them the choice of working with whomever they please to help them with their guide dog. You might think, "There are three regulated, well-established guide dog schools in California; no blind person in California is unable to get a guide dog because of this law." You will probably have heard some of the arguments about fake service dogs and the magnitude of that problem. (Even though I have never heard that the Board has done a single thing to address that particular issue, it is one of the prevailing issues in the broader service dog community at the moment, and it might be considered unwise to remove any type of service dog regulation at a time when unregulated service dogs are presenting such a huge problem.) You may also think, "We're not telling anyone they can't instruct people in California. ANYONE can as long as they jump through the hoops. That is just California establishing minimum standards to protect the people of California." (I hate to say it, but... this is sort of a valid argument. California does have the right to enact measures to protect its citizens, as well as to regulate business practices within California, as long as those measures are not discriminatory.) You may hear the argument that IGDF regulates guide dog programs, so California doesn't need to worry about it anymore. True... but how do you know the quality of IGDF and its assessors if you don't have an insider's knowledge of the industry? You don't; all you basically know is that this industry is saying to government, "We'll regulate ourselves, we promise." I don't believe IGDF has any statistics either to point to how IGDF membership has improved the functioning of any school. Fewer graduate returns? Fewer complaints? Higher success level of dogs? Any of those rising to a level of statistical significance? Probably not. (Although, after spending the entire day writing this, I no longer have the patience to google anything. So I'm not sure about that.) Finally, as a government employee or someone who works closely with the government, it is undoubtedly true that you are always aware of the need to cover your ass. You don't really know what would happen if you vote to dismantle the Board. Maybe two weeks later a guide dog will drag its handler in front of a speeding bus while an unlicensed out-of-state instructor stands by watching, lacking the knowledge to intervene. Then who would be blamed? The state, for having given up oversight of guide dog instruction in a state that has always had oversight of guide dog instruction.

Nothing I said in the above paragraph is a real reason that the Board should continue  to exist, but they are all reasons why THE BOARD might think they should continue to exist, and not really terrible reasons either. I mean, I think my reasons for saying that I think the Board should cease to exist are more right than anyone's reasons for thinking the Board should continue to exist. (My reasons, in case I didn't make them clear, are this: no other state requires licensing, and nothing about guide dogs is better in California than in other states; the Board was created before IGDF and IGDF does a better and more-informed job of regulating than the Board possibly could; the California law could make life difficult for deaf-blind clients, people who want to train their own guide dog, and guide dog users who might want to attend an out-of-state school; the California law actually makes the public potentially LESS safe because a graduate of an out-of-state school who is having work or behavior problems with his or her guide may not be able to get help and therefore may pose a risk to the public if, say, the dog is unsafe in traffic.) 

So what SHOULD happen with the Board? Well, if I was making the choice, I would say get rid of them. Easy for me to say. Knowing the way government works, I would bet a paycheck, or several, that it will not go away. Not in 2017 and probably not ever. Government is designed to grow, not get smaller. It's much harder to justify ending something (and changing so many existing things in the process) than it is to just allow the thing (which everyone in California is used to) to continue. Doing something is harder than doing nothing. It is also worth noting that, although I have referred to the Board throughout this blog entry as though it is a single entity, it isn't. It's made up of seven individuals, none of whom I know anything about. They very well might have a much clearer perspective on the whole situation than I give them credit for, or than I have myself; that is certainly possible. They are all influenced by other people too. I have no idea what other individuals in what other agencies have influence over the Board. I also really have to ask myself if it is the worst thing in the world for the Board to continue to exist. It certainly isn't the worst thing for ME. I got to see my family in California; I got the pride of passing the test and being deemed worthy to practice in California by people I respect greatly; I know that no grads of my school are going to suffer because of lack of follow-up; I have the virtuous feeling that my organization is complying with the law; I know that $100 a year is pocket change in a school's budget. I sweated through the test but in hindsight, after thinking a lot about the questions, I actually think they are very well-designed. A good GDMI can pass the written test, and people don't fail very often. Nothing about the oral presentation is a surprise; how well you do on that depends on how hard you practice beforehand. So is it really that big a deal for schools to just comply with the law? After going through this whole process, my answer is a resounding "I'm not sure." By the way, a totally different answer than I would have given before taking the test. Right up until the time I took it, I am pretty sure I remember saying something along the lines of "I can't wait till I have my license so I can write a blog about how dumb that law is." Turns out I am the dumb one... for not recognizing in advance that nothing is as simple as you might think it is before really looking into it.


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<![CDATA[To The Person Who Raised This Puppy]]>Mon, 04 Jul 2016 23:21:10 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/to-the-person-who-raised-this-puppyHe's not really a puppy in appearance when I get my hands on him for the first time. He's a year old and pretty close to adult size, although he'll probably fill out some over the next year. But he's still a puppy in a lot of ways, still wildly excited to get out of his kennel, still thinks about playing more than about working much of the time, still finds other things in the world more interesting than what we would like him to be doing some of the time. That's pretty normal; it's a rare 12-month-old Lab or golden who comes in for training ready to be serious.

Anywhere from a month to a week before I lay eyes on him for the first time, you drove him here to Leader Dogs, or else you handed him over to someone else to drive him here, and said goodbye to the puppy that first entered your life as a little, fluffy, black or yellow or brown or golden teddy bear. Someone handed him over to you at the age of seven weeks, and at the moment you took him into your arms, whether he was your first or your 50th, your gut reaction was to cuddle him like the baby he was and say, "Awwww...." 

You picked out a name for him -- maybe he was named after someone you knew, or a pet dog from childhood, or the color he was, or a celebrity, or as a continuation of a theme (famous Americans, cities) that you've used with previous puppies, or maybe it was just a random name that you liked the sound of. His name was probably the first thing you taught him. Then you got him home and started house training, and the reality of how much work a puppy is became real once again. It doesn't matter how many puppies you've raised; there is always a moment when the weighty reality of the commitment you have made makes itself obvious, and you take a deep breath and acknowledge that your life for the next year is going to include constant, daily work in all weather, no matter what else is happening in your life, whether you feel sick or healthy, whether you feel like training the dog or napping all day, whether you've been blessed with an easy, mellow puppy or Fate has handed you a high-energy pistol with an independent streak. But, even knowing how much work it's going to be, in those first few days the learning was easy to watch. Every day there were little improvements. Tonight he went to sleep in the crate after only whining twice. Five nights later he slept through the night for the first time. A week later, when you said "Stay" and put his food bowl down, he didn't try to get it, but instead looked up at you while keeping his rear end planted and waited for "Okay" because he got it; he figured out how that game works.  

He got bigger, a lot bigger. He switched from the Future Leader Dog bandanna to the Future Leader Dog jacket, and suddenly looked more professional. You kept having to switch to the next-bigger collar. One day he was big enough for the big dog collar, and you were shocked -- where did the baby go? He learned all of his commands, and usually responded to them, although sometimes he couldn't concentrate if you were somewhere new or exciting, and you had to get him to a quieter place and re-engage his attention before going back in. He was good at some things, struggled with others. Maybe he was fearless in public but would not lie quietly under a table when you went out to eat. Or maybe he was the opposite, perfectly well-behaved but afraid of a lot of things. Maybe he barked for attention and embarrassed you, or maybe he went nuts when he saw another dog and forgot you existed, or maybe he had accidents in public even when he had parked before, or maybe he had allergies or chronic diarrhea or some other medical problem, and you thought to yourself, He's not guide dog material, but you kept working on it anyway because you committed to see this project through and because you never know what was just a stage he was passing through and what was really part of his temperament. Maybe you secretly counted days until it was time to send him back for training, and vowed never to do this again. Or maybe he was one of the nicest, calmest, easiest puppies you'd ever been around and you knew he would make it and your biggest worry, although you tried to keep this secret, was how are you ever going to give this puppy back?

Either way, he grew up. He went everywhere with you, to church, to the mall, to the bank, maybe on vacation, to puppy classes. You took pictures of him digging in the snow, sitting in front of the first flowers of spring, hanging out at the lake in summer with the kids or grandkids, running through the leaves in fall, sitting in front of the tree at Christmas. Suddenly he was a grown-up dog, and then it was time to send him back for his training. 

You really thought you were prepared for this. You understood his purpose, you really hoped he would make it (though if he didn't, you would take him back in a heartbeat), you always knew he wasn't really yours, but at the same time, his playful innocence and your total inability to explain to him why he had to leave was heartbreaking. You looked at him curled up on his dog bed sleeping and thought that soon he was going to be in a kennel with the other dogs. He would have a bed, but it wouldn't be this soft. He would want to get out of the kennel and be with people; you raised him to love people and be a part of a family. Would he adjust to the kennel? They all do, right? He loved other dogs; you knew he would really enjoy getting to play with them several times a day. But still... what about at night when all the trainers amd kennel people went home? 

The day arrived. You took a picture of him sitting next to the German shepherd statue outside because it's a tradition. You took him into the lobby and introduced him to the people behind the desk. They gave you some time to say goodbye to him. He was curious and excited about the new place, and wanted to check it out. Everyone there was very nice. You knew he would be well cared for. But still, there waes that moment when you walked away and he turned and looked back at you and looked so confused, like Where are you going? Wait for me! and you knew you could not possibly do this again, ever, it is the hardest thing in the world. (But you will do it again, most likely. Maybe you plan to wait and see whether this one makes it or not, or maybe you went home with a new baby that same day, but either way, walking out of there was leaving a piece of your heart behind, no matter how many puppies you have raised.)

It felt wrong in the car with him not in it, and even more wrong coming home to an empty house and an unoccupied dog bed. The first night was the worst, and every day after that you were a little more used to it, but still, you thought about him often. At odd moments throughout the day, you thought What is he doing right now? You wondered if he would pass his medical exams. He did. You wondered if he would be neutered. He was. You wondered if he had met his trainer yet, and you wondered who that person was, and whether he or she would like your puppy and would appreciate his personality. You thought you did an okay job raising him, not perfect, but okay, and you thought you had turned in a good dog, whether he makes it as a Leader Dog or not. 

When I met your puppy for the first time, I looked at him and saw the year's worth of hard work you did. I understood that your puppy, like all the rest, had someone at home who loved him and was thinking of him and wondering how he's doing. I read your puppy reports; I knew whether he is your first or twenty-first puppy; I paid attention to the things that you said about him. I let him know that I was his friend and he could trust me. I asked him to Sit and Down and he was happy to show me what he could do. I thought how proud you would be of him if you could see how happy he was, how good his responses to obedience cues were; how he wags his tail and looks at me when I drop food on the floor, like "I know this game, you're not going to fool me!", how much he enjoyed learning new things. I wished you could see him the first time he wore the harness and looked like a grown up Leader Dog. I wished you could see him lying on his back so I could rub his belly after the training session is over. I wish you could see me taking a selfie of me kissing his nose so you would know that he's not just another dog that I'm paid to train, but an individual who I am going to get to know really well over the next few months. 

Most of all, I want you to know this: your puppy will be loved for the individual he is while he is in training here, whether he becomes a Leader Dog or turns out to be better suited for some alternative career or just wants to go home and be a pet. And your hard work is appreciated, because without that good foundation built by you, our jobs would be much more difficult, maybe even impossible. 

(Also, I am a puppy raiser too. I get it... all of it.) 
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<![CDATA[Coming to Class for Your First Guide Dog? What to Know About Stressors in Class Before You Go]]>Wed, 29 Jun 2016 19:24:30 GMThttp://christiebane.com/forward-the-guide-dog-training-blog/coming-to-class-for-your-first-guide-dog-what-to-know-about-stressors-in-class-before-you-goI just got out of class a few days ago. Every time I'm in class, I notice something that I hadn't noticed, or at least hadn't taken the time to think about, before. This class, it was this: there are things that I wish we could tell people before they come to class. The things that don't really fit in an applicant interview. So if you're going to class soon, and it's your first time, pay attention. There's lots of great stuff about being in class at guide dog school, but it might make your class experience easier if you know that some of the stressors you may experience are normal and not some terrible thing that is only happening to you and not some omen that predicts you will not be successful with your dog at home. 

NOTE: All of the below apply to the "typical" 3-4 week residential training program that is standard in most of the U.S. schools. Many things in this post are not applicable to 2-week classes with lower client:instructor ratios or to home trainings. If you've had experience with one of those two alternative types of classes, please feel free to share your experiences in the comments! I can only write what I know, and what I know is 3-4 week residential programs. 

1) There will be bad days in class. Days where you have no idea how to get your dog what you want it to do, days where you feel like handing the dog's leash to the instructor and going back to the cane, days where you don't like the dog, days where, if you're being honest with yourself, you want to smack the dog, days where you feel like telling the instructor to stick it. Don't smack the dog, and be careful about telling the instructor to stick it. Just take a deep breath, recognize this as part of the process, and think of all the good days you've had in class. I like to think of class as the process of building a bank account of good days. Every good day is like a deposit in the account. If you make enough deposits, you can handle the occasional withdrawal. Really, what in life DOESN'T work that way? Relationships with people, families, jobs... all of them include some bad days, but if the overall trend is towards getting better, you're probably doing it right. Now if EVERY day is a bad day, if every walk with the dog is more difficult than it would have been with the cane, if the dog is making your life worse or more stressful than it was before you got the dog, then it may be time to think seriously about A) whether a guide dog is something you really want, or B) whether THIS dog is the right dog for you. Those are conversations that usually happen around the second week of class. Do yourself a favor and give yourself a week, or close to that, with the dog before making any decisions, though. In my experience, MOST matches that start out rocky improve significantly over that first week, especially for novice dog handlers with a learning curve. 

2) There will be human drama, and the extent to which it interferes with you and your dog depends on the makeup of the class. In this most recent class we had twenty clients and six instructors, all living in the dorm, for three weeks. For me, this living arrangement is part of the appeal of class. The enthusiastic, though untrained, amateur cultural anthropologist in me is delighted by the anticipation of the reality show that class sometimes becomes, entirely separate from the training that goes on here. What happens when you make twenty-six adults, most of them strangers to each other, live in one building and share meals and transportation for three weeks? Class is the answer to that question. Not everyone finds it as fascinating as I do. For some people it is just plain stressful, and understandably so. Most people coming into class have not lived in such close proximity to strangers since undergrad, if then. People of different life stages, educational and financial backgrounds, dog experience, cultures, and personalities are forced to spend an awful lot of time together. This, combined with the innate stress of learning a new skill and getting to know a new dog, can result in some "interesting" interactions. The best way to deal with this is to approach it like I do. The best mentality, in my opinion, is, "I'm here to put all my effort into creating the best possible working team I can." (Or "teams", if you're the instructor.) "I will find all the inevitable weird things that happen in class interesting and possibly amusing, but I will not allow myself to find them upsetting, because they aren't really about me."  

3) Almost every dog will do something that makes you wonder, can this dog really be a guide dog? It may lose concentration, briefly, when a squirrel runs in front of it. It may put its nose on the table and sniff your plate when the plate is right at Lab nose level. It may surge forward with momentary fear when it hears a sudden noise. It may be nervous the first time it rides in an airplane. It may become unprofessionally excited when a group of active children try to say hi. You may have had in your head an image of the noble, saintly guide dog, who only cares about its master, is never afraid of anything, and never makes mistakes. This dog doesn't exist and never has. I used to have the same image in my head, and when I first started training guide dogs, I was horrified by the fact that hardly any of them met my imaginary standard (which I had never actually seen in the real world, naturally; only in my head). Over time, and after having worked for three very good guide dog schools and raised puppies for a fourth, I am eminently qualified to say that guide dogs are still dogs. They have instincts, they have fears, they have weak areas, they are opportunistic. They don't understand right and wrong; they understand consequences. I always compare new guide dogs to two-year-old children. If they can, assume that they will. If the door is open, they will try to go out. If food is in their reach, they will think about eating it. If a dog sniffs them, they will sniff back. If a person gets excited while interacting with them, they will get excited back. In a new place, they might be a little on edge and bark at a noise. Part of the reason class is so long is that you need to learn how to manage the various dog behaviors that are natural to dogs but unacceptable in polite society. When the dog does something "doggy" that annoys you, try, if you can, to think of all the things the dog does right. Think of an average walk with the dog, how much smoother it is with the dog than with the cane. Think of how few curbs it failed to stop for, how many obstacles you never knew were there, how many straight-as-an-arrow street crossings it made. Those are all unnatural behaviors, and we are lucky we have a species willing to set most instincts aside most of the time and do these cool things for us. 

4) There is often an externally imposed feeling of pressure to succeed, in addition to your own internally imposed feeling of pressure to succeed. Everyone at home knows you're going for a guide dog. Maybe their expectations of a guide dog are really high and they are expecting it to be a perfect dog. As class goes on, you realize it is not a perfect dog and you learn how to manage the imperfections, but in the back of your mind you worry about what Mom and Dad or your O&M instructor or your boyfriend/girlfriend or your adult children will say when you meet them at the airport and the dog, excited and stressed, tries to jump on them or has an accident or otherwise appears less-than-perfect. You may have already heard strangers say something like, "Looks like that one needs more training!" and you wince because you can easily picture your friends or family members saying the same thing. You may yourself have had the same thought (see #3 above). As in #3, it is important to adjust your expectations and assist the other people in their lives in adjusting theirs. 

5) It is stressful when your instructor doesn't share your concerns or you feel like the instructor is blowing them off. For example, when you tell your instructor that the new dog she just left with you in your room tried to jump on your bed. You're worried about it because you picture the dog jumping on your parents' couch at home, or jumping on your bed and making your husband mad. Meanwhile, the instructor is like, "Yeah, they try that when they're excited, just tell him OFF and give a leash correction if he doesn't respond," and you're thinking "I said Get Off and he didn't listen and I don't know how to DO a correction because the real dog doesn't stand still like Juno and what about my parents/my boyfriend?!?!?" The instructor has the benefit of years of experience telling her that this is a very simple thing to fix, even for new dog handlers. It doesn't even rate on her mental list of potential issues between dogs and clients in class; she's worried about dogs breaking away from clients or about the dog that growled at the client when it was first introduced. There's no easy solution for this one other than hoping that you get an instructor who is empathetic enough to treat all client concerns seriously, even the ones that are minor from a professional standpoint. On the other hand, if the issue is going on for days and you don't feel like your ability to handle it is improving, and the instructor still doesn't seem to take it seriously, well, there is always the class supervisor, whose job it is to care about all of the issues in class and all of the clients' experiences. See that person if you are truly worried and you can't seem to get the instructor to treat your concerns seriously. 

6) You'll feel like some of your classmates are doing better than you, or maybe even aren't having any problems at all. Everyone has their own experience in class. Every once in a while, we nail the match perfectly and there are no significant issues that the person has to deal with at all. That doesn't mean the DOG is perfect or the client is. Every dog has some quality that makes it an imperfect guide. The key is the client's tolerance level for that particular dog's imperfection. You may think to yourself at some point in class, "Man, I wish I had so-and-so's dog; she never seems to have any problems." But if you had so-and-so's dog, the imperfection that so-and-so doesn't even notice might drive you nuts. It might be an imperfection that you would be unwilling to tolerate at all, whereas your own dog's imperfection annoys you, but is tolerable (especially as your skills as a handler increase). The great majority of the time in class, every dog-human team is working on something. Maybe it's distraction, maybe it's having accidents on route, maybe it's a pace/pull problem, maybe the dog is great in harness but is like a jack in the box at meal times and won't lie still. We say, and mean, that we WANT you to have to work on things in class. It is way better to learn how to handle them when there are professionals present to coach you on how to work through the problems than to cruise through class and have problems erupt at home and have to wait for follow-up. (Although it is a myth that if you don't have problems in class, you will have them at home. This is sometimes said to make people who are struggling feel better, and we certainly prefer to teach people how to handle problems while they are in class, but the truth is that there are some people who don't have any significant problems in class and also don't have any significant problems at home, or ever during the dog's working career. This is rare, but it does happen.) 

7) You'll feel overwhelmed at times by the sheer number of new skills there are to learn, and you'll feel uncoordinated and ineffective sometimes when trying to put these new skills into practice. When you hear the instructor for what seems like the thousandth time, "Stand up straight," or, "Slow down when you're making a walking turn," or, "Correct her!" and you KNOW it's the thousandth time at least (though it probably isn't), and you feel like an idiot for still not knowing exactly what to do, understand that instructors understand that we are throwing a ton of information at you. Client to instructor ratio means that we don't always have the amount of time we would have in a perfect world to break skills down into their component parts and make sure you are fluent at each step before we add on another step. We know that it takes a lot of repetition. Trust me, when we were learning to train dogs (or at least those of us who are not "natural" dog trainers, such as myself), our mentors had to say those same things to us over and over again before we learned them. Now, if it's the third week and you still don't remember how the leash attaches to the collar, you might have a problem. But if you just feel like you still have a ton of stuff left to learn and you're still doing things wrong, most of the time that is normal. 

8) Some time in class, someone is going to say something that makes you feel bad. Possibly it will be intentional (another classmate, likely frustrated by their own dog and maybe not the best at coping with stress), but more likely it will be unintentional -- another classmate making a comment about your dog intended to be funny ("You'd better have so-and-so go first on the solo walk because it's going to take him all morning!"), or maybe even an instructor, tired at the end of the long day ("Now let's do that again, and see if THIS TIME you can get him to pay attention to you", seeming to imply that ALL THOSE OTHER TIMES he wasn't paying attention to you). The best thing to do with these comments is to not take them personally. They are very seldom really about you, and are much more likely to reveal something about the person who says them than to reveal some unpleasant or previously unknown truth about YOU. Also, everyone including instructors needs to remember to be careful what they say about other people's dogs or performance in class, especially as you get into the third or fourth week and people are really tired of being in class. The most innocent-seeming observation can rub someone the wrong way when they're tired or stressed.

9) Worrying about learning a new environment at the same time you're learning a new dog, or worrying about your ability to memorize routes in a new area, can be an added stressor, but it shouldn't be. We know that everyone coming into class knows routes at home. We've seen everyone traveling independently on video. Sure, there are some people who love learning and working in new environments, but in my experience, the majority of people are most comfortable working in familiar environments. Always keep in mind how many of the little problems that happened on your daily routes were due to your lack of familiarity with the environment. Some of the curbs in Rochester are so flat that I can barely detect them, with a cane or a dog. If you're working an unfamiliar route and your dog misses a curb, or your dog pauses at the curb and you think it's stopped for no reason and you tell it "Forward" and you cross the street without knowing it, that doesn't mean you will have the same problem at home. There's a reason why we tell you to start on familiar routes at home. If there's a very flat curb on a familiar route at home, you are anticipating it, and can use either time-distance, traffic sounds, or some other environmental clue to make sure you don't miss it. That's hard to do in an unfamiliar area. We aren't testing your memory for routes; our only goal in asking you to travel unfamiliar routes without an instructor right behind you is to enable you and your dog to work together without the giant distraction of the instructor hovering. So when a problem happens on a route, ask yourself, "Would that have been something I could anticipate on my routes at home?" If the answer is yes, don't over-inflate the severity of the problem. There are quite a few people that struggle with working in new environments the whole class, and then go home and have no problems working with the new dog in their familiar environments. 

10) Just because you are nervous about going home, or don't feel ready to go home, at the end of class, doesn't mean that you're not ready to go home. I believe that the great majority of new guide dog teams are ready to go home after three weeks. Three weeks is the ideal jumping-off point, where you know enough to work the dog safely and where the continued presence of the instructor is more of a hindrance than a help as the instructor continues to be a background distraction for the dog and for you. Knowing that the instructor is always watching can act as an inhibitor for some people, or make them worry that whatever action they take may not be the right one. Once you go home, you will realize how much you do know and how much you have absorbed from class.

When I go back and reread this, it looks like I'm warning that class will be unpleasant. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many lifelong friendships are made in class, it is full of rich learning experiences, and it is the beginning of what is, for the great majority of people in every class, an extremely fulfilling working partnership that lasts for many years and only gets better with time. My goal in writing this was to prepare people for the different types of stress that they may experience in class, and to provide information on the "normal" types of stress that can be experienced in class, so that no one has to worry that something is wrong because class isn't all "Wheeeee! I'm in class and my dog is perfect and this is all such a wonderful experience!" There are some people whose class experiences are like that from start to finish, but they are in the minority. Almost all clients in class will experience at least a couple of the stressors on the above list, and when and if you do experience them, just remember they are A) very common, B) normal, and C) not in any way predictive of your eventual success with your guide dog. Many people in their eighth, ninth, tenth or greater year of working with their dogs experienced many or even all of these stressors while they were in class, but the stress has a way of receding in memory, and the good memories are much stronger than the bad ones.

Grads, what do you think of my list? Too long? Am I missing something? Too negative? Let me know in the comments!]]>