When I go on the road for work, I get a certain number of assignments, however many the bosses think I can handle in the time I have, and how I set them up is pretty much up to me as long as the clients get what they need. If I want to drive all day and night, find a motel at 2 a.m., and not meet the client till 9 a.m., rather than doing what normal people do and driving eight hours, then stopping, then finishing the drive in the morning, I can. If I want to stay a hotel that has a workout room or serves free breakfast, I can, as long as it is reasonably priced. All my meals are paid for, all my gas is paid for; what is there not to like? If it weren't for my own pets at home -- well, and also for the fact that I hate flying -- I would want to be on the road for work all the time.
There are all kinds of things I might do on a field trip. I might do an applicant interview, or visit a grad having a work or behavior problem with the dog, or train someone at home with a new dog, or pick up a dog and bring it back to Leader, or help the client figure out whether the dog needs to be retired or not, or do a presentation to a school or a Lions Club or a workplace, visit clients at a convention, or orient someone to a new area if they've moved, or finish working with someone who just graduated from class, or follow up on an abuse complaint, or just drop in for a courtesy visit, or any combination of the above. I never know what I'm going to get, and every trip is different, which keeps it interesting.
I remember my first field trip when I was at Guiding Eyes. I was still an apprentice and had to go up to Canada to work with a team that had been home for a few months. I had trained the dog and had the client in class. I got up there and was faced with a control problem so massive I knew right away there was no way I'd be able to fix it. In fact, I knew as soon as I stepped in the door and we tried to get through an obedience routine. I didn't even know where to start. I excused myself, told the guy I forgot something in the car or something. I went out and made a panicky call back to New York and told whoever it was I talked to that the situation was a disaster and what should I do? That person gave me a plan. I went back in the guy's house, tried a few things, all of which failed, then told him the dog needed to come back for evaluation. He gladly handed her over. She ended up being career changed, he got a better dog, and I thought a little harder about putting my stamp of approval on teams that I knew in class were going to have problems at home, because bringing back a dog that I trained that was making someone's life miserable in the real world, was not pleasant.
Fortunately, my toolbox is a lot bigger now and I don't have to make panicky calls home when I see something not good on a field trip. But I still appreciate these visits just because they serve as a reminder of just how complex some of our clients' real-world work situations can be. For example, one client I saw on this trip has to work the dog to businesses where colonies of feral cats live in the dumpster. Not just a few cats, but dozens; the bold kind that run from one side of the parking lot to the other, linger around the doorways hoping for food, fight noisily just a few yards from the dog's path of travel, et cetera. This client has to work the dog here because there's only one store in the small town. Knowing that people have to work in places like these -- also college campuses overrun with squirrels, schools for people who are blind and visually impaired with hundreds of people using canes every day, neighborhoods full of fence-running, barking dogs -- and really have no choice is something to keep in mind when training my dogs. Just because I can manage my dogs in training when I'm aware of the distractions present and know exactly where they are and know exactly when to remind the dog "Leave It" does not mean that the dog is going to work honestly in an environment like that when it is working with someone who can't see. I have learned over the years that if the dog can just barely contain its distraction level when with a trainer, it probably shouldn't go out with a person who is blind at all. Watching a dog make someone's life more difficult instead of easier -- that is not why any of us do this job. Real world field work keeps me honest as an instructor.
Totally unrelated to anything to do with the actual job -- I also love field work because it lets me see the country. If not for this job, I never would have gotten to spend any amount of time in small-town Iowa like I just now did. People really do live places where, if you live in town, you can walk to every single business and they're all located within six blocks of your house. There are places where you can almost hit an Amish buggy because the horse is black and the buggy is black and it's after dark and there are no lights at all on the buggy and by the time it looms up in the headlights, you're almost on top of it. The closest vet is an hour away and to get there you have to drive 60 miles of back farm roads. Everything has to do with farming somehow; the industries in the "big towns" are corn and soybean processing and tractor repair. I saw a silo with a giant dent in the top and asked how that happened. I was thinking maybe a crop duster hit it, but I was told that it was tornado damage. Oh yeah, we're in Tornado Alley! The temperatures were in the teens and twenties and the wind never stopped blowing the whole time I was there. It snowed a little and the whole countryside was grey, brown, and white, and the wind felt cold enough to peel skin off, but the people that live here are hardy Midwesterners and they just bundle up in Carhartt and go about their business (and that's what I did, too).
Side note: I love Iowa, and Nebraska so much. Every time I visit either one of those places I am surprised again by how beautiful they are. Michigan is okay, certainly a lot better than New Jersey or New York, certainly not as good as Arizona, but even the beautiful U.P. is nothing compared to the farmland and wide open horizons in the Midwest. It's too bad that life is probably never going to let me live either one of those places. Oh well.
Even though there are so many things to love about field work, it is important never to lose sight of the fact that I'm there to do the best job possible for the client. I always let people know that I am there to help them and that my time is theirs. So whatever their schedule is, I'll work with it, even if that means extremely early mornings or extremely late nights, or both; we will work as much or as little as they want (as long as we're not overworking the dog); I won't leave without the client being satisfied that we have done as much as we can; I will be honest if I see something that is a possible safety issue; and I will be available for further questions after I leave. That's doing a good job to me. Sometimes the client's schedule or stamina won't let them work that many hours. If that's the case, I will call other clients in the area and see if they need anything while I'm there. If there aren't any other clients, then I spend the free time writing my reports and updating my expense sheet. No reason to take training time to do those things after I get home, in my opinion; there's pretty much always time to do them on the road, even when the client wants and is able to work all day long.
Now I'm back in the real world and tomorrow I will get back to training my dogs. No more field work for me this training cycle; between this trip and Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation, i just barely have enough training time to get my dogs ready for February class. Oh, they will be ready, but I wouldn't feel right about taking any more time off. So long, field work, until next cycle.