Guide Dog Class Lecture: Transitioning from Our Campus to Your Home
Part A – Settling In
Graduation is the first milestone to becoming a smooth-working team. So far you have learned guide dog concepts and handling techniques, and have worked in various environments. During class you may have found yourself in tricky situations where relying on the basics and using your problem solving skills have helped you to respond to a variety of challenges.
Soon you will return home and take the next step in becoming what some in our field call a “well-integrated team”. Most GDB alumni report that it takes about six months before feeling really settled as a team. That transformation will require more than simply improving your travel skills together. The key to the partnership will be based on how you interact as life companions.
Reflect on the brand new relationship you have started. You may feel that you and your dog know each other well already. Actually, you have barely scratched the surface. The two of you have just begun a partnership that will grow in trust and understanding with each situation you face together, with every puzzle you figure out as a team. At some point that mutual bond can grow so strong that you might swear you can read each other’s minds. You can look forward to braving hardships together and sharing life’s most delightful moments as well. It is all ahead of you.
You have initiated a significant lifestyle change; you may have the jitters about you and your dog striking out on your own. Using your common sense, relying on what you have learned so far and taking one day at a time is a good plan. And of course, GDB will continue to be a resource to you after graduation. We want to take time now to cover some topics related to going home with your new guide.
On Your Own
Throughout class you have been receiving frequent instruction and regular feedback from your instructor staff. Undoubtedly you are looking forward to regaining the autonomy and privacy that you are accustomed to at home. Soon you will be the only one who decides how to best handle your dog; when to apply reward and praise, and when correction is needed. You will determine how to make your dog understand what you want and will be responsible for remembering to be consistent, to reinforce positive behavior and discourage bad behavior.
Being steady in your actions and expectations creates a sense of predictability that is good for your dog’s emotional wellbeing. This applies to both the handling of your dog as well as the schedule you keep. For example, after you give a verbal cue to your dog, be attentive that your dog responds properly. Your dog will quickly notice when you are not attentive, and may take advantage of your inattentiveness. Further, at home your schedule may differ from the one we follow here. Though dogs are adaptable, they do enjoy their routines. Plan now, and work out your feeding and relieving schedules before you leave. If you like, you can have us review them with you.
Establish a New Home for Your Dog
In order to give your dog a chance to feel securely settled, return directly home after graduation. This provides your dog the opportunity to become familiar with this new place - its layout, its smells, what makes it special. After an initial adjustment period, your dog will know he has a permanent place to call “home”. When your dog understands this, you can feel free to travel together knowing you both have a strong sense of home-base.
Family and Friends
It is normal for your dog to be the center of attention when you first get home. Family, friends, neighbors and co-workers will want to focus on your new partner. It is ideal if you have already prepared your friends and family before you get home. Most important is to prepare yourself to educate anyone in your life that does not understand the relationship between you and your dog. Without a doubt, when your dog comes home with you he will soon find himself an integral part of the family. Each family member will have a unique connection with your dog. Make it clear to your family and friends that this is not a regular family pet, but your working guide and companion. Explain that if they pay too much attention to your dog, it could reduce his willingness to work for you or distract him from keeping you safe. Assure them that you give your dog the love he needs and provide him with play and relaxation times throughout his day.
On the rare occasion that you are unable to tend to your dog’s needs, it is perfectly acceptable for friends and family to care for your dog. Anyone caring for your guide, however, should be able to physically handle your dog and use proper leash handling. A note of caution: if you routinely allow others to care for, play with and groom your dog, your dog will become less enthusiastic about working for you. Leisure time you spend with your dog adds to the quality of your overall relationship.
Many graduates have pets in their home, or another guide dog in the family. To help them get off on the right foot, introduce a pet dog to your guide dog by having both dogs sniff each other while on leash. If possible, this introduction should occur on neutral ground to avoid the pet dog from getting territorial. If going to a nearby park for the greeting is difficult due to a late arrival home after graduation, place the pet dog in a room and close the door before bringing the guide into the house. Let the two dogs sniff under the door to evaluate your pet dog’s response. Any aggressive behavior from either dog should be firmly discouraged. Even if your guide and pet dog seem to get along very well initially, it takes time for their relationship to be fully established. Continue to monitor their interactions for several weeks after you return home, especially since your guide will be confined on leash or on tie down during this time. Your pet dog should not be allowed to approach or taunt your guide at will. In the unlikely event that your pet dog does not accept your guide dog in the home despite ample time and monitoring, you may need to consider “re-homing” your pet for the well being of your guide.
For cats and pets in cages, if you follow the tie down and leash guidelines for your dog, these pets will have an opportunity to get accustomed to your guide’s presence at a distance that is comfortable for them.
Many dogs love to play together. Your guide can enjoy occasional playtime with his canine buddies, but if the majority of play attention comes from you, your dog will ultimately prefer your company.
Eating Habits and Settling Behavior
Because of the change in home-base and routine, your dog may appear restless or show a loss of appetite when you first get home. While this behavior is understandable, this is not the time to coddle your dog. Give your dog plenty of affection and companionship. Establish a regular routine, and continue to offer your dog his regular meal once or twice a day like you did during class. If he doesn’t eat within 10 minutes, remove the food and don't offer him any more until his next regularly scheduled meal. Hand-feeding or giving him constant access to his food will teach him to have an inconsistent or picky appetite.
When in a new place, some dogs may have a hard time settling, and will try to interact with you in the middle of the night. In order to teach your dog to lie quietly and patiently on tie down, say a firm “quiet” or “no” if he whines or paws at you, then ignore your dog. If your dog makes unsuccessful attempts to rouse you, he will soon lose interest and settle in for the night. Take note that when a dog whines excessively, pants and seems uneasy, he may genuinely need to relieve. If so, you can expect him to empty immediately when you bring him outside. If however he does not go right away, and he just sniffs around or tries to play with you, return your dog promptly to his tie down and ignore him for the rest of the night.
Pattern Good Behavior
An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure! While it is tempting to quickly give your dog full freedom in your home, you first need to convey your expectations. The most successful way to avoid inappropriate house behavior or relieving problems is to pattern good behavior in your guide from the start. Just like in class, you can do this by keeping your guide on leash or on tie down for the first few weeks after you return home. Your dog is quite used to this. As a working animal, your guide dog gets regular exercise on your daily routes and is unlikely to be restless if asked to settle quietly when reaching destinations. Ultimately, choosing to give your dog freedom in your home is a personal decision.
If you want to give your dog liberty in the house, introduce freedom gradually. Start by allowing your dog to drag his leash around at quiet times, such as evenings when your dog is calmer after the day's work. When your dog walks around to examine his surroundings more closely, follow him. If your dog is investigating without disturbing anything, praise him. If he decides to do anything inappropriate, let him know verbally that you disapprove. If you need to reinforce your verbal correction with the leash, simply pick up the loop handle and do so. If you’ve done your “homework” of patterning your dog, your guide will likely grow uninterested in exploring further and settle down in a familiar spot to chew his toy or rest. If your dog proves well mannered while dragging the leash, remove the leash. One thing to keep in mind: When you put him back on leash regardless of whether his previous behavior was desirable or not, remember to praise him as you touch the collar. Correcting your dog as you grasp his collar may create negative “keep away” behavior. Offer food reward periodically to emphasize that returning to you is always positive.
Places to Relax
Using tie downs or crates is a good method for managing your dog’s activity. While you provide your dog a comfortable place to rest, he is safeguarded from temptations and circumstances that could get him into trouble.
Here on campus we frequently use tie downs when we want a dog nearby but cannot give undivided attention to monitoring him or her. You can continue to use tie downs at home to help manage your dog while you are busy with something else. Teaching your dog to settle on tie down is also handy for when you leave the area temporarily. You want your dog to feel confident that you will return if he stays calm and well behaved. Tie downs are convenient, but your dog may attempt to chew anything within reach. Check to make sure there are no tempting items nearby when you leave him alone. Also be sure that your dog is wearing just a comfortable quick-release collar when put on tie-down. Some dogs are prone to lean quite hard against the tie down and others occasionally tangle themselves in the cable. They usually step out of a snarl themselves, but if you get involved you will find it easiest to detach the tie down from the anchor before untangling your dog. Or you may prefer to use a crate instead.
A crate acts as the dog's private home or den. Dogs actually enjoy being in their own "place" and are quite comfortable in a crate for up to approximately 4 hours during the day. Knowing that your dog is relaxing in a crate, you can leave the house for a while and be confident that destructive habits won't develop in your absence. At night, your dog can sleep in his crate for approximately 8 to 10 hours. Another advantage of a crate is that the dog has more freedom of movement and is effectively separated from any off-limit items.
At night, a guide dog likes sleeping in the same room as its partner. Initially, your dog should spend the night on tie down or in a crate. Think about how your dog is more settled in the dormitory now than during the first week up here. Your guide has had weeks of a consistent schedule and close supervision. You may have noticed your dog lying down on his rug before you even get your leash off or the tie down on. This is an indication that he is comfortable with the routine. These are the types of signs you want to consistently see at home before giving your dog freedom at nighttime. After your dog becomes accustomed to your house and his sleeping area, it may not be necessary to restrict your dog to a tie down or closed crate overnight.
A Guide Dog Off Leash
Even though a guide dog is trained to watch for traffic when working in harness, he does not attend to traffic when loose or off-duty. A guide dog running free is just like any other pet dog, and he can easily be hit by a car or poisoned by eating something toxic. Don’t expect your dog to respond to you reliably while off leash either. A normally responsive dog can become distracted and not respond to his handler’s calls. A guide dog should never be let off leash in any unenclosed area.
The watering schedule here in class has helped to promote good relieving habits. If you want to change to a “free watering method” once your dog is settled in your home, consider allowing several more relieving times for the first few days. Dogs often drink more than usual when first given free access to water. If you have water always available to your dog, it is important to clean the water bowl daily and replenish it with fresh water. If your dog starts having relieving problems with free access to water, change back to a specific watering schedule to gain control over your dog's water intake.
Growling or Barking
Guide dogs need to be comfortable around, and accepting of, strange and unfamiliar people, animals and circumstances. On the other hand, we realize that just by being a dog, some people are naturally intimidated by your guide. Your guide dog is not a protection dog nor guard dog. GDB does its best to weed out protective or aggressive temperaments from our breeding stock. Training dogs are not allowed to indulge in any barking, growling or related negative behavior either.
As class continues, you may notice your dog or a classmate’s dog letting out a quick bark when new people or dogs come in the building. The longer the dogs have been in the dorm, the more they feel at home. The vocalization can represent the dog announcing that a stranger has entered their territory. Yet barking and growling should be confronted and discouraged. If you do nothing when your dog growls or barks, you are telling your dog that you approve of that behavior. A couple of barks when someone knocks at your door are fairly insignificant, but you should still tell your dog “quiet” and correct if your dog continues to bark. Ignoring it could lead to other problems.
Your Young Dog
Your dog will act like a puppy sometimes. Even though he may often seem ‘adult’ or ‘grown up’, and is impressive in the work that he does; he is not yet fully mature. These adolescent dogs are still developing behavior patterns that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. It is up to you to maintain your dog’s training as well as teach your dog what your expectations are regarding his behavior in the home and elsewhere. As we have discussed, preparation and prevention are much easier than curing habitual problems. Starting off on the right foot and investing the necessary time early on will help you immensely down the line.
Part B – Getting Started on Your Routes
From Our Streets to Yours
Once you get home, start working your dog right away on familiar routes if you can. Remember that your dog has not seen these routes before. Allow extra time for your dog to adjust to the new area. It is realistic to expect that mistakes will happen; these are opportunities for your dog to learn. Don't rush yourself or him. Take a break and a few deep breaths when you find yourself frustrated. Be extra supportive and generous with praise and rewards for good responses. Your goal is to pattern the routes to go as you will want your dog to work them for the years to come. Take the time to ensure that new routes are a positive experience for your dog.
While your dog is learning a destination or route, you can use intentional landmarks such as a radio playing on the porch, a friend waiting at an appointed time or a temporary tactile surface on the ground to help the process along. Carrying a folding cane might come in handy when you need to explore the immediate area more thoroughly. Lengthy or complicated routes can be broken into parts and worked one segment at a time. Avoid reworking a portion of the route over and over in one session since your dog may get bored or disheartened. Use food rewards liberally to maintain your dog’s enthusiasm.
Note: Refer to the lecture “Orientation and Learning Routes”, the section titled “Orientation Strategies for New Areas” for more ideas on learning new routes with your dog.
A sighted assistant can be very helpful when you are introducing your dog to a new travel setting. You may first want to explore the environment without your dog along. That way you can feel free to talk at length with your assistant, test out various route options, and experiment, all without impacting your dog. Then, assuming that you have educated your assistant, you are able to pattern your dog to the best way to work the area while heeling your dog and going human guide. This patterning reinforces destinations that might not have been immediately obvious to a guide dog. Alternatively, an assistant can follow the team one step behind and to the right, while verbalizing directions, turns and landmarks. The assistant would give immediate feedback when the team has done something correctly or when the team needs to stop because they’ve just missed a mark. Giving timely feedback allows you to communicate most effectively with your dog.
Every guide dog has initiative, which is a guide dog’s way of making decisions and moves to get the team along their way. A dog’s initiative, however, can lead to some inappropriate anticipation, especially on routes that have become routine. This is a good reason to vary your routes, which not only keeps the work interesting for your dog, but helps manage anticipation. Another way to limit anticipation is by making an extra effort to reward with food at key locations.
A relieving schedule with “enough” opportunities for your dog to relieve means your dog is less likely have accidents in the home or on route. Know your dog’s individual needs and design a relieving schedule around them.
Where and how you relieve your dog at home influences what your dog will do away from home. If you have a fenced yard, think carefully about allowing your dog to relieve off leash at home. If you will be leash relieving your dog at work or school, continue to leash relieve at home until your dog demonstrates consistent relieving habits away from home. As always, be a responsible handler and pick up after your dog. If you need to relieve your dog on cement at work, it is best to do the same at home. Otherwise, you may have a dog “holding it” until they can get home.
Common Work Situations in Your Home Area
When introducing your new guide dog to your home routes, there are some typical situations that require extra attention initially:
Pedestrian Walk Signal Buttons
Because there is no uniform placement of pedestrian walk signals, it is important to work your guide dog to the corner before conducting a systematic search for the pole and button. You can use a cane or sighted assistant to determine exactly where the poles are located and to familiarize yourself to the corner in general. Once you have identified the easiest means for reaching the pole, you can pattern your dog to find it. After reinforcing the significance of the pole to your guide dog with food and praise, it is likely that she will identify the pole for you on subsequent walks.
Some bus stops may be identified only by a pole with a small sign whereas others may have a bench and/or a shelter as well. Finding some bus stops can be a challenge. Knowing landmarks and using time-distance estimation can help. Canes and electronic travel devices can also assist you in pinpointing the bus stop. This too is a perfect situation for using food rewards. If you can manage to practice your route to coincide with the scheduled arrival of a bus, it will help make the bus stop more meaningful for your guide.
These large, undefined areas are typically a challenge due to constantly changing traffic and parking patterns, and lack of orientation marks. Many parking lots are unsafe for any pedestrian. Did you know that parking lots are the second most common location where pedestrians are hit by cars (the first being driveways)? See if you can avoid the lot altogether by working around the block to gain access to your destination. Find out if there are usable sidewalks passing through the parking area. Consider the option of using the sidewalkless technique within the lot. Because you may be forced to work in the middle of moving traffic where drivers may not see you and where your dog may not be able to see or hear moving cars, consider being proactive in your handling to adjust for extra caution. A sighted assistant can help you pattern your dog to negotiate as safely as possible in this environment.
Your Young Guide Dog
Your dog’s performance and work ethic are still maturing. The more consistent and rewarding you are as a handler, the more motivated your dog will be to work for you and the stronger your relationship will grow. In time, you and your dog will develop an understanding as you become a streamlined working team. You will gradually build trust in your dog, just as your dog will learn to have trust in you. This type of relationship does not happen overnight or by chance. It is up to you to maintain your dog’s training as well as consistently remind your dog what your expectations are in his work. This includes maintaining your dog’s interest while re-working errors as needed. Once again, the time and energy you spend now will have a worthwhile pay off later on.
You can stream the audio of the class lecture here, via a Soundcloud widget. If using a screen reader, please select the "Play" option below.