It has been fifteen months since Shiloh retired.I was focused on adjusting to life without a service dog again, and was so busy and tired I did not have it in me to write. I had to hire a human personal assistant again and cut things out of my schedule simply because there wasn't energy for it. It has been a long 15 months full of change.Leslie and Gwen started a new job and moved to Washington. Ten months after she retired I received a call from Summit for an assessment day which is something they do when the trainers need more information about you and your disability or they think they may have a dog somewhere in the ranks for you. 13 months after Shiloh retired I decided to take a new job and move to back Washington.
Dog Guides and their people relaxiung at ACB Los Vegas 2014
September is National Guide Dog Month! Guide Dogs are near and dear to me for many reasons not the least of which is I have had the joy of living with working guides for almost seven years since my roommate is blind and has partnered with a guide since she was 18 years old.
A short history of Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs were the first type of service dog to receive formal training and recognition of what dogs could do to help people following WWI for use primarily by veterans blinded in the war. The first Guide Dog school in the U.S. was The Seeing Eye in 1928. This is why you hear people referring to all guide dogs as Seeing Eye Dogs today! (once we humans get trained on something, we can be really hard to retrain!) Read more about the history of Guide dogs
What Does a Guide Dog Do?
A guide dog guides it's human in short, but it is not really that simple. Guide Dogs and their human partners work together using the principles and skills taught in Orientation and Mobility (O &M). O &M is a huge field in blindness and visual impairment that teaches blind and visually impaired people how to navigate the world both inside and out safely, know where they are in the world, and get where they want to be. (This training often incorporates the use of a white cane, but is not limited to teaching only the use of the white cane.) People wishing to partner with a guide dog must demonstrate a very high level of O&M skills including very competent use of a white cane before they are accepted for partnership, because:
O & M skills are the base for how guide dogs works and provide information about the world around the team to their partner
O &M skills are neccessary for the human partner to be able to make decisions about where they want to go, how to get there, what is safe, and understand the information their guide is providing them through the harness.
Guide Dogs guide their people along a path of travel determined by the human partner. Their job is to guide their human around obstacles in their path of travel while maintaining the most direct path of travel possible. If the path of travel is not safe because it is either too narrow for the team to pass together or the team encounters stairs, a curb, a street, a moving car (or bicycle), a hole, or a dead end the dog will indicate this by stopping. The human partner must investigate why the dog has stopped and decide what the next best course of action will be based O&M rules and training on where the team is trying to go. Guide dogs are also trained to find common nearby objects the handler needs in the environment including things like bus stops, curbs, stairs, doors, trash cans, check out counters, seats, and elevators.
Guide dogs must be able to demonstrate a trained skill known as intelligent disobedience. This skill is very, very advance and very hard for dogs to learn because the majority of training for dogs is all about doing as you are cued as quickly and cleanly as possible. Intelligent disobedience comes into play when the human partner has told the dog to go forward, but has failed to perceive some danger in the path ahead such as a car that was not there a second ago but now is, or if the human misreads the traffic and would walk into the path of a car if the dog went at that moment., or the path includes an uncovered hole for which there is no safe way around. The dog must perceive these obstacles to the path and refuse to follow the command no matter what until the path is safe. This refusal saves lives and is one of the most difficult skills to teach a dog as it goes against all of their other training. Dogs that cannot hold their ground when the cue to go forward into a path that is unsafe is given do not make it to becoming a working guide dog.
Myths about Guide Dogs
Guide Dogs know where they are going.
Guide dogs do not know where they are going. The human determines where the team is going and the best way to get there. Dogs may learn common routes the team takes, but it is still not up to the dog to know where the team is going. The dog's job is to navigate the route determine by the human in the most direct path possible while guiding the human around any obstacle in the path and stopping when obstacle like a narrow path, construction, a crossroads, stairs, a street or a curb require the dog to seek further direction about where the human wants to go from the human.
Guide Dogs know when the light is green.
Guide dogs do not know when a light is green. The human partner uses the O &M Skill of reading traffic to determine when it is their turn and safe to cross the street giving the dog the forward cue when they think is is safe to go based on the sounds of the traffic flow around them. The dog's job when crossing streets is to:
1. refuse to go if the human has incorrectly read the traffic or if the picture suddenly changes in the seconds after the cue to go forward is given.
2. Guide the human quickly and safely across the street using a straight curb to curb path of travel stopping momentarily to indicate the curb on each side so the human will be able to make the step up if needed and be aware of when they are entering and exiting a street.
What to do You Encounter a Guide Gog Team 1. Go on about your business as usual.The dog will go around you if you are an obstacle in the path of travel. 2. Address the person not the dog. Do not attempt to call the dog, if you think the team is unaware of an obstacle or danger address your concern with the person. 3. Leave the Dog to their work. Please do not hold out your hand or treats to the dog. Please do attempt to pet the guide dog as it passes by you or stands in a line near you. Please do not try to get the dog's attention by calling it, whistling, making kissing sounds, snapping your fingers, clapping your hands, barking, meowing or intentionally blocking the team's path. Doing any of the above adds unnecessary stress to the dog's work and potentially puts the team in danger should they walk into an obstacles, miss a street crossing, fall off a stair or curb because the dog was distracted by you even for a second! Many states have laws making it a criminal offense to distract or injure a guide dog. 4. Keep you dogs leashed, under control, announce your presence, and give way to a team. Guide dogs are dogs, but their are working stopping for even a second because another dog wants to greet the them or the dog ahead is causing the team to be concerned for their safety puts the team in danger again because the dog cannot focus on their work. When out with your dog and you encounter a guide dog team:
Ensure your dog is on a leash and under control. Out the the end of their flexi-leash is not under control. Barking, whining, and growling are signs your dog is not under control. Pulling towards the guide dog is not a dog under control. Please when out with your dog an you encounter a team: a. Announce yours and your dogs presence including where you are in relation to team. For example: Say, "Guide dog handle there is a dog coming towards you on you left side." Doing this will alert the handle to your dog's presence and allow them to give their dog appropriate direction to continue working. b. Move your dog to the side of your body that will put you between the two dogs as you pass the guide dog team.The will provide much needed space for the two dogs to pass while minimizing the potential for distraction or problem between the two dogs. c. If you dog is not capable of calmly pass another dog without pulling, whining, barking, growling stiffening their body, or show any other sign they are overexcited/uncomfortable; step well out of the way of the way of the guide dog team and allow them to pass before you and your dog continue on you way. Remember to alert the team to your presence and where you have stepped out of the way to. 5. Do not leave you dog tied up where they will block the right of way. Tied up dogs are very unpredictable and present an obstacle for a guide dog team for which there is often no warning and no safe way around. Dogs break collars and leashes all the time and should never be left tied up and unattended.Tied up dogs are often stolen. If you are out with your dog and think you might stop somewhere consider what you will do with you dog and what might happen to them in the time you are away.
Shilo retired on August 17th after five years, 10 months and 2 days of partnership with me. Making the decision to retire a service dog is never easy even if there is an undeniable reason such as failing health driving the human partner to the decision. I am working on a series of post about Shilo's retirement to help people understand this all too little discussed inevitable phase of life with service dogs which will include topics:
Timeline to Retirement
Signs a Service Dog Needs to Retire
Preparing for Your Dog's Retirement
Celebrating your Partnership
To Re-Partner or Not? Deciding whether a Service Dog is still right for you.
Also in the series will be stories from Shilo's retirement: