The Boys Take Longer
Since my last blog post, I have made some progress regarding my partnership with my new guide, Bailey. Let me begin by saying that my first guide, Verona, was a very self-possessed female. She is now retired and is very sweet and silly. When she worked, she was serious and a great problem solver and made little, if any, errors.
When I was matched with Bailey, I wasn’t prepared at how different he was, how, well, puppy-ish he acted. Without sounding biased or sexist, I now believe, generally, the male dogs take longer to mature.
For months, I’ve been working Bailey through various forms of disciplines; ignoring items on the ground, curbing sniffing, and other behaviors frowned upon when working.
I kept at the reinforcement, the corrections, and the praise. Then, almost as if a miracle occurred, more often than not, he began to ignore the errant items on the bus floor, pole sniffing, and other things. So, like any human, I upped the ante and began asking more of him. He has risen to the challenge and is doing some awesome work off-leash. He now will greet my clients, then, on command, enter his kennel and settle down while the session is in progress. I reinforce with a treat, then tell him to stay, and he rarely breaks away. Only once, when a client was sobbing, did he get up and put his head in her lap. I let him stay there for a moment, explained that he wanted to comfort her, then led him back in the kennel and he stayed. That is when I realized he was finally settling into his new role as my partner.
I wish I could say our partnership was smooth, but it wasn’t; I was sent home the second week of training with pneumonia. We were reunited a week later, finished training at home, and then in June, I tripped on the sidewalk and fractured my left foot. After this, in July, we traveled to California for my mother’s memorial service. I had to use a wheelchair in the airport while my sister-in-law heeled him. He did splendidly amid the chaos. I recall he would flop on my hotel bed at night and not fidget until the morning. He did have one accident, peeing in CVS, but was a rock for me during that time. If he wasn’t with me, I think I’d have gone into a much darker place.
He is still very people distracted, thus his street name, Billy. Yet, when I require him to suck it up and get things done, he does it.
The other day we ran into his instructor and while he acted up a little, he did settle down and show some level of maturity, with a little help from a proffered treat and praise. He did whine a little when she left, and I think it is normal. I’d worry if he didn’t whine a bit, after all, he will always love her in his doggie way. Is this the true form of puppy love? Hmmm …
So, readers, I am very satisfied with my new dog. My family loves him, and best of all, he is learning how to behave in a therapeutic setting. I am very proud of his progress.
The other piece of this is when I was matched with Verona, I extolled her talent and prowess, told whomever I could about the increase in my independence, thanks to my dog. Now that I’ve transitioned to my second dog, I am reminded that I have made it, overcome a serious hurdle. I couldn’t have done this alone and I am grateful for the support and confidence others have given me so I could get through the first year.
The transition from one dog to another is fraught with attachment and conflict, emotions and feelings we would rather not feel or to wrestle. I felt guilty for leaving Verona, then felt badly when we came home and she came to harness up alongside Bailey. I can’t tell you how many times I had to rush out so I wouldn’t cry. I imagined the rejected look on her face and felt the stab of guilt.
Yet, when we came home, she would greet us with a happy doggie dance. Unconditional love and regard from Verona got me through the transition fairly well.
Support from other handlers and the instructors at Guiding Eyes helped me become more confident and resilient while Bailey and I were getting to know one another and work together. March will be our one year anniversary and while I can’t take long walks with him due to the fracture in my foot, I can work him in situations that are still challenging, like in my office and in downtown White Plains or in the store and mall. I’m looking forward to surgery to repair my foot, once again being able to walk without pain and take those long, leisurely strolls with him. I hope it happens soon. Until then, we will practice, play and continue solidifying our partnership.