Emotions, Dogs, and New Paths
This entry will focus on a few divergent topics, all of which, I hope, will come together in the end. If not, well, I hope they are entertaining and thought provoking so you won’t be disappointed.
I’m trying to process the struggle of retiring a guide dog. I’ve just experienced this transition and have been monitoring other guide dog users who are also going through this adjustment. It the best of circumstances it is emotional and anxiety provoking, in the worst, it feels like losing a loved one or cutting off a finger. I would argue the point and say it is saying goodbye without the internment of death. It’s a limbo that hangs on even after you are matched with a new dog.
I happen to be fortunate to have kept my retired dog and she still comes to the harness even after almost a year. She is used to being with one person all the time, day and night. She has turned to my husband for this reinforcement while I am away with my new dog working. I sometimes feel guilty, sad, and wistful; she is my first guide dog and the bar has been set high for my new dog, much to my discomfort.
Like John Grogan state in his introduction of the book, Marley and me, Verona is my Saint, the ultimate dog. I will compare every subsequent dog thereafter to her. Does Bailey know he’s being compared to Verona? I don’t think so. Do I struggle with this habit? Yes, and it often leads to trouble bonding and communicating with my new dog. I wish I didn’t follow these unrealistic expectations with Bailey, but I also think its human nature, part of the transition.
Topic 2: Expectations
I must turn to my new dog for my enhanced mobility and while I wish I could instill many of Verona’s personality traits and working behaviors into Bailey, I must accept his style and quirks to make it work between us.
For instance, when Bailey resorts to his dogginess, and I am frustrated by it, my first thought is, ‘Verona didn’t do that,’ Then the pang of guilt reminds me that bailey is not Verona, that every dog is different and it isn’t fair to expect this 2 year old very exuberant male Labrador to behave like my 9 year old female, who has many years of practice and poise to draw upon.
I do ashamedly admit that I wish she could instill some of her poise and dignity upon him, waive her canine fairy wand over his head and with a poof! Bailey would no longer dive under chairs for discarded napkins.
It would help me feel less frustrated.
Topic 3: obsessed with training
Every moment is a training moment. Yes, I have turned into an opportunist of the worst sort. It began with Verona and now it has become part of my autonomic system. Don’t just give them a treat, make them work for it. I recently taught Bailey how to give us a paw. He slaps the hand holding the treat and it’s very funny. It’s an expected social interaction with people, after all and I was surprised he didn’t know how to do it. I had to enlist the assistance of a dog trainer to help me help him make the connection. We are going to work on the other paw next week.
This trainer, by the way, was one of the other guests at the bed and breakfast we frequent. Talk about not being able to put away the clicker and treats for the day; we even kept in touch afterwards and will get together at some point to proof out my dogs for their CGC (Canine Good Citizen Certificate).
Verona knows her right paw from her left paw and also sits up and begs on command. Work for it, you doggies!
Topic 4: Trust Your Dog
But I digress. Back to retiring the first guide dog. For me, traveling up to Guiding Eyes without my dog in the harness was bitter sweet. I cried and the first two days were the hardest. The insecurities of the first time came flooding back; would this match work out? What if I got a bad match? What if my dog doesn’t bond to me, or, worse, what if I don’t bond to my new dog? What if the dog has a weird name like Petunia or Fireball? I wanted a dog as different in looks from Verona as possible. I requested a taller, stronger, faster dog.
And, yes, all these doubts were scattered when he came into the room. Bailey was strong, whined for his trainer, and accepted me reluctantly. I remembered the whining, the restless way both dogs exhibited and I wanted to tell Bailey that it would all be okay, that He would get more love, discipline and care from me and he didn’t have to go back into the big, noisy, kennel tonight or anymore nights in the near future. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to understand this allowed me to be kind, patient, and hopefully comforting in some way.
I learned about Bailey as he learned about me. He had to learn how to clear us from obstacles, make sure I was on safe ground as I walked. He had to stop for elevation changes like curbs, steps, low hanging branches or store front signs. He had to learn to back up with me holding onto his handle, push and pull me and move me to keep me safe. I had to learn his body language, his pace, and his signals. We both have likes, dislikes, habits and quirks and sometimes we butted heads over them.
Now Bailey loves brushing, but we had to work on convincing him brushing and ear cleaning were both necessary and good to tolerate. He does funny things with flip flops, like using them as tug toys. He loves tissues, and will pluck them from the box if he can. He brings me my shoes in the morning. He doesn’t like going under a chair, and once under it, will tangle himself up or back out of his harness like Houdini the escape artist. He is a sniffer and has taken liberties with many items he thinks would be good candidates for food. The first week I had him home with me he brought me a few bottle caps, different shoes, ripped up my daughter’s flip flops, and ate through a few dog beds.
Verona was smaller, getting under chairs was never an issue. Verona ignored food until given the okay. Well, if I’m going to confess, her weakness has always been French fries and potato chips. Verona has delicate feet, often slowing down to go over surfaces she disliked as if she were stepping through glue. She is very empathic and we are soon going to train as a pet assisted therapy team.
Bailey’s strengths are the way he blocks me from steps until I place my hand on the rail or a foot on the edge of the step. He loves to just walk and is great at remembering routes. He has the biggest heart, the best kisses, and most of all, has accepted all of us as his new family. It’s taken 6 months and many hours of hard work, and even some doubtful moments, but we’re finally over the hump and on our way to a great partnership, thanks to Bailey’s giant Labrador heart and his willingness to work for me, Saint Verona, some awesome instructors, and loving and dedicated puppy raisers.