Trust Your Dog
By Ann Chiappetta
There have been times, as a new dog guide user, that I’ve forgotten the first rule of working with a canine partner, Trust Your Dog, or TYD. The result, often painful, not only left me with a bruised knee or swollen ankle, but also the Homer Simpson-esque stamp of D;uh on my forehead.
If I’d listened to my dog and not stepped ahead of her, I wouldn’t have wrenched my foot in that sidewalk crack or bumped my head on that low hanging sign. It takes time, and in my case, a year or so, to accurately read my dog’s body language and know that when she jerks to a stop, or side steps and does a little dance, that under no circumstance should I even try to move. Instead, I need to carefully explore my surroundings with a toe or an outstretched hand, identify the danger, and trust my dog to find a way around it.
Thankfully, our teamwork is much improved since we first started our partnership and only a few embarrassing and thankfully not painful, moments have since prevailed upon us.
For instance, one afternoon we went to pick up lunch. As we approached the door, Verona stopped and I listened to determine if the door was open or closed. Sometimes the staff leaves the wet floor sign out and Verona shows them to me so we can go around them. I decided that since I couldn’t hear noise coming out of the eatery, that the door was closed. I put out my hand to swiped for the door handle and ended up grabbing a very large female breast. I jerked back my hand, profusely apologized and the woman stepped past me. She must have been about 7 feet tall and filled the doorway so that she blocked the noise just like the closed door. Face flaming; I went inside to order my food. Its times like this that I wish Verona could talk. Then, again, maybe not.
Now, the next story really is a TYD tale. Once again, we were coming back from lunch; the entrance to our office building is on the left. The door is up two low steps and can be awkward. The doors open out and the top step is not wide enough for you to stand on the landing while pulling open the door, and can be tricky for a person with a guide dog handle in one hand and lunch in the other. Verona slows down and usually stops at the first step. Then goes to the next one and I open the right hand door so we can slip in without a problem. This time, a man was standing at the top step with the right hand door open. We stopped, Verona didn’t go to the top step, so I knew someone or something was blocking us. “Is someone there?” I asked. No answer. I asked a second time. Finally, a man says, “you can go inside.” I tell Verona “forward” She doesn’t budge.
I turn to the man, saying, “my dog won’t go because you are in our way. We use the right hand door to get in.” Rather than stepping down and holding the door open from the outside, he tried to open the other door, pushing Verona off the landing and making me take a step backwards. So now, he’s got both doors blocked and we’re at the bottom of the steps. I wait until he lets the right side go, then I re-open it. As we pass, he says, “I told you it was okay to go, why didn’t you trust me?”
By this time, I’m a bit short of patience, the guy managed to cause a problem in about ten seconds and I was annoyed that he just pushed Verona down the steps with the other door and I had to let go of her harness handle to avoid her being hurt.
“Sorry, but I trust my dog more than people. Oh, and I don’t appreciate it when someone pushes my dog off the steps like that.” You could have hurt her
I hear him say, “I didn’t do that.”
Whatever, dude, I think and continue on my way. TYD.