Thursday and Friday Morning and afternoon we were downtown again, working the dogs. The walking itself was wonderful, so clearly and painfully do I remember how difficult it was for me to walk half the distance three years ago. Hip replacement changed all that, so that I can walk and walk and walk without pain or fatigue.
Autumn continued to dazzle me with her perfect street crossings – and, unfortunately, continued to bewilder me with her random abrupt halts. A guide dog is trained to continue in a single direction, safely guiding herself and her person around obstacles in that path and stopping only at curbs (awaiting the next instruction, i.e., to cross) or at obstacles large enough to require a decision from the human boss (such as stairs or a car parked across the sidewalk). Stopping abruptly in the middle of a block is an indication that there is a problem – a hole to fall into, stairs to fall down, a large obstacle blocking the path, etc. Since I have zero vision, these abrupt stops tell me there must be danger. Repeatedly, my instructor told me there was nothing. Autumn had no reason to stop. It is both frustrating and exhausting. In the real world, I’ll be alone – the whole point of getting the dog – so I won’t have the benefit of the informing instructor. In other words, who wants to be constantly flailing about to see what the obstacle is or, worse, after being fooled so many times by false halts, insist on forging ahead only to fall into an unprotected construction site?
She is such a lovable dog. Over the weekend, we played; we cuddled; we spent a fair amount of our much-needed down time just being together and bonding.
But this morning, the guidework had more random halts in it than ever. Jessica has tried everything – working in different locations and directions than the routine, to make the route more interesting for a smart dog. She had me try a different harness handle (offset, rather than perfectly straight angles, which sometimes makes a dog feel less vulnerable to klutzy human feet). Sometimes dogs are distracted by instructors, so Jessica dropped behind me. Still, Autumn halted and halted and halted. We might walk 50 feet or a third of a block and then, for no reason, she stopped. It’s been a tough day. The uplifting news is that it seems the instructors have been watching me closely. They say I’m doing everything right. They concur that Autumn seems to like me – is waggy and happy and such. Why she isn’t working is a mystery to all.
They are encouraging me to try another dog they have in mind. Another option was to work her on a bike path – straightaway with no possible reason for stopping. We tried it. It was better, but still those disconcerting abrupt halts.
Tomorrow we try bike path again and the other dog.
It’s been a rough evening – needing to keep to myself (and Autumn) sorting it all out. I’ve spent six days now attaching my heart to this adorable dog. But if she doesn’t want to guide, I need to let go and, in the vernacular of the business, “move forward”.