The navigator and the pilot

I didn’t get chance to write anything yesterday, not because there was nothing to report but because we had a very busy day.

Yesterday morning we did an hour walk in harness. I absolutely loved this and am already constantly amazed at Fable and her ability to guide and problem solve. We worked on left turns, both direct turns and turning backwards and round when there is no space to turn left. Fable really picked up her speed yesterday and we seem to be in tune speed wise; when she is unsure she slow down and when she feels confident she speeds up to match my normal walking pace (which I am told is pretty fast for someone with a visual impairment). I also love how responsive she is to my commends and its really easy to control her speeds.

Along side the practical training there is theory to read each night. Yesterday’s harness walk demonstrated nicely Fable’s ability to use her initiative; while walking along I asked her to find the crossing and hay presto she took me straight to the zebra!!  The downside of this incredible ability for Guide Dogs is that they can tend to anticipate things like turns which is not a good thing as it makes them lazy and could be quite disruptive and in unfamiliar areas if she were to anticipate a turn it might result me being disorientated if I’d worked out my route beforehand. For someone with less vision than me this could be quite dangerous I would imagine. So we encourage initiative but discourage anticipation (at least I think that’s right)?!

During this walk we also ventured onto a local high street where Fable did a brilliant job of negotiating obstacles like street signs, open car doors and bins. Her vulnerable side was still evident though; she stopped dead in her tracks on spying a henry hoover which someone was using to clean out their car; I think she thought it was a scary monster – bless her. This is where the partnership between me and Fable become evident to me; in this situation its my job to assess the situation and reassure her that this is not in fact a scary monster and its safe to continue. The analogy used by my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor is that Fable is the navigator and I am the pilot; one doesn’t work without the other.

Our afternoon session focused around grooming and some more obedience training on a haulti lead.

Then the best and hardest part of the day was Fable’s first meeting with 2 of my very close friends. My GDMI had already run through what I needed to do when visitors arrived and I had briefed my friends on “the rules” which basically consist of ignoring her over-excitement and attention seeking and rewarding her with gentle praise and strokes when she is calm. I know my friends found this hard, as did I, but we stuck with it and as you can see from the photo the rewards speak for themselves! I am so pleased this went so well and am very grateful to my friends for doing what we had been advised, the long-term benefits of having a well mannered dog in social situations will more than compensate for a bit tough love now.

So its the weekend and we have no actual training; we have some homework to do in the garden with obedience training on a normal lead and I have given Fable some of her food mashed up and frozen in a kong to keep her entertained; she seemed to like and it now asleep on her bed, making cute yelping noises as she dreams!

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