A Word on the Weather
Ah Autumn! This is my absolute favorite season – the crisp feel of the air, the beautiful colors of the changing leaves, and of course, apple cider and pumpkin flavored everything! Autumn is also a wonderful time to begin training a new group or “string” of dogs.
In the very initial stages of training, our dogs learn how to target curbs and how to respond to the “forward” command. When training forward, the goal is for the dog to begin pulling into the harness on cue and continue at a consistent pace until they are told to wait. For guide dog instructors, teaching a dog the forward command bears a strong resemblance to running a 5K. Teaching ten dogs the forward command is a little bit like running a marathon. On a cool crisp autumn day, when the weather is sweater and jeans appropriate, trainers can be found wearing shorts and short sleeves, and it still gets warm out there! I always consider myself lucky to be training forward in the cool weather!
Because our guide dogs are placed all across the country, from Alaska to Texas, our dogs must be able to work outside in all weather. Every season brings its benefits and challenges. If the snow really piles up during the winter, sidewalks and street crossings may become partially or completely obstructed. This can be a challenge to work around but is also a great opportunity for our dogs to practice their problem solving skills; they have to learn to find solutions when their path isn’t clear cut.
I like to work with my dogs in residential areas in the springtime, when we can enjoy the new blooms in the gardens in Peekskill and White Plains. Of course spring also brings lots of showers; dogs and trainers get lots of practice working in the rain. It is important for guide dogs to work safely through puddles and run-off streams if necessary – no leaping over them!
Summer brings warm sunshine, long days, and our amazing golf classic! Summer is a fun season to train in. Dogs practice working at the White Plains Farmers Market, a large, crowded, outdoor bazaar with lots of fruits, vegetables, and other goodies – often right at nose level. It is a great opportunity to work on pedestrian clearances and food distractions. Of course on some days it gets so warm that the pavement can burn the dogs’ feet. Luckily our dogs are trained to work in booties – literally shoes for dogs – which help to prevent their pads from getting burned.
Often people ask about whether it is safe for a dog to work in very hot or cold weather. A good rule of thumb is: if you are uncomfortable, your dog is likely uncomfortable, and if the weather is dangerous for you, it is also dangerous for a dog. Our veterinary staff keeps careful track of the weather and sets guidelines for how long dogs may be outside in extreme weather. Sometimes, it’s just a good idea to practice indoor work at the mall!
Kate Petersen has worked at Guiding Eyes since March, 2010. She was involved for many years prior – having raised numerous puppies with her family in our Southern CT region. Kate lives in CT with her husband Eli and retired guide Emmylou.