Report from the Kennels: The Training Cycle
Hi! My name is Sandra. I’m a yellow Labrador retriever, and I’ve been told time and time again that I’m pretty adorable! I’ll be two years old in December, and I’ve been living in Yorktown Heights at the Guiding Eyes Training School since the beginning of the summer.
My three favorite things are food, people and playtime. Fortunately for me, these are plentiful in the Training School kennels – so I’m a pretty happy Labrador!
At this stage of training, I’m working regularly in Peekskill, which is about 15 minutes from Yorktown. Before I was ready for the city streets, I learned quite a bit on the Guiding Eyes campus. I spent time in my kennel run getting to know my trainer, Stephanie. We would often play a game with the “target stick,” which is a long wooden stick with a red button on the end. Every time I would touch the stick with my nose, Stephanie would “click” and then I would get a treat. (Have I mentioned how much I love food?)
There’s a lot to learn when you’re training to become a guide dog. Soon Stephanie and I progressed to working outside. There are SO many distractions on the campus here: dogs, people and even a very suspicious cat named Moocher. I realized that if I focused on my work with Stephanie, I’d get lots of “clicks” – and lots of yummy food and pats!
When the target stick moved to the sidewalk outside, Stephanie taught me how to stop in just the right way – with my two front paws on the curb and my nose touching the target stick. We practiced this skill a bunch of times, and I would get so excited to show Stephanie that I knew exactly what to do! I started wearing a guide dog harness – first with a soft rope handle and then with a solid leather handle. The harness makes me feel rather important – I think I get a little taller each time it’s put on.
As my training continues in Peekskill, I’m learning how to move in a straight line from one street corner to the next, always indicating when we’ve reached the end of a block. I’ve mastered the new commands of “forward,” “left” and “right.” I’ve also started to understand that it’s my job to make sure Stephanie doesn’t bump into anything; if there is a garbage can in the middle of the sidewalk, I make sure to give her lots of room to get around it. Its lots of fun to look ahead of us and figure out which paths I’ll take to get around people and objects on the way to the next curb. As with anything else, Stephanie always makes a big fuss over me when I get it right!
Stephanie tells me that soon we’ll start training in White Plains and New York City, and learning about escalators, revolving doors and subways. I’m not sure I know what all of those things are, but I trust Stephanie. Just like my puppy raiser, she spends lots of time with me. If I’m worried about something new, we’ll work through it together, and we’ll have a huge celebration once I’ve figured it out.
So far, this guide dog stuff seems pretty cool, but I know I still have a lot more to learn. Stay tuned for more of my story.