17 July 2013

It's All About The Hard Traffic Check

This post is for the Twelfth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival which I am hosting here on Through a Guide's Eyes. The topic for this carnival is Partnership

My experiences with my two partnerships have been very different. Some of this stems from my skill as a trainer and thus my confidence, but a lot of it also stems from the differences in the skillset early on. With Met, the skillset was all encompassing with a change from in-training to service dog based on the quantity of tasks and level at which he accommodated my multiple progressing disabilities.

Thane, however, was a bit more precise as well as dramatic. My disabilities were much more pronounced at this juncture so it was essential that I set priorities in the training regimen. Above all else, Met's passing left me desperate for a guide dog so this is where I focused initially with Thane's training.

Owner trainer's have various ways for defining when their candidate has passed from the in-training phase to trained dog of whatever specialty-- guide, hearing, service. As only my second owner trained dog (and an increased level of blindness), I was still a bit uncertain beyond the minimum training standards (which I greatly exceeded with Thane), when I would know that Thane was ready to graduate from in training status to guide dog.

I taught him all the commands, practiced  in every conceivable situation we would encounter together, but in the end, it all came down to a very dramatic hard traffic check. Sometimes I really believe licenses are found as freebies in cracker jacks boxes! As we began exiting the curbcut at a 4-way stop, it happened- Thane threw himself at an angle across my path preventing me from continuing forward, just as a very old man failed to stop (another pedestrian filled in that detail) flooring into the path we were headed. There were no longer any questions in my mind-- we had arrived as a guide team.

For those who are not as familiar with guide dog lingo, traffic checks are used to prevent the handler from being harmed by oncoming cars. Often times this is a result of cars who do not yield (as required by law) for pedestrians/ yellow yield arrows, driveway entrances that intersect sidewalks and the like.

Traffic checks are part of guide training, but it is the hard traffic check- the life or death situation that points to successful training and the partnership that has developed.

Since that beautiful July day in  2008, there have been many other hard traffic checks (one being such a close call that it resulted in harness friction issues), but none will ever be as exhilarating as that first one-- when Thane became my guide dog.

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