Monday, December 19, 2016


December 18, 2016

We have graduated and have started our life together.  As I write, Mensa is tucked under my chair at the Portland airport as we wait for our departure time.  There was a very long line to get to the ticket counter.  It was necessary to weave back and forth along that serpentine path to the counter.  Mensa did this with some verbal cues from me that I received from the GDB staff person who had driven us here. She did this at least as well as any of my seasoned guides. 

We had our graduation yesterday afternoon after having an opportunity to meet our puppy raisers.  Two of the four successive families were able to fly to Boring from San Francisco for the occasion.  It was fun and informative talking with them and learning where she has been and what experiences she has had.  It turns out that one puppy raiser works at the San Francisco airport and has taken her through that facility on many occasions.  Another raiser is a lawyer and took her to the courthouse where she learned to go through the security clearance. She was able to combine these two experiences today with ease. When going through security, I have her sit and stay as I make a long leash.  I go through first and then call her to me.  I do not alarm, but her harness causes her to have a pat down, enjoyable for her.   

Let me say a word here for the wonderful work that puppy raisers do in general.  They take the puppies when they are about eight weeks old and offer them as many varied experiences as their creativity and ingenuity can  consider.  Meanwhile, they tolerate the puppy accidents and likely loose more than a few shoes and other items to those puppy teeth.  When the puppies are well-behaved, they return them to the school where they were bread and born and professional trainers teach them the demanding work that culminates in a partnership that Mensa and I are establishing together. We are a work in progress.  We are not now what we will become in our life together.  Some have compared a new team as "green broke."  She knows the basics and has yet to learn the specific circumstances of my life.  I need to stress that the professional trainers do not have the time to teach good behavior and house manners and establish a wealth of experiences that combine to make this whole thing work.  The puppy raisers are an integral part of this process. 

We have practiced tucking Mensa under the seat in front of me using the airline seats that are available at GDB.  She, as most of the graduating dogs have not flown before.  This will be a new day of learning for Mensa.  Once we are home, she will meet her new family members.  These include my husband who is most anxious to meet her.  She will also be introduced to two cats who are likely not that excited to see her.  Our Basset will be an eager greeter. 

Those of you who will be interacting with me on a day-to-day basis will help us greatly by ignoring Mensa.  Please try not to compare he with my previous dogs.  She is not them and has not had their experiences.  We will need time to grow together into a well-working team.  Remember that initially, she has been taken from everything and everyone she has known as is expected to work for me in a totally new environment. 

December 19, 2016
We are home!  Mensa leapt onto the first seats when boarding the first plane of our trip.  She received a “leash lecture” about this and did not repeat it on the second leg of our journey.  She did need to learn how to settle under the seat in front of us, and she did this with clicking and treating for successive approximations of the desired behavior.  By the time the snack cart came our way, she was well settled on the first leg.  When we boarded the second plane, she settled as if she were a seasoned guide.  I really like the clicker training. 

Yesterday was very cold, snowy and icy.  We were both very tired and did not go out except to go to dinner with friends.  She behaved admirably under the table. 

We waited until today to introduce Mensa to one of our cats and our Basset.  All went well.  Our cat is much like the kitchen cat at GDB and came right up to Mensa, showing no fear.  She was wonderful with him as she had been with the kitchen cat.  She was rather indifferent to EZ, our basset.  Our black cat will have to find her own way to meet Mensa as she is much less sociable. 

Today as my husband and I took our seats in the waiting room for my annual physical, Mensa scooted under my chair very easily as if she has been doing that for years.  After that appointment, Mensa and I took a nearly one half mile walk around the hospital block.  She did make some work errors, but she could not be faulted for this.  Although the sidewalks were clear of snow for the most part, the streets and gutters were not. 

Today I have been working with food to slow her down when heeling on stairs out of harness.  She is making great strides.  No pun intended. 

I am very happy with Mensa.  She is a great dog—very affectionate.  She is eager to please and a fast learner.  She seems to be a great match for me.  She does not yet have complete freedom in the house, but there seem to be no behavioral issues.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Training guide dogs has always been based on praise for correct behavior and various levels of correction for communicating wrong behavior or responses. In this way, the new methods are not different, they are just giving a more clear indication of what is good behavior. Whereas we used to use our tone of voice and physical praise, we now include a food treat along with the other two. No doubt this is even more desirable and meaningful for the dog. We are providing a piece of kibble whenever the dogs make good choices. This motivates them to do more of what is expected--less need for corrections.

We began with heeling in the hall going to meals and back to our rooms. "Heel." take a few steps and stop to offer a treat. Soon we could take a few more steps between treats. We did this for the first few days, before we were cleared to work our dogs in harness inside the dorm. As a result, I have a dog that can or does heel with a slack leash when going sighted guide.

Our day begins early as we are to feed, water and relieve our dogs at 7:00. we now use our patios outside our rooms from the beginning. Mensa seems to know what is expected of her and goes quickly each time. There is now no standing in line in the hall to file out one by one to relieve our dogs as there has always been for me before.

This is the first time that there are no chimes or bells to call us to meals or to lectures. The telephone system gives us the schedule for the following day and we are expected to be there. This is also my first experience where the dog food is kept in my room. Each day, we do go down the hall to exchange the previous day's dish for a clean one.

Breakfast for us is 7:30. Usually, we have then met in the Fireplace room at 8:30. Often there has been a lecture/discussion with questions that we were given on the phone system the previous evening. Following this or just before it, e relieve our dogs again. We next go by GDB bus or in vans depending on the circumstances. Most early street work has been in Gresham. Initially, the trainers were with us holding a long leash attached to our dog's collar. By the first Wednesday afternoon, they disconnected the long leash giving us full control of our dogs. They stayed just behind our right shoulder giving cues for best practice.

From time to time, Wheeler and Juno returned for us to work on specific gestures and foot work as needed.

We spend most of the day at the Gresham GDB lounge or Portland GDB lounge while each one has a turn working along the streets with a trainer. The distances are too far to shuttle us back and forth. Lunches are prepared and eaten at the lounges.

Trips have included quiet streets, busier city routs, stores, elevators, escalators for those who will need to use them, and trips with or without sidewalks. We have ridden a city bus and a train. There are specific ways to handle our dogs in each of these scenarios.

We have had lectures and discussions with hands-on experience on every aspect of the work and care of our dogs including feeding, grooming, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, using appropriate toys during play with our dogs and administering the monthly flee protection. We have worked on obedience with various distractions: cats, dogs playing with squeaky toys, people wanting to pet the dog, a cat, food, and other things. We have worked around barricades, and we have had planned car encounters where our training supervisor came at us from all directions in a car as we passed driveways and crossed streets. Mensa did very well with all of this.

There has usually been a discussion before dinner after returning to the dorm. Sometimes there halve been evening meetings as well.

With all this, our class has had more weather issues than anyone can remember. We have worked the dogs with a wind chill in the teens. Two days last week, we could not go off campus due to a storm. Yesterday and this morning we were also unable to leave campus. Some did go to the mall this afternoon.

All in all it has been a rather stressful and busy time for all of us. It has been hard work and very rewarding. Everyone has been so very helpful and supportive.

Tomorrow is graduation and one of Mensa's puppy raisers is planning to come from San Francisco to officially present my dog to me as part of the service. When puppy raisers are not able to be here, a staff person steps in for this. There will also be tours and a demonstration of guide work done by a trainer for the guests. Then two teams will be leaving for home. Four of us will be flying out on Sunday morning.

Catchup #1

At last I am able to post again. We have found a work-around for the issue. Now, having not kept a daily journal as I had hoped, I will, by necessity take some poetic license with respect to dates and times.

Monday, December 5, we met the trainers and had a time ofintroductions all round. It was during this morning that we met Wheeler, Stuffy, and Juno. Wheeler is a dog harness on wheels, Juno is a trainer acting the part of a guide, and stuffy is a plush dog that is used to demonstrate Martingale chain collars, and head collars that may be worn by the dogs.

Only two of us have partnered with guide dogs before and the other four needed to learn a bit before receiving their dogs. It was also a good review for us retrains. Also during that time, we learned/practiced how to hold the leash and harness handle in our left hand and how to use our right hand to give various types of communication with the dogs.

Before we received our dogs that afternoon, we were each taken
out individually to walk with our specific trainer/instructor to
allow them to have one last check of our comfortable pace and
pull. They know the dogs that are class-ready and at what speed
each of them tends to work. This information had been provided
as estimated by the trainer that visited each of us in our home
environment as part of the application process. There is nothing
like first-hand experience, though. The point is that there is
lots that goes into the process of choosing the best dog for each
of us. It is not only about pace and pull. It is about
environment, family constellation including four-footed and
feathered members.

After lunch on December 5, we students each retired to our room
to listen for that sound of dog feet approaching our door. Dogs
were to be introduced to us between 1:30 and 2:30.

As 2:30 approached, I began to wonder if there was to be no dog
for me. I feel sure that I was last to be matched. You know the
outcome for me. Mensa was one of two yellow labs to be issued
this time. There were six labs in all. There were two males and
four females. One male was the only other yellow lab in our

Once the dogs were issued, we each had an opportunity to walk
with our dog on the campus grounds. The trainer was at our right
shoulder giving minute by minute information and instruction.
She had a long leash attached to the dog's collar much like in
driver training where the instructor has a separate set of
controls. Each dog is different and the body language
transmitted through the harness to the handler is different. The
interesting thing to consider is that the dog also feels the
difference between my body language, gestures, and pull as
compared with the trainers she has known. We are both having to
work to understand each other.

When I first trained with a guide dog in 1984, there was no use
of food in the training. In fact they discouraged food given
except if it were placed in the dog's dish. Imagine the
difference now with treats given as part of the reward process
for every correct behavior on the part of the dog at this
facility. I came here specifically to learn this new and
different method of training and handling. Dogs who are not
raised with people do not interpret voice and petting as
rewarding in themselves. They need to learn what these mean and
develop a sense that they are good things. With food, however,
they do not need to learn that it is good. Food, then is a more
powerful reward than our kind words. also, the individual voice
of the owner is learned. When we get them, they do not
necessarily recognize our way of giving verbal praise. Luckily
for us, our dogs have been handled lots from their earliest days
and have learned that people are good to them. They have been
raised with families who have provided them a huge amount of
socialization and good-dog behavior that is an invaluable part of
who our dogs have become already.

In this training process, the basics are similar at any of the
schools, but the specifics can be quite different. That is, all
guides are trained to walk along a sidewalk, path, or street
edge. They are all trained to negotiate through openings large
enough to accommodate both of us or to stop to show us a
barricade. All stop at street corners; all wait for the cue of
the handler to enter a street; all are trained to stop at stairs
going up or down. To a greater or lesser degree, they are taught
how to find locations such as "inside." "Outside." "Door."
"Elevator." and as we develop our partnership through the years
together, we expand on these specific skills becoming a
well-melded team.

For now, though, for me, there are subtle differences in the two
schools as to how I hold the leash, how I use body gestures and
foot work, and even some of the words that my dog knows. My
trainer is ever-ready to cue me to best behavior with this dog
who has not learned to take shortcuts translated as less than
perfect cues. I need to learn to do things Mensa's way because
she knows only the basics right now. the more I can stick to the
basics of her training experience, the better we will work as a
team long term. This relearning is something that every student
returning for a successor dog experiences, but it is compounded
by changing schools. (lots of work for me)

Come back often. Now that I can post to this blog, I have lots
to say. I hope you will find it informative and interesting.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Yellow Lab curled up on a beanbag bed.
It is not all hard work for guide dogs. This picture of my new dog, Mensa, was taken at the Guide Dogs for the Blind, Gresham lounge while we were waiting to take our turn with the trainer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


It was a busy day today with our first walk on the streets of Gresham, Oregon. There is a lot to learn with this new technique and lots of old habits to break.

I am having some technology issues with posting to this blog. I hope tomorrow I will have more time and energy to get things working properly and post more news.

Monday, December 5, 2016


My flight to SeaTac with connection to Portland left at 6:00 a.m. A GDB (Guide Dogs for the Blind) staff member met me at the baggage claim where she had already retrieved my checked bag, obvious by the GDB luggage tag. Another student was with her and the three of us went immediately to the campus. The two of us students (the first to arrive) were taken to the dining room for lunch before going to our dorm rooms.

After the first of what promises to be individualized delicious and nutritious meal options, each of us had a one-on-one orientation to our rooms. This took some time as the accommodations are large. Double rooms have been converted to single rooms. There is one side with a desk, chair, recliner, closet and a small fridge. There are two doors to the patio, two doors to the hall, two sinks, one bathroom and, of course, a second side with another closet, additional door, desk with chair, and a bed.

There is the promise of a dog by the presence of a small waist pack with grooming tool for us to take home, a filled food box and measuring cup, two tie-down areas, a plush dog bed on the bedroom side, and a rug near the recliner. My room is at the far end of the hall. To explain the dorm would take much more time and space than you would want to read, but you can see it on the GDB web site at

We have not met the trainers yet, but that comes later today. Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. with no formal wake-up call. We each are expected to use an alarm. Our first class of the day begins at 8:30 a.m. We are to appear there with the leash and filled treat bag that we were issued during the lecture yesterday afternoon. Did I mention that we have study material? It is also available on the GDB web site. Check it out.

There are daily study questions that we are given via the telephone tree in our room. Yes, there is homework that begins with reading or listening to lectures before we arrive for class. I was so tired last evening that I was in bed by 8:00 p.m. Those who know me well will agree that this is not my normal.

And are you wondering about my dog? So am I. We will receive our new partners between 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. More later.

Addendum: I received my caramel colored yellow lab named Mensa this afternoon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


It was November 3, 2016 and Puffin and I had just completed our
last trip--our last flight together. She was much more calm in
her customary place, under the seat in front of me, than she had
been on her first flight west. Since then, we have flown
together many times, but this would be our final journey

I was flying to SeaTac to attend the Washington Council of the
Blind annual convention. Puffin, though she did not know it, was
flying to her new home. She is now enjoying her retirement with
my nephew and his wife and their Jack Russell mix. Puffin now has
a half-acre of fenced yard where she loves spending much time
weather permitting. My nephew's wife does not work outside their
home and does not drive, so she is there to be door-person for
all the dogs. During the week, my nephew's son stays with them
to be closer to his work. With him come his two dogs; a Border Collie and a Pomeranian puppy about 3-4 months old. There is a
fifth Puffin-size dog, a mix who also has access to the property.
All get along well.

After two convention days, I spent one night and the following day
with my nephew and his wife teaching them about Puffin. I had
them do the obedience routine with her. I worked with them on
the "come" command using treats to enforce the likelihood that
she will obey this when needed. I showed them how I have been
caring for her nails--using a grinder to keep nails short and
Musher's Secret to keep pads healthy. I brought copies of all
her vet records for her new vet. She also had a familiar bed
waiting for her that they had taken home after their visit with
us in September. In short, I did all I knew to make this a
smooth transition for all concerned and to tell Puffin she was
now to see this change as her new home.

They visited us over Thanksgiving and Puffin, though happy to
greet us, was clearly their dog now. She has always loved my
nephew and the feelings have been mutual.

Some may ask "Why do dogs retire?" In her case, at 6 years and 9
months, it is earlier than one might hope. Honestly, she has had
some work-related issues throughout her career and some potential
medical issues. She does have fears and this was obvious, even
in class, when she showed extreme fear of vacuums. We worked
with treats to overcome or lessen this. At home it was fear of
the sounds at the hairdresser. We worked there with food daily
for a few weeks to help her overcome this fear. She was jumped
by a dog (no blood) early in our time together and eventually she
started lunging at other dogs--especially loose dogs. We worked
with positive training methods to overcome this. We discovered
that she also has kidney insufficiency although her blood work is
within normal range for kidney function at this time. Most
recently, she has started slowing down in her work and
hesitating. Sometimes we were only sauntering along. Early on,
she was very eager to walk fast.

Her house behavior has been excellent throughout our time
together. Her puppy-raising family certainly did very well with
this. She has remained a wonderful dog and a joy to be around.
Now my nephew is reaping the benefit of her early training. It
made the difficult job of giving her to a new home a bit less
difficult to know that she was already somewhat familiar there
because of previous visits. It has been clear that she favors my
nephew. All this, plus the fact that I still can keep track of
her makes the grieving process much less difficult for me. It
was my option to choose the date of her retirement to give me a
chance to prepare mentally and emotionally for my new partner.

In just a few short days, I will be flying to Portland to train
with my seventh dog. I have chosen to stay closer to home this
time. I received my first two dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind
(GDB) California campus and will now be training for two weeks at
their Boring, Oregon facility. The clicker training experience I
received at Seeing Eye and on my own has made me want to learn
more about this. I decided to see how the GDB greater emphasis
on positive training methods using clicker and food rewards is
working. Let me say that Seeing Eye puppy raisers and trainers
have provided excellent dogs. Both schools are high quality
schools and the decision to change was not an easy one.

My hope is to blog my training experience again as time permits.
Check here on December 5 or later to learn about my new partner.
I hope to upload pictures as well. Training is a rigorous
experience and with two students to one trainer rather than 3-4
students, word is that we are much more actively involved
throughout the day with less down time while we wait for team
members to work with the trainer. I am not sure how well
blogging will work without having benefit of a computer--only my