Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Intelligent Disobedience

We've been focusing on Cali pointing out interesting things - to her. She
cannot be wrong. I wanted to discover what she could find. I wanted to know
what was important to her. And, at the same time point out to her things
that I thought would be important to Mona.

Whenever you train a new thing it's important to relax your standards on
previously learned work. the beginning of the week had Cali pointing out
tree branches on the ground, light and dark spots on the road, telephone
poles along with the more preferred mailboxes, driveways, obstacles to
travel like overhead obstructions and cross-walks. For awhile, her dead on
shore lining suffered while she left the track to point out something of
interest which might be a bush.

That was OK because the more she pointed out the more I could refine. It
would be a lot harder to add things that she didn't notice that to exclude
those that she did.

The first fix was not to leave the track. Within a day or so you could
clearly see that while she thought about a post that was off the track she
understood not to deviate. All on her own she discovered the lines in the

Our own driveway has been a little bit of a problem because we were walking
at that point with the traffic she did not see the driveway as an option.
And, if the truth be told I don't think she wanted to find the driveway
because it led home and to the end of work. Cali loves working and would
much prefer to go down or up the road again instead of going home.

Now with the discovery of white lines that mark the shoulder of the road, we
also have the end of the white line that marks the break where our road
comes in. voila! discovery! Nose to the ground and a little hoof paw tells
you where the white line ends. Very cool.

So, travel with Cali is really fun.

An important aspect of the guides job is to notify the handler of things
that are unsafe. My husband walked one day with us as we discussed how we
would safely attack the idea of cars coming from no where. Cali was
unconcerned by the conversation and led us along with aplomb. As we walked
up the road, suddenly Cali stopped dead in her tracks.
With eyes wide open we discussed what had made her stop. We looked far ahead
and only a little ahead. I can see and I didn't see anything. But, still I
was hesitant to tell Cali she was wrong.

Cali refused to budge as I gently asked for forward. I asked with a question
mark not wanting to make her feel wrong for stopping. Good thing because
just at that moment a deer stuck it's head out of the woods. Had I not been
looking so carefully I'd have missed it. But, Cali didn't miss it. She knew
the deer was about to cross our path and it would be best to wait. Now, Mona
is not likely to encounter too many deer, that deer could have been a child
on a bike or a car coming to cross our path. Good girl.

Lest anyone think that deer are a problem for Cali, we've easily passed deer
in yards, pastures and other places without a problem. Barking dogs, cats
and other distractions have caused no concern at all.

Then very next day we parked a car across the road. It got there while we
were out walking so Cali would not have seen it on the way out. As we
approached the stopped car Cali stopped about 10 feet before the car. That's
her way of telling me that something new is out there. A "forward" took her
right up to the car. Cali targeted it. When directed right she turned and
targeted the front bumper of the car. Turn left and she targeted the end of
the car. Over left took us back to the path.

Over the weekend we had the opportunity to speak to Ann Edie. Ann is the
owner of Panda. Panda is Ann's mini horse guide. I am very fortunate to have
Ann live not far away and it is invaluable to get her input on guiding.

Mona's life is quite different from Ann's and so many of the things that are
important to Ann, may not be as important to Mona. The input is most
valuable and I am grateful to have it.

Where and when to potty became an interesting discussion. I'm using what is
called an environmental cue. One can think of the restroom as an
environmental cue. Most of us wait until we are in a restroom to perform the
desired action. Dogs too are trained with environmental cues which can be
general or very specific.

Small show dogs are often taught to go only on wee-wee pads. Their little
feet never hit the ground. Animals are quite amazing in their ability to
figure out what's ok and what's not.

That said, it's important to vary everything except the one constant that
you want to become the environmental cue. Many people that are not well
travelled have difficulty in public restrooms or even at the homes of
friends. This can even be unhealthy if a person suddenly has to travel for
many days. So, we want to be as flexible as possible and at the same time
limit the action to only appropriate times just as we might potty train a
child. We have to be careful of not making it so re-enforcing that it
becomes a behavior that can be used to "beg" us to participate in. This is
like a dog who has learned to bark to go out. He might bark to go out just
because he wants to go out and play rather than to do his business.

This is a tricky business.

1 comment:

Mona said...

Fascinating! Cali is learning what's important, and she's cautious, which
will be invaluable. But she'll also show me why she stopped so I'll know
exactly what happened and won't wonder if Cali is just being obstinate, a
problem I've heard some guide dog users discussing and lamenting. Trusting
Cali's instincts is going to be important, so the fact that she's showing us
that she's smart enough to wait when something's in the way or to just stop
and then target the object is going to be priceless to me.
One of my hopes is that I can go back to school and get my doctorate. It
won't require as much classroom activities as an undergraduate degree or
even a Master's, but I will hopefully get back to school. Having Cali learn
how to "chill" will be important, as will having her find an empty desk or
the handle of the door. For now, I'm just working in the office setting,
which isn't demanding, and at lunch, when the weather's nice, I sometimes go
to MacDonald's, the post office, or a nearby drugstore or an Arabic
fast-food place. It will be fun to see how Cali adjusts, and I hope I'm up
to the challenge.