Since I’ve been such a blog slacker this year, I missed the April assistance dog blog carnival. Plus I was kinda stressed out by something which I still need to write about. But anyway, the July one came up and I decided I was going to do my best to hit it. So I went to read about it. This is what I read. The topic is “the difference”, and the deadline hit me on the head like a rock. “July 22…” That is a very significant date for me when it comes to dogs, because July 22, 2005 was the day I had to give Babs back to the school and accept that she needed to be retired just 8 weeks after bringing her home.
So, I could not ignore this carnival, even if I wanted to, especially since the topic was “the difference”. I thought about my training with Babs versus training with Trixie, and what a difference it made to be prepared, to know what not to do, and to know how better to stand up and ask about things that worried me. What a difference a couple of years and choice of school made. What a difference between dogs. Just, what a difference!
Ok, let’s slow down. How about we meet Babs, shall we? Everything I ever wrote about her is in there. I even put up my training journals, although I posted them 3 years after the fact.
Babs, god love her, did the best she could. She served a purpose, even though it wasn’t to be my guide dog for years to come. When she was good, she was freaking amazing. But oh, oh, when things were bad, they were baaaaaad.
But I, also, didn’t have a clue. I went into training with minimal ideas of what to expect, how to deal with things when they didn’t go so well, or what was just plain old wrong. I didn’t know dog switches were possible, nor had I a clue about how many dogs’ careers were ended early. I was living in a dream world of la la la, I’m going to have a guide dog, things are gonna be great, la dee dee.
Then, Babs came along to shake up my world. First off, I don’t think we were a good match. She was dominant as all hell, and I was timid at the time. She was more dog than I could probably handle. Plus, as I discovered in training, she was ill.
As we found out, we didn’t work out. On July 22, they came to get her. “I’ll need the harness, the leash, and her medication,” Peter said as he stood at my door. This man had driven me around on many training routes, and now he’d been dispatched to come get my dog. Medically, behaviourally, she wasn’t going to work out. So off she went to live with a family who would love her as a pet. And I was left to wonder just how I’d managed to fail so epically. I didn’t blame myself for the medical issues, but I gave myself hell for allowing her to think she was alpha.
Fast forward to March 21, 2007. I was going to get a female black lab named Trixie. That morning, I went over in my head what I would do differently, and even so, I wasn’t sure I could get it right this time.
When they introduced me to Trixie, among other descriptive details, they said she was 55 pounds. My heart must have landed in my throat. After all, Babs was 52 pounds, and she was too much for me. What was I headed for with a 55-pounder? “Are you happy with her?” the trainer asked as I processed all her information as best I could. I managed to say yes, but I was scared shitless. But I was soon to find out the difference between Babs and Trixie was like night and day.
For one, the training was different. I was in a class full of new dog handlers, which meant the instructors had lots of time for us and the class was geared for the newb. When I trained with Babs, inexplicably, they put me in a retrain class. They promised me individualized training, but at the end of the day, the ratio was still 4 students to 1 instructor, and a limited amount of time. It wasn’t gonna happen.
Second, Trix is a totally different dog with a totally different pull. If she wants to, she can pull like a freight train, but that isn’t her constant speed. And although food can be o so tempting, she isn’t driven to it as much as Babs was. Plus, she doesn’t think of herself as the alpha. What a huge difference that is alone! And perhaps most importantly, she’s been a very healthy dog, so much so that the rare times she’s sick, I don’t know what to do.
And finally, when my time with Trix came around, I knew a few things, and had made about six zillion mistakes with Babs, so I was determined not to make them again with Trix. And although I may have made a few with Trix, they weren’t nearly so catastrophic. As well, with Trix, if anything didn’t look right at all, I would speak up about it immediately. I accepted so much on blind faith when I went to get Babs. That was not going to happen again.
So, the one thing I have learned from all of this is everything can make a difference, from the dog, to the kind of training, to the handler’s experience level and state of mind. All of it makes the package. Change one thing, and what a difference!
And even though it may sound like I don’t have much good to say about Babs, she made a difference in my life too, making me decide that I do want a guide dog despite all our troubles. I still feel her mark on my heart to this day. I think about her, and wonder how she’s doing. Babs, I hope you’re happy wherever you are, enjoying life as a different kind of dog, a pet.