>Figuring Each Other Out Is An Achievement

>I should probably write this before I do anything else, since it kind of needs to be done by tonight if I want it to make it into the fifth assistance dog blog carnival. Yup, it’s time again. Geesh, I feel like I just wrote for July’s. Come to think of it, I kinda need to visit all the posts in that one. I fail.

So, the subject of this carnival is achievement. That should be an easy one. I mean, we’re always trying to achieve something. But I had a hard time coming up with something to put into words.

Then I was out walking with Trix, and she indicated the entrance to a building we go to a lot. Then she showed me that she could really use a chance to relieve. I got thinking of all the little signals we send and receive, and about how the communication between a guide dog team is a real achievement. It’s amazing that we get so far at all.

When new teams start off, we only have a basic understanding of what each of us is trying to say. The handler says “I want to go left, I want to go right, don’t sniff that pole.” The dog says “You can’t go left, you might want to stick your foot out, I’m excited about something but you can’t figure out what.” Then, with practice, both of you understand each other and it’s a little spooky. You know the difference between a purposeful sped up walk and an excited one, and you even start to figure out which kind of excited it is. I’m sure it looks like mind-reading sometimes.

I’m still amazed when I think about the first time Trix showed me she had figured out that she couldn’t give me visual cues to tell me what she wanted. So, for example, if she needed to go pee, she would have to tap me, then walk to the door. I didn’t teach her anything about that. She just figured it out all by herself.

Or there was the time that I realized Trixie knew the shortcut I was afraid to take from our apartment building to the road, so let her take it to see what happened. It was amazing to achieve that level of trust, to the point where I only had a rough idea of the path we should take, and let her make her own way.

Then there were the times she figured out ways to tell me things that weren’t so clear, like the time she told me it was too windy and dangerous to walk all the way to the drug store, but she’d walk to this closer corner store, or the time she told me which way was home by walking slow in one direction and fast in the other. How cool is that?

Every time it’s confirmed that I got the message she was trying to tell me, I think about just how far we’ve come from those days where I was taking guesses at everything she was trying to say.

Here’s an excerpt of an old post I wrote almost 3 years ago, talking about the amazing things you can achieve with practice and perceptiveness. Holy crap, has it been that long?

Trix never stopped amazing me all day. We went to the mall. We had to navigate a solid crowd of what I call Christmas zombies. All they’re thinking about is “next stop…what else do I need to get…must…find…shirt.” they’ll bowl you over as they think about what they need to still buy. They were everywhere. There were little ones, older folks with walkers, people running every which way. I think I bumped one handbag the whole time. When people were directing me, they were saying they were having trouble manoeuvring. I wasn’t having much trouble at all, and the whole time, Trixie’s tail was wagging, wagging, wagging. You go girl.

Next I went to the food court while I was getting one of my santa prints converted to a 5X7 and got some fries and a drink, but the silly folk who were helping me get to the table never got me a straw! So I got up, listened for the guy’s voice who ran the fry booth, and we went for it. With the cane, I probably wouldn’t have tried because there were too many people, tables, obstacles, and other assorted goo. Within about 30 seconds, I had my straw and was heading back to my table, which she stopped at. I love you, you awesome fuzzball you.

As we left the food court, I asked someone to set me on the right path for the photo place. We got there, and Trixie got me through that narrow space at the door between two poles and marched me straight back through the people and the clutter to the counter we’d been at before. Yeah!

Her awesomeness reached a crescendo of woo when we went to leave the mall. Someone helped me find the hall that led to the buses. she said just go straight and you’ll get there. There must have been a turn, because I could feel the draft from the bus exit, and then it was gone. So I stopped and said “Trixie, outside.” She wheeled me around in a 180 and booked it in her determined guide dog fashion straight for the exit. When someone said the bus came in, We went out and I said “bus!” and she found it! god damn I love this dog. She gives me that warm fuzzy feeling. She can be a handful, but she’s really turned
on the guide dog juice. she is incredible.

Her snow travel doesn’t show signs of failing either. She knows that ice means slow down, and is really careful about climbing over icy lumps and ruts in the sidewalk. …

Sure, some of that she might have been able to do right out of training, but certainly not all, and I wouldn’t have understood so many of her subtle little signals.

Some people don’t understand what all goes into working with a guide dog. They don’t get the concept that the team’s learning doesn’t stop when they leave training. But truly, the life of a team is a great big string of achievements.

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