On Sunday, June 29, Bruce breslauer left with his guide dog Glendale to go to California to retire her and train with a successor dog. Although she is otherwise very healthy, Glendale, who is 9-1/2 years old, has cataracts which are just beginning to be visible to the naked eye. So far, they have not affected her guide work in any way. Although they could technically be surgically removed and thus prolong her working life as a guide dog, Bruce has opted to retire her while she is still at the top of her game, and get a successor dog. He wants Glendale to enjoy a few good years of healthy retirement with the family who raised her as a puppy. She already knows and loves them and they her, so it will be good for all of them all around. Besides living a dog’s life, Glendale also has a promising future as a therapy dog in hospitals and nursing homes, for which she will be very well suited. She will be greatly missed.
Bruce is now in San Rafael, near San Francisco, in training for two weeks with a successor dog, a male yellow lab named Nimbus, who is about eighteen months old. They are getting to know each other, sorting out who is the alpha dog, learning current guide dog training methods, and beginning the bonding process which will only get stronger as their working life develops. There are five others in his training class, four of whom are receiving guide dogs for the first time. Through donations, the school pays for the students’ air fare to and from campus, and provides dormitory housing and meals for them while they are there. Training a guide dog costs somewhere around $54,000.00, and something like sixty percent of them don’t make it through the program. Called “career change” dogs, they sometimes go on to be another type of service or therapy dog, or they may become someone’s wonderful pet. There is no shortage of people who would love to have a career change dog or a retired guide dog in their lives.
Every day the students are expected to study and review several hours of information regarding what-if scenarios and how-to procedures, so that they can use the techniques they are learning in real life situations as they arise. During training, the dog-person team is exposed to many situations that might be encountered in everyday life, such as coping with city traffic; taking busses or other forms of mass transit; crossing busy intersections or those with blended curbs or unusual configurations; walking safely down sidewalkless country roads; navigating stairs and escalators; finding entrance and exit doors; maneuvering through obstacle courses, crowded streets, or shopping malls; going to restaurants or through cafeteria lines while carrying a tray of food and drink; going to grocery stores; finding elevators; finding and activating pedestrian walk signal buttons; learning how to navigate college campuses, office buildings, conference rooms, or medical facilities; going through airport security and boarding airplanes. There are several times during training where the dog will be called upon to maneuver their blind or visually impaired partner out of the way of a silent car coming suddenly and unexpectedly toward them. One of the most fun outings toward the end of training is a trip to Muir Woods, full of wonderful sights, sounds, and smells. In addition to all this, the dog is learning to depend on his new partner for feeding, watering, and relieving, the person is learning to trust and follow their dog and to depend on the dog to follow directions and make intelligent decisions, and they are each learning to trust each other and to communicate with each other.
Toward the end of the training, the emphasis changes from focusing on more generalized life experiences to customizing and fine-tuning the training to the specific environment to which the team will be returning. The point of the training is not necessarily to cover every conceivable situation a dog-person team might face, but to teach them skills and techniques they can use in whatever situation they find themselves to optimize their safety, efficiency, and confidence as a good working team. building the partnership into a well-oiled machine can take several months, often with a few bumps in the road along the way, and in some ways resembles building a marriage. A successful team will continue fine-tuning their relationship throughout the working life of the team.
At the end of two intense weeks of training, Bruce and the others will go through a graduation ceremony, which is open to the public, during which the families who raised the dogs from puppyhood will formally turn the dogs over to their new partners. Then they have the opportunity to receive a new potential guide dog puppy to start the whole thing all over again. The graduation experience is often a time for laughter and tears for both students and puppy raisers alike.
For more information, please visit http://www.guidedogs.com