Today I saw all of the effort in training my poodle, Shadow (as a guide dog for the blind), pay off.
I’ve always been impressed with how he figures out ways to keep me safe and away from obstacles, streets, and, the trickiest of all, how he deals with other people and dogs. Today we cranked it up and I took him (or… he took me?) right to the center of Frankfurt. There was a Christmas market happening on one of Frankfurt’s busiest streets.
It was so packed with people that there were shoulders touching and way too many moments where everyone stood still until someone moved. Now, Shadow is near the end of his training as a guide dog and has roughly one more month with me, so I tried my best to truly act blind. That means: I ran into things if he didn’t guide me around them, I “couldn’t see all of these people” and, of course, nothing else, either. I gave him a huge amount of responsibility: my life! So I truly followed his every move, and he totally understood that. He knew he had to keep me safe in this crazy city.
Off we went, through the crowd, looking for a bench. I said, “find bench” and he pushed through the crowd like an arrow. (That’s one of the perks of having this job: You have an excuse to charge past people in bustling cities! No one can complain because, jeez, the lady’s blind! They all just look at my dog, back at me, and then just smile and say, “isn’t that precious??” Total bonus.) He would avoid bumping into people, while still finding every open space we could fit through. We passed everyone.
This was also the first time where I asked him to “find bench” before I even saw one, to test how dedicated he was to finding one. Usually I see one off in the distance and tell him to find it. Today, I said “find bench”, “find stairs”, “find cross walk”, etc. and let him rush along the street looking for it! He always led me to one! Initially I feel just the normal, comfortable pressure of him leading me in the harness and right when I say “find” he’s already leaning harder against the harness: searching. Then I tell him what I want him to find (bench, stairs, bank, curb, etc) and he pulls steady, his head looking urgently around.
I’ll never get over the magical feeling of having a dog guide me through a human city. I didn’t trip once. I didn’t bump my head. He found me a seat every time I wanted to sit. I could ask him to go right, left, and walk right past hot dog stands.
This was a day that inspired me to do amazing things tomorrow! I am so proud of my dogs and my admiration for their abilities has absolutely no limit. Yippee!