Original Post Date: May 25, 2019
Remember that gorgeous long-haired German shepherd who escorted me on that life-changing practice walk described in this post? That lovely lady is currently curled up next to my desk. It seems that practice walk served as the perfect assessment for the instructor to determine that Prada and I were meant to be together. Apparently this is the first time TSE has made a match in this way.
I remember very few specific details of meeting Prada. I recall walking into the dim student lounge, being seated, and my trainer asking me “Do you remember the dog you met at SESY?” The next thing I knew an armful of dog had thrust itself into my lap, snuffling and kissing and wriggling with excitement. Her hair coated me instantly, and her enthusiasm mirrored my own.
She’s petite for a shepherd. The Seeing Eye breeds their own dogs from a wide genetic pool without the intention of creating bigger, heftier shepherds like the ones you see escorting police around. While Prada is tall, she’s slender, and her longer coat comes from a unique double-recessive mutation. Grooming is going to be fun…
Poor Prada is very upset right now. IT’s very typical for the dogs to experience anxiety for the first couple days after matching with a student. They’re living in bedrooms instead of kennels with furry playmates, their routines are different, a new person is responsible for their food and water. Life is just disorienting and confusing right now.
But Prada faces the additional challenge of seeing her trainer every single day. In another coincidence, Prada’s trainer is leading our class. Prada will be confused and saddened by her trainer pointedly ignoring her, forcing her to bond with me as her source of comfort. It’s painful to watch, and I’ve had two work hard to keep Prada from dragging me across hallways to get to her trainer. But the trainer assigned to my four-man student group assures me this will wear off in a week or so.
I’ve been given a handy little tool to help mitigate Prada’s anxiety. It’s called a gentle leader. Often mistaken for a muzzle, it’s actually closer to a horse’s bridle. A nylon strap wraps around Prada’s nose, and a second one fits around the back of her head behind her ears. She can eat and drink, bark, and even bite if she needs to wearing this. However, the backstrap presses down on pressure points that release endorphins to help calm her, and there’s a ring beneath the nose strap to which I can clip a leash. This gives me more direct control over her. She’s less likely to lunge across a hall to accost her trainer when I have control of her nose.
In retrospect I regret not doing my own research on canine anxiety. While I was absorbing a ton of new information every second of the day, I now know a great many more effective techniques for calming an anxious dog. I look forward to sharing them with you in future posts. Doggy mental health matters.
Here’s a quick introduction to the rest of the equipment we were issued yesterday.
Every dog owner should have a leash. It’s as essential as kibble. TSE’s proprietary leather leash is by far the most versatile and practical I’ve ever used. It has two snap-hooks and two metal rings along its length so I can reconfigure it for different occasions. By using different snap hooks to attach to the rings and the dog’s collar I can have a long, medium, or short leash all in one.
Photo Caption: Greta, a petite chestnut-toned German shepherd, wears The Seeing Eye’s standard harness. It is leather, similar in design to an old-fashioned cart-horse harness, with a breast band, martingale, girth strap, back strap, and stiff angled handle for Anneliese to use.
I used a photo of Greta because I couldn’t find a good one of Prada that really shows the design of the harness. Prada was a great model, but I am no photographer. Thanks to Galadriel Coffeen for taking this shot.
We also received a brush, comb, sleeping mat, and crate. Those should be fairly self-explanatory. Still no word on how to use the mysterious tie-downs yet, but I’m sure they’ll be explained in due time.
I remember that day as a blur of excitement, compassion, and fear. I worried I would prove an insufficient replacement for Prada’s trainer, that she’d never truly bond with me. I worried I wasn’t affectionate enough, that my more detached personality didn’t match everyone else’s template of what a dog-lover looked like. I now know that’s actually a strength, but at the time it kept me up at night a time or two.
But that latent fear of inadequacy and rejection wasn’t enough to dampen the unmeasured joy and excitement I experienced. I had butterflies in my stomach, I even shed a few tears. Prada was my first puppy love, my princess. I learned so much from her, and I can’t wait to share our journey with you.