Flashback Friday: construction and concussions

Original post date: June 12, 2009

We did two very long routes today. The first one, named the high school route because a local high school is the most significant feature, taught us how to handle construction zones. On the second route we focused on non-standard Street corners and teaching Prada how tall I am.

Construction and Obstruction

Construction isn’t the only thing that can block a sidewalk or other walking path. It’s important to know how to navigate around obstructions in both familiar and unfamiliar territory. Sometimes you can give the dog creative license to figure out how to solve the problem on their own, and sometimes you as the handler are responsible for providing direction on backup pads and detours. Which option you choose will be determined by your familiarity with the route, your dog, and any navigational tools you may be using such as a map app.

On our high school route this morning we encountered a construction zone that came with a prepared detour. When we reached the point in the sidewalk where we could proceed no farther, the instructor informed me the workers had erected a covered tunnel that ran through the street along the sidewalk where Prada and I could walk safely around the construction zone without being exposed to traffic.

I have never seen sidewalk obstruction handled so safely and effectively before, but whether or not there is a safety tunnel the procedure for navigating a fully obstructed sidewalk is more or less the same. Prada Hults when she can no longer successfully execute my forward command. Because I cannot see why she has halted I will repeat the command and she will either refuse to move or turn to the right or to the left indicating she cannot proceed.

This communication may seem a little ambiguous, and it is. Overtime each dog and handler team begins to understand each others patterns and preferences. For example, Greta will come to a halt then swing her head back around to check in with me and indicate she is stressed, leaning forward a little and then settling back. I have learned this means she feels she cannot execute my command. But with Prada it was slightly different. She always took the initiative and started me around the obstacle in whichever direction she felt was best.

Both dogs learned that I prefer a right turn to navigate obstacles whenever possible, and that I dislike going down stairs. They both had means of choosing or asking for paths I preferred.

Once you have established that the path is obstructed, you and your dog will choose a direction to attempt circumnavigation. For example, traveling down a sidewalk with the street on the right, I would suggest a right turn to Prada, who would turn and then halt at the curb. A forward command would bring us into the street, and I would immediately command her to go left along the curb. She would guide me around cones, piles of gravel, and parked equipment, all the while I continue suggesting “left’ so she knew to take the earliest opportunity to get back to our sidewalk.

Low-Hanging Fruit, and Flags

The idea of teaching a dog how tall their handler is ought to seem a little daunting. It’s a pretty abstract ask, training what is essentially a form of secondary survival skill into an animal’s regular behavior. But I trimmed tree branches, awnings and flags, and shelves in hallways all pose threats to unman heads well above the height of doggy heads. Due to dogs’ differences in vision they can’t perfectly predict what you will or will not run into, but they can come surprisingly close to really grasping the difference in height.h

Exceptions and grace have to be made in cases of hat-wearing, horn-wearing, and up-dos. Oh, and heels, if you don’t wear them regularly. Dogs have a hard enough time learning to account for a second being’s height; they really can’t be expected to grasp that we humans have a tendency to change our height at will…

Prada learned to judge my height in a very low risk way. As we walked along a row of businesses I passed under an American flag hanging from the edge of an awning. It brushed my forehead, but I didn’t think anything of it because it was soft and not a threat to head or hair.

But the instructor caught up with us and told me to stop, go back, and rework the segment we had just done. When I voiced my confusion — I thought Prada had done really well — the instructor asked “what if that had been a tree branch or a pole? “ I got the point, and we went back to rework the flag as if I had been any other obstacle or overrun street corner.

Reworking, for those who haven’t been keeping up, means bringing the dog up to the area or object where the work mistake took place, then commanding the dog to sit. Using either the hand or the foot, whichever makes more sense in context, the handler will tap on or .2 the problem. In my case, I tapped the flag to show Prada I wanted her to pay attention to it. Then, I healed her back three or four paces with me, resumed our original direction, and commanded her forward.

Prada advance toward the flag, but moved hesitantly. When she saw that I didn’t urge her forward but excepted her hesitation, she swung her head to the right, then the left, then decided that going left would give us a wider path around the flag. We circled around it and I gave her lots of praise.

Despite the dramatic title, it should be very rare for a dog guide and handler team to be moving fast enough for any low hanging obstacle to actually give a concussion. But getting thrown off balance and falling, could easily cause serious harm. Low hanging branches are also hazards for losing important things like sunglasses, hats, and hair pins. For hood scrapes, Pineneedles in a hairdo, and bruises across the forehead from low slung bars do not add to any outfit for any occasion.

Managing speed with my dogs is some thing I have always had to work at. I grew up in a long-legged, fast -walking family, and both of my shepherd‘s have risen to the challenge with delight. However, it’s all too easy for us to be trotting along far too quickly for my reflexes to respond to a sudden stop warning me of a car cutting us off in a crosswalk or other emergent maneuver. Given that it took me three weeks to realize I really needed to take a break from dog training while I recovered from the fall thatbroke my wrist, it’s clear that slowing down is still not my favorite thing to do.

Today your favorite blindfluencer asks if you have ever contemplated the difference between slowing down and stopping.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: