Flashback Friday: Transit.Tasks

My post on June 13, 2009 was the product of a deliriously obsessed new puppy-parent who had just discovered her baby could catch toys if she didn’t feel like chasing them. That’s it, that was the post.

Original Post Date” 6/14/2009

One of the important matching qualifications for Seeing Eye teams is pace. It would be frustrating for a fast-walking human to have a slower-paced dog, and the poor pup would get stressed by constantly being urged forward all the time. This is harmful to the team dynamic and the dog may simply learn to dislike its work. It can be downright dangerous to give a slower-moving human a fast-paced dog, who might unwittingly cause balance and stability issues around uneven terrain, curbs, and stairs.

As I mentioned last week, Prada and I.both have a pretty fast pace;we’re well matched. Just how fast are we, though? We can comfortably walk a mile in 12-15 minutes!

NOTE: I used to be proud of this fact until during my training with Greta we moved so quickly through a crosswalk that i couldn’t react quickly enough to her signals. She stopped as a car (thankfully driven by an instructor for training purposes) cut us off in the middle of the cross walk. I continued 3 paces after Greta stopped, so I was almost dragging her forward toward what could have been a very dangerous vehicle encounter! Our trainer explained the importance of moving slowly enough to maintain both situational awareness and intense focus on Greta’s bodily communication, and we have worked hard at learning to manage our pace ever since.

Car Rides

One of our lessons today was how to safely situate a dog in a car when walking or mass transit isn’t an option. I am glad we’re covering this because neither the city where I grew up nor the one where I attend college have great transit options or extensive sidewalks; I trade rides for edited term papers very frequently.

The heavy focus on “traditional” city blocks and mass transit navigation that TSE uses in their curriculum betrays a very northeastern, urbanized assumption about where majority of their clients live. It assumes easy access to effective mass transit and standardized street corners designed half a century ago. I have been curious to explore other dog guides’ schools’ environmental biases in their curricula, because I have never lived in such an idealized environment, though I have always lived in well-developed cities of over 100,000 people.

There are lots of conflicting ideas about where and how it is safest for a dog to ride in a car. Personally, I think there are several right answers, depending on the dog’s size and health, the car’s design and age, and the dog’s familiarity with and comfort with car rides. Below i will explain how TSE taught us to load and unload our dogs safely into cars.

When riding in the front passenger seat of a car — because the driver’s seat isn’t an option yet — have remove Juno’s harness for comfort, then command her to sit. Seat yourself in the car and pull your left leg in, then invite Juno to hop into the footwell. Have Juno sit, pull your right leg in and shut the door and buckle.

Juno may stay seated or curl up between/beneath your legs. Mind the model of vehicle: front seat airbags may be a neck-breaking hazard to dogs riding in this position.

Neither Greta nor Prada ever got used to riding up front with me. While shepherds have a semi-liquid property that allows them to curl up into tiny plane-sized balls, then ooze into all available nook and cranny, both of my girls became overly stressed up front. Eventually I settled on allowing them to sprawl comfortably across the back seat. They both tend to look aggrieved when a person or groceries or other baggage encroaches on their territory.

This is another example of training needing to be individualized, too. I have knee issues resulting from an unfortunate genetic skeletal malformation, and the pain was exacrbated by trying to share my footspace with a big dog. While I can put up with a long plane ride like this once in a while (see below) regular commutes causing that much pain just wasn’t an option.

Also, this makes more sense when taking taxis or ride-shares. while back seat footwells don’t usually offer the dog comfortable space, you can mitigate a driver’s concern about transporting your dog by bringing a towel to cover the seat and protect it from hair and muddy paws.

Airplane Seats

Plane rides are hardly comfortable for anyone. Tight quarters are only made tighter by luggage, and a 70 lb dog is quite a carry-on. Most students who attend The Seeing Eye fly to get there, so one of the first experiences they have as graduates is a plane ride with a new dog.

Service dogs do not actually count as luggage. A blind person can still travel with a carry-on and a personal item, and with their canine partner. TSE instructors deliver lectures on airport navigation and how to handle advocacy situations in security, and they have a hands-on lesson for how to board a plane and stow the dog safely, using two rows of discarded airline seats set up in one of the training rooms at the school.

As you board the plane, enlist the help of a flight attendant to help you identify your seat row. Follow the flight attendant, while heeling your dog down the narrow aisle. Guiding in this narrow a space is impossible — and it’s a straight line with no obstacles other than the flight attendant, anyway.

When you reach your seat row, unharness your dog so she can pass the flight more comfortably. Stow the harness in the overhead bin, then heel your dog (still leashed) past the seat just far enough to then back the dog into the seat row. Command Juno’s “down, then help her curl up in the confines of the row space and the space beneath the row in front of you.

Then try and stuff yourself into the cracks left over by the dog. It will be uncomfortable, even awkward at times. It’s important to keep stray paws, noses,and tails from invading your neighbors’ space, though, and even more important to keep them from oozing out into the aisle in search of more space. Dogs do not understand that it is important to leave the aisles completely unobstructed for the passage of carts, flight crew, and passengers.

The brown-and-black face of agerman shepherd, Greta, peeks out from underneath an airline seat. The rest of the dog is concealed in the luggage space beneath the seat.

I’ll leave the details of flight beyond seating for another post, as this one is already long. Suffice it to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how tiny Prada can make herself when needed.

Both Prada and Greta were great plane dogs. airports in general seemed to bring out the best in them, and I am gratified by the increased availability and awareness of pet and service dog relief areas in airports. It makes travel much more enjoyable.

Today your favorite blindfluencer asks you to calculate how much time you spend commuting in a week, then ask yourself “What else do I devote that much time to?”

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