Once again, my "Tuesday" TIP is late. My excuses? In spite of our move north, we are still living in two places--between the travel and settling in (and all the fun we have in our new digs) I am not doing very well keeping up with my writing. But thanks for still reading!
Two weeks ago I received a phone call from Wayne, the handler that had been paired with LD Mike last month (see my post from February 14, 2011). Wayne had been curiously quiet on his new blog, My Leader Dog Journal. I wondered how he and LD Mike were doing in their journey to become a new team.
As soon as I answered the phone, I knew there was a problem. Wayne told me that LD Mike was not performing correctly in traffic.
What do you mean? I asked.
"He almost got me killed!" Wayne exclaimed. He related that LD Mike failed (at least twice) to refuse his FORWARD command when a car was present. Luckily, Wayne was not hit, or even hurt.
Refusing a command to keep a handler safe is the "Intelligent Disobedience" that a Leader Dog must demonstrate in order to function as a guide dog.
Wayne wanted me to know he called Leader Dogs for the Blind and that the trainer would be back out the next week to assess the situation. In the meantime, Wayne was not to use LD Mike as a guide.
Wayne was devastated. It can take up to two years for a team to "gel," but his partnership with LD Mike was progressing better than he could imagine. He was learning to read Mike's signals, which, according to Wayne, were more subtle than those of his previous Leader Dog, Patriot.
Often a handler with a new guide dog will encounter a glitch or two on their way to solidifying as a team. Perhaps other dogs may distract the Leader Dog too much and a firm hand is necessary to bring him back on task. Obedience work or extra attention from Leader Dogs for the Blind staff can frequently solve an issue like this.
Loss of handler confidence is not so easily restored.
The trainer from Leader Dogs for the Blind did, indeed, come back to Wayne's home to help work through this problem. Unfortunately, Wayne could not regain confidence in LD Mike. The decision was made to return Mike to Leader Dogs for the Blind.
HINTS TO DEAL WITH SETBACKS
The steps that Wayne took to deal with this problem are similar to some of the things I've done to deal with the disappointment of this unsuccessful pairing.
CONSIDER THE ULTIMATE GOAL
First and foremost is the safety of the handler. The handler MUST be able to trust their Leader Dog. My role as puppy-raiser is to do my best to socialize, teach basic obedience and good behavior, and to love my Future Leader Dog puppy in the hope that one day he will go on to live the exceptional life as a guide dog. But the dog cannot be forced--in the end HE decides to become a Leader Dog. Or not.
Wayne absolutely did the right thing by calling Leader Dogs for the Blind for help. (It was also nice of him to keep me informed.) When I have questions about puppy-raising, I call on fellow-puppy-raisers, my puppy-counselor, and Leader Dog staff for assistance. When I am worried about my puppy-in-training, all of these people give me support and encouragement. None of us are in this alone.
DO WHAT IS BEST FOR ALL CONCERNED
Confidence lost may be impossible to regain. For the handler in this case, the best thing is to remove the Leader Dog and work to find another suitable match. The handler's stress is certain to negatively effect the dog's performance; the best thing for LD Mike is his return to Leader Dogs for evaluation, and if he is capable, more training. If he is unable to perform, then career-change becomes the only option.
STAY THE COURSE
Both Wayne and I cannot let this setback cause us to lose our resolve. I will carry on with raising FLD Gus (my third Future Leader Dog puppy), and trust that LD Mike will one day step up to the task of guiding a new handler, safely. If he doesn't, I accept that becoming a Leader Dog wasn't meant for him.
I hope that Wayne will reapply to Leader Dogs for the Blind to finally find his ideal match.
LD Mike is now back at Leader Dogs for the Blind. He will get checked out by their vet and evaluated for suitability to be placed with another handler. It might be days or weeks before I know anything more.
FLD Gus weighed in at 52 1/2 pounds last week at his puppy-class! He is three pounds heavier than his brother, Raphael. Big boy!