Training Cisco

It was 9:00 in the morning, and the Ohio skies were blessedly cloudy, so our training walk Cisco and Marywith my daughter Kara was off to a good start. Our goal was to reinforce in Cisco’s mind, and in mine as well, the safest route to my beauty shop. This route was one of the major reasons why I needed a replacement guide dog. Pippen had become too old to make the 3-1/2 mile trek. It’s not the distance that is the challenge for me and my brand new Seeing eye ®, but the complexity of the street crossings in the downtown area. Yes, there are audible signals, but rounded corners with blended curb cuts require spot-on alignment with the crosswalks and the flow of traffic. Facing just 20 degrees off course can confuse the dog when you tell it to go forward, but you really mean sort of forward, but stay in the crosswalk. Then there are alleys to cross with no tactile cues at all, except the subtle change in acoustics when there is a gap in the sound bouncing off the buildings. I had never worked Pippen to the beauty shop alone, so I didn’t have the confidence I needed to direct a new dog. Enter Kara. She flew in for the weekend for the dual purpose of helping me with Ciscos training and with handling some issues with my mother in assisted living. Because I had to leave my Seeing Eye ® instructors back in Morristown, NJ, I’ve had to recruit friends and family to fill in as sighted assistants. My son Steve was given the task on the first Saturday Cisco and I were home, following behind us as we walked the route to church. I needed Steve to alert me to any potential problems that he could see and that I might miss and to help me direct Cisco to turn into the church driveway. Again, there is no tactile or audible cue, so its up to the dog to see where we always turn in. Same with my own driveway. My friend Dan filled this role as Cisco and I practiced walking to the grocery store, making sure I had my shoulders angled to just the right degree to cross the parking lot directly into the store. While I depend on my dog to walk straight from curb to curb, to go around obstacles, and to stop when the sidewalk ends and the street begins, I do have to know each step of the way myself. I cant just say to him, Let’s go to the coffee shop, and then hang on. Id love for the kind people who have been so helpful in this process to comment on their experiences. Photos, taken by Kara, show Cisco and me as we practiced clicker training at key places along the way.

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