Dora Learns Her Way to Giant Eagle

There’s a Giant Eagle grocery store 1 mile from my house. It’s mostly a straight shot, once you get out of my neighborhood, except for the very end of the route. This is where it gets a bit tricky for a dog, and it’s the place where my previous dog never got it. For that reason, I’ve been very careful to introduce this route well after Dora and I had established our relationship. I also prepared myself better this time for success with the training session.

First, I asked my friend Eve to help me with this project. Before we left the house, I engaged Dora in a short clicker session, while Eve observed in amusement. It is pretty funny to watch a dog get so excited about dinging a bell with her nose and then getting a treat, which in this case was just a piece of kibble. But a kibble out of hand is even more exciting than out of a bowl.

Next we drove to a spot about 2/3 of the way, since Dora already knows that part, and we left the car there. The first part of the new route is to cross the interstate on a bridge. It’s terrifying to me, but a wall prevents Dora from seeing the traffic below us, so she marched on fearlessly. We then have to cross 2 side streets, not a problem, but they need to be observed with a full stop and a wait until I give her the command to cross. Now here comes the first really tricky part. When we turn toward the parking lot, we have to cross 2 islands. In order to execute this route to the door of the store, the dog needs to not wander into the parking lot but to stay on course and take me to each island. I have absolutely no vision, so it is essential for the dog to do this right. On our training session yesterday, I came prepared with treats for each success. Before I asked Dora to guide me to each island, I took Eve’s arm, and I heeled Dora and treated her when we got to each island. Then it was her turn to do the guiding. It took a few tries, because she remembered that once upon a time, we had parked in that section of the parking lot, so she probably was looking for the car. Just a guess, but dogs do remember even one occurrence of an event. After mastering the 2 islands, we strode ahead to the door. Again, I took Eve’s arm, and she led us to the customer service desk, which involved making a wide left turn around a display and then another left turn to the counter. Then, I pulled out the clicker gear, and we practiced targeting that counter. Soon, a little group of onlookers had gathered to watch this process with fascination. No problem. Dora was focused on those kibble treats, and she was determined to please me. Finally, it was time to start from the door and find our way to the counter on our own, with Eve trailing behind my right shoulder. I have to congratulate Eve for not interfering with Dora’s learning process. On this final trip, I suspected that she had gotten distracted and was way off base, but I hung in there with her, and Eve never said a word. In a couple of seconds, Dora zoomed around to the left and came to a screeching halt at the counter. As if it had been planned, there was a cart in the way so she had to take a detour, but she got us there.

The last part of this training trip was to navigate back across the parking lot, crossing both of those islands. Because the first one is a little offset from the sidewalk in front of the store, it’s a little trickier. We have to cross at an angle. Here’s where my shoulders have to be exactly in the right position, before I give her the forward command. After we’ve done this a few times, she’ll do it on her own, but for right now, everything has to be just so, for success. After a few more practice runs, I’ll be able to say, “Let’s go shopping,” and I’ll have to hold on for dear life.

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