Since the last post, Black Jack and I worked in harness over a three day period. During this time, we walked together on bike paths, several different residential neighborhoods, and in an area with small businesses and private residences. These experiences enable Black Jack and I to begin forming the crucial trust bond in low stress areas, while providing me the chance to become acquainted with how he moves and guides. Overall, I cannot be any happier with the decision to put aside my Chris Park Designs canes and elect to pursue a guide dog from America’s Vet Dogs.
For our first stroll in harness, a bike and walking trail allowed me to feel Black Jack in action. During this exercise, we follow a simple down and back route at our own pace, so Black Jack and I stepped out a bit hitting my range walk speed. This steady quick step took my trainer by surprise, since the videos submitted in the application process demonstrated two distinct paces, a fast and slow one. Until this point, it remain uncertain if Black Jack would be suitable for me, as the trainers also picked out a second dog that walked slower but steadier. After finishing the route, Black Jack demonstrated why we belonged together.
The subsequent days allowed us to encounter different challenges and learning experiences. These range from avoiding traffic dangers, stopping at curbs and intersections, and navigating around obstacles in a variety of settings. Thus far, we figured out many of our quirks, though still require some time to adapt together. For example, I generally walk with my arms swinging a bit wildly, causing my to brush against a bush or poll. Black Jack tried to navigate us around these items, so he still requires some time to familiarize himself with how much of an arc to traverse. Aside from these instances, it feels tremendous to feel very confident strolling along crowded sidewalks.
My trainer made an interesting observation regarding the command delivery method I employ with Black Jack. Apparently spending time indoctrinating oneself with military drill and ceremony pays off, thanks to implementing command voice techniques. This refers to a method whereby one uses elision to drastically alter a word to under emphasize part of a word in favor of over emphasizing another. For example, saying forwards is barked with me almost skipping the “F,” emphasizing the “or” sound, when dragging “wards” out with an inhale. This all occurs by forcing air in and out through the diaphragm, rather than shallow breathing to produce sound during conversations. The final result might not be a clear annunciation of the word, but a distinctive bark issuing the order. Thus far, Black Jack seemed to pick up on the majority of these nuances of us as a guide dog team.