Diamond the Guide Dog: Update!

Hello again, PHC Readers!

It’s been a while since I gave you all a progress report on Diamond, my 11-month-old guide dog puppy in training, but we’ve been working hard. Many of you have commented and contacted me, asking for updates, so here’s the latest rundown!

First and foremost: she’s growing like a weed!

She’s gotten so big, in fact, that she’s beginning to outgrow all the training harnesses I have. So Diamond will soon have her very own custom-made harness that I can hopefully use for the rest of her guide dog career. At 11 months old, she already weighs 75 pounds, just to give you an idea of her size right now!

Her guide dog training is going as well as I can expect at her age … in most areas.

She’s starting to work on what is called intelligent disobedience, which is probably the reason guide dogs have proven to be such a wonderful mobility aid to people who are blind. Intelligent disobedience is a difficult skill for a dog to master because it requires her to emphatically disobey me when I ask her to do something that could get me hurt.

One day, for instance, while attempting to cross a driveway, I asked her to go forward, but there was a car blocking our path, so she simply planted her paws until the car went on its way. She was happy to continue crossing once the car had passed, of course. She has also learned not to lead me down flights of stairs until I have located the first step with my foot. This training will be very useful if I ever take her on subways or other forms of public transit where she’ll have to keep me away from platform edges. Of course it will also come in handy when I do formal traffic training, which I plan to start once she’s a little older.

Another issue we’re working on is Diamond’s pace and pull—how fast she walks and how hard she pulls into the harness.

I like my dogs to step out at a good clip, but Diamond takes that to a whole new level! She also tends to pull very hard when guiding, to the point where it causes me physical pain to work her for long distances at times. Over the past few days, we seem to have reached a compromise on these things, which has made our walks together much more enjoyable.

She’s also learning that she needs to work at a slower pace indoors than she can work out on the street. If she went as fast inside as out, she’d run me into all kinds of obstacles and people, especially during the holiday season with all its crowds and random store displays everywhere!

Even though she’s still learning a lot, her basic guide work is quite solid.

She understands how to lead me around obstacles, and she stops reliably at up and down curbs. She has also begun working on more difficult street crossings—the kind with islands and turn lanes, which she has handled perfectly so far.

Because she’s so smart and trains so fast, I sometimes forget that she’s still technically a puppy!

Naturally then, she still has some puppy behaviors we’re working on, like picking up things that are not dog toys or bones. She doesn’t really chew them, she just likes carrying them around with her. But I’d still prefer that she stick to her own toys, and trust me, she has plenty of those.

I’m also about to start teaching her to ring a bell when she needs to go out and do her business. She has always, since a baby puppy, been taken outside on a schedule, so it seems that she doesn’t understand how to tell me if she needs to go out at abnormal times. She knows how to do her business outside on cue, but she doesn’t understand how to ask to go outside, which in her mind are two totally different things. I’m hoping once I get her going with the bell thing, she’ll understand better what is expected of her.

Training a service dog is far, far different from working a finished one, and with every dog there will be snags like these. Overall, Diamond is proving to be a really fun dog to train and work with, and I look forward to updating you all on how the rest of her training progresses. Please feel free to post any comments or questions you may have, and I’ll be happy to answer them as I can.

For now, Diamond and I will finish getting ready for the holidays, and we wish you and yours happy holidays, too!


-Photo: This is not a photo of Diamond, but a friend and retired guide dog of Shanna’s, Wilshire.

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