Yesterday, I arrived in Morristown, NJ to begin training with my third Seeing Eye dog. Nervous? Yes. Apprehensive? Yes. Excited? Yes.
Over the next three weeks of training, I’m going to be writing about the training process. If you come to EE for tons of insights and motivation and stuff, well, hopefully you’ll still draw something from these experiences. However, chronicling this journey is going to be my primary purpose. So, here goes…
For the next three weeks, I’ll be training with 18 other students. Florida to Washington State, Maine to California-we’re from all over. We’re all re-trains, meaning we’ve all already had at least one Seeing Eye dog.
We settled in yesterday afternoon, but won’t get to meet our new four legged guides until Monday afternoon. The first 48 is spent with trainers, evaluating walking speed, strength of correction, lifestyle, physical stature, etc. to make a good match. We’ve also now gone on two Juno walks; evals where a trainer plays as the Seeing Eye dog in order to get an idea of the preferred walking speed and pull. And no, there were no scratches behind the ear nor “accidents” on the street!
This afternoon, three dogs were passed around in my small group of four; myself, another speaker/author from Chicago, a tech expert from right here in Jersey and a policy analyst for the USDA from D.C. The dogs? A golden retriever/lab cross, a yellow lab and a German shepherd. Their personalities were high, medium and low. The cross was a total wild man, but kinda fun to have such an energettic pup to play with. Shepherd female was still plenty hyper, but the yellow lab epitomized the “Whatever…” personality.
We students will not know if one of these dogs is ours. We did not learn the dogs’ names. We will not know anything other than the short time we had with these pups. The exercise was designed to evaluate our handling of each dog…these dogs may not even have gone through full training yet.
A few common questions:
How does the training work? After being weaned from their mothers, each dog is placed with a puppy raiser for around a year. The raiser teaches basic obedience, socializes the dog and does some minor evaluations of the dog’s capacity to learn and adapt. After that year, the dog is around 18 months old and is returned to the Seeing Eye. A trainer then begins to work with each dog, starting out with routes around Morristown and progressing to more complicated streets and intersections, etc. to develop their skills. After four, sometimes five, months, the students arrive to begin training.
Can I pick what kind of dog I want? Not really. The Seeing Eye takes all requests seriously, but in the end, they reserve the right to place you with the best dog for you. Er, me.
Do I get to name the dog? Nope. Again, the dogs are trained before we arrive, and we have no real input into naming. However, at the beginning of the year, the first litter of pups all have names that begin with A. Then the next litter all have B names. Then C. On down through the alphabet.
This evening is the calm before the storm. It’s good for us to all connect before we begin training with our dogs, so tonight is a wine and cheese reception for students. Social time!
Tomorrow? I’ll probably blog before getting the new pup, and I’ll definitely blog afterward to let everyone know my new companion. Until then…