The Tilden Diary — July 2011

1 The Tilden Diary — July 2011

I went to Guiding Eyes For The Blind (GEB, NY) for guide-dog #3 in July 2011. I returned home to California with Tilden (~n) Labrador, an effusive young male Labrador on July 23, 2011. Tilden completed his final week of training on the Google campus in Mountain View and graduated on July 30, 2011.

Tilden Labrador

This diary details the period from leaving home for Guiding Eyes July 11 to the day that Tilden completed his guide-dog training. Here is a photo album of pictures taken during this period.

1.1 Monday, July 11, 2011

Leave for NY at the crack of dawn — SFO->JFK leaving 7am out of SFO. Have an uneventful flight and arrive at JFK where I was met by Mike C from GEB. Arrive at GEB around 5:30pm, well in time for dinner. Meet Kath and Caryn, the class instructors, who help me find my dorm room. GEB now has individual rooms for students and I am in room 17. The school has gone through a big upgrade since I was here last — facilities look great.

Go up to dinner where I meet the kitchen staff — including Emily, who was there both in 1990 and 2000 when I went to GEB. Get oriented with the rest of the building after dinner, and we then gather for a short lecture in the lounge. We receive our new leashes and collars. There are a total of 12 students; 2 Action students, 1 special needs student, and 9 students in the main class. Given that this is a summer class, we have a number of high school and college students in class. Everyone looks "high-energy" and enthusiastic. After dinner, I return to my room and configure WiFi on my laptop and Android phone.

1.2 Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First day of class is spent doing Juno walks where the instructors assess how we walk. We drive to White Plains and get oriented with the layout of the lounge there. This is my first time to the GEB training lounge in White Plains, facilities look good. WiFi was being set up, as it transpired, I did not get a chance to use WiFi at the lounge during my stay.

Met Associate Director of Training, Graham Buck, who is also the instructor for the Action program. 21 years ago, Graham was the one who picked me up at the airport when I came in to get Aster. Graham, and the class supervisor Miranda observe the Juno walks. We have lunch at the lounge before going back to GEB in the afternoon. We will know what dog we are each getting tomorrow, Wednesday. Everyone is extremely excited and anxious to know more.

1.3 Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We do one more round of Juno walks Wednesday morning and get a final lecture about handling dogs. Have lunch at noon, and gather in the lounge at 1:30, where our dogs are announced. I am paired with Alice Labrador, a female black Labrador. I go back to my room to await my new guide. The instructors drive off to the kennel to bathe and bring over the dogs to our rooms.

Around 2:00pm, I receive a knock on the door, and Kath drops off Alice. Alice is a medium-sized, longish black Lab — reminds me of Aster in terms of her body size. Looking at her face, my wife describes her as a miniature black Bubbles. We spend the afternoon getting to know one another. Alice is shedding a lot, by the time I'm done petting her, the floor is covered in black hair.

By 3pm Alice is getting restless and whining everytime someone walks by the door. Around 3:30, I finally get worried and take her out to relieve herself; turns out she didn't really need to go. As I am to discover, the location of my room (room 17) is extremely sub-optimal with respect to where the dog has to relieve herself — it is bang in front of a loud generator and is extremely sunny in addition. Alice, and later Tilden had a lot of trouble relieving themselves here.

Kath comes to my room at 4pm to watch over as I give Alice her first meal with me. I give her two cups of food which she eats daintily – she appears to chew each mouthful well. She then drinks her water, and I once again attempt to get her to relieve herself, but in vain.

We each take our dogs up to dinner on leash — and get them to lie quietly at table. The dogs do extremely well, given that they have all just come to us from the kennel.

1.4 Thursday, 14, 2011

The next 24 hours are spent doing indoor work with the dogs and "relationship building". In the past, we worked the dogs in harness on this day — in the updated training program, we don't work the dogs in harness until Friday.

There have been many modifications to the training technique at Guiding Eyes in the last eleven years since I got Bubbles. The most notable amongst these are food-rewards and clicker training. The idea is to encourage and strengthen specific behaviors in the dogs. The dogs have come to associate the clicker with positive reinforcement, and we are taught to click, feed and praise the dogs for specific actions.

Sometime around mid-morning, Graham brings me and Alice to the lounge where we practice "recalls". He creates a small pen with chairs in the lounge, and I let Alice run around off leash. I call her back and when she comes, I give her a food reward and praise. After a few times, she decides to stay close to the source of the food — which wasn't exactly the point of the exercise, but we declare victory anyway. She appears to be bonding well and is a quiet dog — her tail waves around in the air gently, rather than thumping everything within reach as I am used to with Aster and Bubbles.

1.5 Friday, July 15, 2011

We drive to White Plains and arrive at the lounge by 9:30. The main class drives over in two vans with the class instructors. Graham drives me and the other action student in his car to White Plains. We work a fairly long route in harness on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. Alice guides in harness, with Graham holding an additional "support leash" that he has clipped to her collar. This is again something new that I had not experienced before when getting Aster and Bubbles. We incorporate a trip to CVS during the walk, and I pick up a tube of toothpaste.

Alice works well, her pull is strong and she moves well. We notice that she is having trouble with right clearances and contemplate switching to a shorter harness handle as she is a relatively long dog.

We come back to GEB by 3:45, in time to feed, water and park our dogs.

I go upstairs to see Lisa Deutsch in development. Alice gets to walk by all the GEB pet dogs. On the way back, I drop my treat pouch when recovering from a dog distraction; we must have made some other GEB dog very happy because later we found the treat pouch completely empty.

Alice is still having trouble relieving herself. Take her up to dinner — this time with her guiding in harness. She has trouble with clearing obstacles on the right. Does okay on approaching stairs, showing me the chair at the dining table and lies quietly during dinner. We've started doing clicker training with our dogs. We use the clicker to "mark" a target such as a door or a chair. I have started teaching Alice the door to my room by clicking when she gets to the door, feeding her and praising her. Clicker training is interesting; I had taught Bubbles to do all this with no food reward — looks like the clicker+food reward helps a greater number of dogs get to the same level of proficiency as the top dogs. Said differently, (at least this is how I conceptualized it) it raises the mean — AKA when the average become good, the good get better!

Dinner done, come back to my room and play with Alice. She enjoys lying under my chair as I Skype on my laptop.

1.6 Saturday, July 16, 2011

The start of the heat-wave on the East Coast. We drive to White Plains after breakfast. Today is Alice's first day working outdoors in harness with no support leash — this means she takes full responsibility for guiding. Did a repeat of the Mamaroneck walk with Graham. Toward the latter part of that walk, some problems start showing up; at times, Alice appears reluctant to move forward — then continues to guide after we get her out of that particular spot.

Come back to the White Plains lounge for lunch, water and park the dogs, and set off for our afternoon walk. Graham and I do a repeat of the morning trip, including a trip into Macys on the way. We work on escalators, and Alice does well. She also does well clearing obstacles within the store.

We exit Macys and start walking along the sidewalk, and immediately begin having problems. As we approach the intersection, Alice backs up and refuses to go to the curb. We suspect the pavement might be hot (though other dogs are working the intersections fine), and move back to the shade. We cross when the light changes and continue walking the next block.

Alice begins to show serious problems, we're walking along the left side of the street — she's constantly pulling out to the right curb. She stalls a few times, then begins to run in harness once she realizes the lounge is near at hand.

Go back to the lounge, calm her, and give her water. We have been given booties for our dogs, and Graham and I decide to try her with the booties on to see if that alleviates any of the above issues.

We go out for a short walk around the lounge with Alice wearing her booties. She now looks positively reluctant to work in harness, and stalls almost immediately half way up the block. We encourage her profusely, but in vain; eventually turn back, at which point she runs back to the lounge.

Graham is now seriously concerned, and we discuss what to do. Decide to give her a relaxing, easy evening and to try things out the following morning.

Come back to GEB, feed, water and park Alice. Take her up to dinner in harness with lots of praise; she does mostly okay except for being tentative around right clearances. Come back from dinner and keep her happy the rest of the evening. She finally manages to relieve herself at the front of the building, away from the noisy generator behind my room. Hoping that this is the final fix, and that she will work happily tomorrow morning and beyond.

1.7 Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday is normally a holiday at GEB, with the day being used to do some fun play activities with the dogs. Since I am here for the Action program and have only 4 working days left (I am scheduled to fly home to CA Friday, July 22), Graham decides to give Alice a short working trip Sunday morning.

Graham comes over during breakfast, and immediately after, we drive with Alice to a quiet neighbourhood in Yorktown Heights. We park the car, and get on to the sidewalk. Alice starts guiding in harness, takes a few steps and then freezes on the spot. We could not get her to move again until we pointed ourselves back at the car, at which point she ran to the car in relief.

Graham decides that guide-dog work is not for Alice. We come back to GEB, and Graham sets off on a quest for my next guide-dog.

1.8 Sunday, July 17, 2011 (Continued)

Graham alerts all the GEB instructors as to what has happened. He starts looking at the files of other available dogs in the GEB kennel. For background, GEB typically trains about 20 dogs per class, and matches dogs to students. This means that there are dogs left over from each string that then get matched in future classes, or go out as part of the home training program. In addition, there are also rare instances where dogs come back after being assigned; as an example, Aster was a re-assigned dog.

Graham comes up with two possible candidates, a black Lab named Floss (re-assigned) and a small female golden-lab named Eliza. We try each of them in harness on Colonial Street, the quiet country road outside GEB.

Both Floss and Eliza perform acceptably in harness. In the meantime, other instructors are busily messaging Graham with details of dogs they have in their strings that might be ready to go into class.

After coming back from trying Eliza, Graham asks me if I am open to trying male dogs — I had originally expressed a preference for a female Lab given that that was what I was familiar with from Aster and Bubbles. I go ahead with trying out a male Lab — I'd rather have a good match, rather than limiting my possibilities.

1.9 Enter Tilden Labrador

We go back to the kennel to drop off Eliza and Graham emerges with a large bouncy yellow Lab. Graham says "this is Tilden", and before I know it, I have a large yellow Lab with his paws on my chest and his wet, slobbering tongue all over my face.

We take Tilden out in harness on Colonial Street, and it "feels right" from almost the first step. We do the walk, and Graham likes what he sees. We were to have tried Tilden's brother Tobias as well; after seeing Tilden in harness with me, Graham says "This looks good, should we still try Tobias?". I decide that Tilden is my dog.

The normal routine would be for me to go wait in my room while Tilden gets bathed and readied. I ask Graham if I can be around for Tilden's bath — eventually Graham and I give Tilden (and ourselves) a bath at the GEB kennel.

Tilden is a happy dog!

Tilden after his bath

Bath over, I feed and water Tilden, before letting him run aroundes a bit in the sun to completely dry off. Once completely dry, I come back to my room with Tilden where I play with him till lunch. Tilden has a strong tail and wags is emphatically as he bounces around the room.

I heel Tilden up to lunch on leash where the rest of the class (people and dogs) get a big surprize to see a new dog.

After lunch, Graham drives me and Tilden to the Kmart in Yorktown Heights. We do obedience exercises inside the store with Tilden. Graham then lets Tilden guide me around the outside of the store while he holds the support leash. We finally come out of the store and let Tilden guide us to the intersection. We dont work the crossing in harness, since Tilden is still very new with me. We come back to GEB, and spend the rest of the day settling down Tilden.

Tilden looks happy and energetic and his tail is definitely strong enough to rival Aster and Bubbles. His favorite game appears to be to place his bone on the bed, grip it with his front paws so it doesn't move, and bite it with all his strength. I feed him as usual at 4pm, and he eats his dinner with full gusto — my wife who is watching on Skype says his mouth doesn't come out of the feeding bowl till all the food is gone.

1.10 Monday, July 18, 2011

We decide that if Tilden works out, I'll stay an extra day at GEB and leave Saturday instead of Friday.

We go to White Plains, where we work Tilden with the support leash in the morning on the regular Mamaroneck route. The heat-wave is on with a vengeance, as it turns out, this is our last day in White Plains. For the afternoon trip, Graham drives the other Action student a few blocks away from the lounge, walks back with her, then takes me and Tilden to the car. This is Tilden's first trip in harness with no support leash. It is hot but he performs beautifully. Have asked GEB to move my return flight to Saturday. We have a lot to accomplish in the next 4 days!

Tilden getting ready to ride  to White
                       Plains

1.11 Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tilden is now well into the flow – amazing to think that he was playing in the kennel and barking merrily with the other 150+ dogs in the kennel less than 48 hours ago. He is full of life and enjoys everything he does, from eating to working to playing to sleeping — does everything heartily. Something as simple as targetting a door or a chair is a "fun game" for him — he looks forward to it and jumps with joy when he succeeds.

Click, Feed, Reward ---  We found the
                       door!

In the morning, we go to Yorktown Village – small shoppping area in Yorktown. We work through the shopping area indoors and out – Tilden does very well in harness. We go to a pet-store and do obedience training, we opportunistically use other visiting dogs as distractions for Tilden.

We work in the Jefferson Valley Mall in the afternoon where we do escalators — it's too hot to do any outdoor work this week.

Tilden has worked plenty in this mall, and appears to know everything there like the back of his paw — do paws have a back?! Tilden points at each store as we pass by – and works beautifully inside Sears. I also wait with him in a seating area while Graham works with the other Action student; Tilden does well with all the distractions around him.

Tilden coming back to school from work

Tilden is beginning to excel at targetting, he makes a bee-line for every door handle he can see to earn his treat!

Tilden found the door!

1.12 Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Time is flying – leave for home Saturday. Tilden is coming along fast, but there is still plenty to do. We go to the Yorktown Village area, but this time work a much longer route.

We start in the area "behind" the village, and walk down a couple of long straight blocks, tackle a few street crossings, then work through a park to arrive at the shopping area. We work through the shopping area and work inside stores. He does especially well inside Home Depot, including working around large carts with long pieces of wood sticking out of them.

On the way back, we stop at Starbucks for a coffee, then work back to the car. Tilden does brilliantly except for one blown clearance.

In the afternoon, we work Tilden in WalMart. Tilden works well again. We do obedience training in the store, watched by an audience of a store worker and a random shopper who thinks I'm a fake blind person — she stares at us for a while and then says "Are you really blind?"!

Tilden doing obedience inside a store

Come back to school where we have our formal graduation pictures taken in the afternoon. Tilden poses for the picture and comes out looking like a superstar.

1.13 Thursday, July 21, 2011

Graham arrives early, and we leave for Peekskill soon after breakfast — the heat-wave is on with a vengeance with the heat-index expected to cross into the 100s today. We park and work a series of intersections to get us to a coffee store. Tilden works beautifully and amazes both me and Graham at all the things he pays attention to (and potentially gets distracted by) — he is extremely aware of the world around him. Come back to the school by 10:00am.

In the afternoon, we go back to JV Mall and work inside the mall. I do about three tours of the mall with Tilden — he's working beautifully. Am still adjusting to how he reacts to my signals; I am discovering that I need to be more emphatic with my turn signals than I had to be with Bubbles.

Souvenir shopping in the evening. I get Tilden a set of bandanas to wear on special occasions.

1.14 Friday, July 22, 2011

My final day at GEB — how time has flown. The heat is at its maximum, Graham and I work Tilden before breakfast by doing the Colonial Street country walk. Tilden pulls hard, has a good time guiding. Meet the GEB IT folks that morning to talk tech – then do some work inside the building with Graham. The extra day at GEB ends up being useful mostly with respect to giving Tilden an extra day to settle down with me — the heat prevents us from doing much in terms of work.

Entering the grocery store

Graham and I go to a grocery store in the afternoon. Tilden guides well and gets mightily surprized when I go flying and land on my butt due to a spill — someone had spilt a large amount of liquid on a polished floor. No harm done, I land safely on my butt, leaving both Graham and Tilden looking bemused.

Tilden guiding smoothly around the aisles at the grocery store

After my tumble, we calm Tilden down and do some obedience in the grocery store so he has something positive to remember.

Tilden doing obedience exercises inside the store

Come back to the school and start packing. Go up with Graham to some distraction training with Tilden. I discover that Tilden is extremely sensitive to the leash – this is something I'll have to remember as I work with him. His trainer Stephanie did describe him as a "big mush" — boy, was she right! Friday evening is mostly spent by me growing anxious over making sure that Tilden empties out completely before flying back to CA — I leave GEB at 5am tomorrow morning. Go to bed around 9pm as usual.

1.15 Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wake up at 4am and park Tilden. Get freshened up, then park him again; and finally park him a third time around 5am when my ride to the airport arrives. Tilden is all parked and ready for the long cross-country trip!

Leave GEB at 5am, and get to JFK by 6am. My ride has a Droid that is using Driveabout to get directions — does feel nice to see ones' work in action! We get to JFK, and give Tilden one last opportunity to relieve himself — he looks bored.

Get dropped off at the Jet Blue counter — they are extremely nice and give us a great seat. They bring me through security and over to the gate. Tilden has a great time being frisked by the security staff — airport security is curious about the clicker I've taped to Tilden's harness.

Tilden  waits for his first flight

Arrive at the gate, and get Tilden to sit under my chair. He behaves like the model guide-dog that he is, and observes everything around him.

Our flight is called, and we pre-board. I go ahead and let Tilden guide me on to the plane — he does it like a pro. We're in row 1 on Jet Blue — we take the aisle seat.

Tilden decides that he's going to play "welcome committee" for everyone boarding the flight. I finally decide to move over to the window seat.

Tilden lies happily and doesn't seem to be bothered by his first flight. We take off, and he curls up at my feet — all three seats were taken in our row and space was tight.

Tilden settles down for his first flight

Both Tilden and I fall asleep — when we wake up a little later, I find the middle seat open, and Tilden stretched comfortably on the floor.

Tilden stretched out --- thinks he's flying business class!

Make it across with no surprizes – Tilden decides to sit up and rest his head on my lap as we get close to landing.

Tilden prepares for his first landing

Tilden rests his head on my lap as we get in to SFO

Land half an hour early — and wait for the gate to become available — eventually deplaned at the scheduled landing time. I deplane first with Tilden guiding, and wait at the top of the jet-bridge for my assitance to arrive.

Walk to baggage claim – after taking the elevator, we have a straight shot down a long hallway and I let Tilden guide in harness with the assistance person following. Tilden is moving beautifully and is happy to stretch his legs after the flight.

Arrive at baggage claim where Charles is waiting for me. We wait for my suitcase to arrive, and then let Tilden guide us out of the jam of passengers – having a large head and a purposeful walk is a great help — we make it out of the throng in double-quick time — with the "waters parting for Tilden" as he moves.

We walk a long way to find the relief area at the airport for Tilden, Tilden gets there, and decides to play, rather than relieve himself. Declare defeat, and get to our car and drive home — Tilden eats, drinks and relieves himself before settling down at home.

Tilden relaxes, gets groomed on his first day home

1.16 July 25 – July 29, 2011

Tilden had a week's training in CA — this is part of the Action program. I trained with Tilden in my home area Monday, July 25, before taking him to the Google campus to show him (and the trainer around) that afternoon. Starting Tuesday, July 26, 2011, we trained on the Google campus.

Tilden rides the Google shuttle.

On The Seat: Tilden  claiming his rights as a Googler

Date: 2011-07-31 Sun

Author: raman

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