My training with Trigger continues to progress. Yesterday and today we negociated off-kerb obstacles and practiced near and far traffic.
Off-kerb obstacles entail the Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) setting up obstacles which block the entire pavement meaning that the dog must stop and take it’s owner to the kerb. On approaching with the kerb on my left Trigger, on encountering the obstacle took me to the kerb. I then took the lead in my right hand and told him to “find the way” at which point Trigger stepped into the road, took me past the obstacle and returned to the pavement as soon as he’d passed the obstruction.
On approaching the obstacle with the kerb on your right hand side, on reaching the obstacle Trigger, again took me to the kerb and stopped. At this point (first checking the road was clear) I put my right foot into the road and told Trigger to “find the way”, again he left the pavement, negociated the obstacle and returned to the kerb as soon as he was able.
The point of the above exercise was to teach me how to cope when I encounter obstacles blocking the pavement in the real world (as opposed to the artificial situation created by the GDMI).
Turning to near and far traffic, near traffic training entails a member of Guide Dogs driving a vehicle towards the dog (while you and the animal are on the pavement) at which point (on being told by my GDMI) I asked Trigger to go “forward”. If the guide dog stays on the pavement he is praised while attempting to leave the pavement results in the dog being told to “stay” and a slight flick on the handle of the harness is given in order to reinforce the message.
Far traffic entails the dog having left the kerb when a vehicle approaches from the left. At this point I told Trigger to “wait” thereby ensuring the safety of both dog and owner.
I must stress that both near and far traffic are practiced in controlled circumstances (I only gave commands to Trigger when instructed to do so by the GDMI while the GDMI in the vehicle is well used to reinforcing near and far traffic training).
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA) makes it clear to all guide dog owners that the training is, in no way a substitute for the judgement of the owner (I.E. the responsibility for deciding whether or not to cross the road rests firmly with the human, not the dog). The purpose of near and far traffic training is, therefore to act as a safety mechanism in the event that the human handler makes a mistake and tells the dog to cross the road when it is not safe to do so. It is, perhaps rather like asking a four-year-old child to help you cross the road (they have no concept of danger and you can not, in any way rely on their judgement).