By Joanne Ritter
The following text describes a 10:17 minute video, taken on my excursion to San Francisco with Instructor Ben Cawley and yellow Lab Solana.
Link to the video: Following the Instructor, Part 3.
Ben pauses to put dog booties on Solana’s rear paws before they head to the escalators. She accepts it patiently. It’s strange to see a dog wearing “sneakers,” but important to protect the dog’s pads. The booties are also sometimes used in inclement weather when the sidewalks are either too hot or covered with ice and snow.
As they approach the escalator, Solana slows and alerts Ben with her body movements. He lets go of the harness handle and with leash in hand, they carefully step on board the moving steps. Solana stays calmly by Ben’s side as they ride along, her gaze on him waiting for his next cue. As they near the top step, Ben takes hold of her collar and then releases it as a signal to disembark. Ah, wags and praise all around!
Now, on the subway platform, he lifts the harness handle and cues her to enter the subway’s gaping doors. Once onboard, we have a chance to sit and visit with an interested rider. The dogs draw many questions from the public and the trainers often have to shift hats – from training dogs to doing public relations.
At our stop, we exit and do some platform work. Ben waits for the train to leave, and gives Solana the cue to go left – right off the platform and on to the tracks below! But she’s too smart for that -- she’ll have none of it! She disobeys him with confidence and is rewarded by lots of praise. This is what is known as intelligent disobedience. The dog is trained to disobey a cue if it would put the team in harm’s way. Had this been a real situation, she would have potentially saved Ben’s life!
As remarkable as this is, it points up the importance of not distracting or obstructing a working animal. The dog is doing a very important job and needs to focus.
Leaving the subway, Solana stops to alert Ben to the steps and he rewards her before continuing through the crowded city streets. It’s not just the number of people that is distracting. There are pedestrians rolling suitcases, women walking noisily in heels, and a homeless man asleep on the sidewalk. How does Solana know to ignore them?
Early socialization to the world by our puppy raisers is key to establishing a solid foundation for guidework training. It helps to make the sights and sounds of the city a “normal” environment. Solana can concentrate on her guidework training with confidence.
Today’s question goes out to our alumni – has your dog ever saved your life?