Monday, June 15, 2009

Following the Instructor, Part 3: Escalators, Platforms and Subways

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.

Yellow Lab Solana enjoying the ride on the train.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?


  1. In this post, the question is asked if our guides have saved our lives. The answer to that from me is ... oh yes! This was the fall of 2007, not too long after I got home with "Mesa", my current guide. She showed me on this day both her loyalty to me as her master, and her wonderful training.

    We were on our way home, and on the second half of our double-crossing, we had the go-ahead. I confidently gave Mesa the command "forward," and wondered why she had gone, and then immediately pulled back! What I heard next horrified me, but also made me give her a praise party right there on that sidewalk! A huge semi must not have realized that he couldn't turn right at that point and still started to make the right turn. Mesa had pulled me back to get me out of harm's way.

    This is yet another example of how intelligent disobedience works! Had it not been for Mesa, I'd probably have been splattered all over Main Street! Thank you "Mesa"! Mommy loves you!

  2. I am currently working my second guide, and although I can not say that there has been 1 instance when either guide has saved my life, I can say that traveling in the dead of winter in knee deep snow is now possible, and would be impossible without Luther, and now Lars.

  3. My guide saves my life whenever we step out into an intersection in my home city because it seems to be inhabited by aggressive, passionate drivers. Also, when we travel Toronto, a city similar to San Fran, my guide prevents me from walking off the edges of platforms all the time. My dog has prevented me from moving forward by putting herself parallel to a vehicle that was making a right on red, and the vehicle was so close that her harness probably scratched it. I hope it left a nice mark. So yes, my guide saves my life on a regular basis.

  4. I think a praise party is in order for all of these wonderful guides!

  5. She saves my life, my mental health, and my goofy grin. Most recently there was this encounter with a Muni bus, and another with an impatient driver... The bus seemed a safe surge to me since it was not beeping; BAD driver not using a turn signal! I tell Bamboo "forward", and we're off. Suddenly, she turns slightly to the right, and she hit the brakes. As I opened my eyes I saw nothing but white, then heard the engine, and finally gave a solid "curb" command. As we got to the curb then took a couple of steps to have our version of a praise party with food reward, rapture says Bam-Bam. I hear a few guys debating if I had told her to do it. As she crunched her kibbles one of them said, "no way dude, he didn't tell her to heel". I smile then chirp, "forward"; feeling gratitude, love, and CONFIDENCE with the worlds best guide at my side.

    The impatient driver I mentioned was that of a car... I get, yet again, a good surge, and we're off. It must have been from the middle lane, because then a car starts a right turn after we are stepping off the curb. They began to hit the brakes as my super-hero best friend scooted to the right and accelerated. My feeling after that happened was, I would have received at least a bump or a crushed left foot from this vehicle. Ahh, life and guidework on the streets of San Francisco!

    Even when we are using our ears as best we can; others fail to yield to blind pedestrians, as required by law. As well, audible warning of a turning bus only works when the driver turns on the signal... The cane is but a tool, the guide is an ultra-smart thinking being. My friend, team-mate, partner, and pilot.

    Hugs & Wags,
    Seth & Bamboo.

  6. By chance, Seth, when did you get Bamboo? I knew a Bamboo who was a guide for an apprentice when I was training with my guide.

  7. I got Bamboo last year. Clas 684, to be precise, we left San Ruffel last May 17th. Ha-Ha, I crack myself up!

  8. Danette and Velma
    This was my 2nd dog. I was crossing a 5line made it half way and My dog Evelyn stopped and put her in reverse and after that I heard squeaking breakes this car stopped and Evelyn continued when we got other curve I had a part for my Evie. Thanks Evie you were the best