Love Songs: Guide Dog Training Part 4

This short piece appeared in the Graduate Corner section of Forward Together: A Newsletter for Graduates of Southeastern Guide Dogs (August/September issue).

*  *  *

Before I started training at Southeastern, I spent hours dreaming of the moment when I would meet my pup. In my mind’s eye, the dog – features unspecified – would enter the room, bound toward me, and leap into my arms. Everything about its body language would shout, “I can’t wait to begin our life together!”

So when I was actually introduced to my pup, a black lab male named York, I had to watch my dreamscape crumble into ungainly pieces. Once his CCT* left the room, York ran to the end of his leash, dropped to the floor, and began a plaintive wail. Trainers assured me that York would warm up, but I didn’t believe them. I imagined York staring haughtily into the distance and longed for the moment when I would know that he actually cared about me.

When York and I worked for the first time in harness, I began to understand the level of trust and courage we both needed. On the nature trail, we prepared to step down out of the gazebo, and I froze. Unwilling to let York’s paws gauge the depth of the step down, I wanted my cane: I wasn’t prepared to depend on another being, especially one who didn’t seem to like me very much. After an eternity of minutes, I did step down – and I didn’t twist an ankle. York’s paws and my feet were safely on the path, moving forward. In that small gesture, I recognized his potential in harness.

Learning to trust my trainers as well as York, I should have believed them when they said the long recall would make me happy. After I left York in a sit-stay, he began a familiar sound – the morose whine I remembered from our initial meeting. At the end of the designated hallway, I called his name and heard him barreling down corridors, collar jingling, paws thumping. I saw him flying toward me – a huge hurtling black blur. My trainer caught him before he could leap into my arms.

When I left him on tie-down so I could do laundry, I heard York’s song again. I timed the process of loading the washer: not more than 5 minutes. But York stood at the half-open door to my room, his cries amplified by the long hallway. I turned down the hallway and saw him sprawled in my doorway, looking deflated. When I came to the door, I heard him leaping with joy, tail swinging, ears flapping.

I know I should quiet his vocal outbursts, but I can’t help smiling when York starts crying for me. His persistent whine – more like the moan of an injured whale – rings in my ears like a love song. It’s the theme to my longed-for moment, the song that says he wants me beside him.

 

* Canine Care Technician

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