Yesterday I got to watch something truly remarkable. I got to watch a session where SA Guide-dogs Instructors Hayley and Permit trained their dogs for traffic work.
What this kind of training entails is two instructors, each with one dog at a time, and another instructor in a SAGA vehicle, yesterday it was Guide Dog Services Manager
They do practice this on their training walks with what is referred to as “natural traffic”, cars that happen to come along during their training, but traffic work is a step up from that.
They head for a quiet suburb, and then using driveways and intersections down the length of about four blocks – determined at the start of the session – the instructors will walk with their dogs and the instructor in the car will turn into driveways, cross-streets, and approach stop streets in front of the approaching instructor with the dog. Its done at different speeds, sometimes with sudden stops or with the driver of the vehicle backing away and approaching again.
This gives the instructor with the dog the opportunity – under controlled circumstances – to correctly instruct the guide-dog-in-training on how to react and what to do.
The instructors have two viewpoints to each interaction and should the dog be over-eager, or react with fear, they can correct the behaviour appropriately and gently, and end the interaction on a positive note.
This is essential to prevent the dog from associating approaching traffic with a negative experience.
It also gives the instructors, as a team, the opportunity to observe the dog’s reactions to cars and crossing streets as part of their eventual decision on who to partner the dog with.
Its phenomenal to see how well the instructors know the dogs, and how patient they are. Not only must they give the same instructions to each of their dogs, they must tailor how they praise and correct behaviour according to the situation AND the individual dog. This is certainly not a cookie-cutter-training process.
There are no assumptions made with regard to a dog’s progress and personality. An apparently bold dog may be a little nervous in traffic- and vice versa- and each dog is monitored throughout the walk to make sure it has a positive experience and responds properly. And this isn’t done once for each dog, the training is repeated in different areas and on different days so that the dogs know the “rules” apply no matter where they are, as well as to make sure the dogs are okay in any area.
And get this – they have to use different cars and different drivers for these sessions because the dogs are so smart they can actually get accustomed to the drivers and the cars, and they could start thinking that cars can’t or won’t actually hurt them since the SAGA staff are so careful during these sessions!
In real life situations of course, the cars don’t always stop!
It was absolutely fascinating.
I want to say a big thank you to Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Hayley; her dogs Zaiden, Cayla, Chiva, Elliott and Bramble; Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Permit; his dogs Zama, Shaun, Abby, Ari and Dakota; and Guide Dog Services Manager Gail (who was behind the wheel today), for allowing me to come along and watch you work.