By Randy Pierce
Students are often amused when I describe how Autumn has been trained in “intelligent disobedience.” It is the dog guide judgment to determine something is a threat and to disobey a command in order to alert me of a threat or obstacle. If I were to tell her to go forward and there was a flight of stairs or a curb in front of me she would refuse because my striding out could very easily lead to a tumble. Instead she halts directly in front of the obstacle and refuses to proceed with the command until I show her I understand the problem by acknowledging with a tap of it either with my foot (for the curb) or my hand (for a high branch). She may also wait until a threat has passed such as a silent electric car. The key point is her refusal and my part in the process to identify that I understand before we proceed.
For those of you who read last week’s blog on distracted driving, I was asked how I can tell the difference between Autumn doing her job with intelligent disobedience and Autumn being distracted. While some might be shocked to consider that my sweet princess might ever pause to sniff the grass or face off with the rabbit eating the tender grasses of a lawn, the truth is these distractions can happen sometimes. Depending on how attentive *I* am being usually impacts how quickly and efficiently I realize the difference between her distraction and her quality work. The feel of the harness handle tells me when she tips her head down for a sniff and so that is a good reminder for me to give her a verbal correction to keep going and not be distracted.
Despite my best and most consistent efforts, we are occasionally going to have our progress thwarted by her distraction. The very reasonably small number of times this occurs is a testament to the training work which goes into selecting and conditioning these dogs for their job. I’m proud to say that on her typical day Autumn rarely impacts our work together with distraction. While we all have our less than stellar days, I trust her warnings and that trust is rewarded by my safe, independent, and joyous ability to travel the world with my girl.