When we visit with students, we engage them in our presentation with many interactive questions that guide the flow of the discussion. At certain times, we give them the opportunity to inquire about any topic we’ve discussed. This week, while at Dr. Crisp Elementary here in Nashua, I was asked a follow-up question regarding Quinn’s ability to know my height and warn me about potential obstacles at head level. Specifically, the student wanted to know how Quinn might adapt if I were to grow.
It was an excellent question in many ways. Maintaining awareness of extreme spatial ranges is one of the more challenging tasks for dogs, for example, my height triples Quinn’s height. However, the question more likely implied the idea of a Guide Dog working with someone such as a child or young adult who is very likely to grow. Since my height is reasonably stable, it might seem a moot point for me – but this isn’t actually the case. When I’m carrying objects such as grocery bags or a bulky item that may jut out to my side, I do ‘grow’ wider. Quinn must adjust to this added width and I have to have confidence in him to do so. Similarly, when I’m wearing boots or a hiking pack, which can rise over my head, Quinn must be aware that I have ‘grown’ taller. To make Quinn aware of such changes, I snap at my larger extension and give Quinn the ‘caution’ command. Usually I can feel him turn a bit in the harness and then I know he has looked and is aware. Much like a driver in a new car, Quinn may double-check a few times to gauge clearance, and he even occasionally makes errors. When that happens, I have to reinforce the change and the word ‘caution’. Quinn typically gets it quickly and my confidence and trust in him is very high for these challenges.
I offer the following story as an example of the trust I have in Quinn. A few years back we had a snowstorm coming just before Christmas. Tracy and I needed a new shovel and went to a very crowded department store on a Friday night, amidst ‘storm panic’ and holiday shoppers alike. We bought the largest shovel we could find, and then I had to carry this bulky and dangerous item through the crowded store. I took the time to give Quinn extra emphasis on the caution and then bade him to guide me. We navigated through the store, which had many added aisle displays and a rush inattentive people. Quinn was slower and looked back at me several times, but nary a sign of misjudgment. I had already learned to trust him, otherwise I wouldn’t have made the attempt – but I believe that for Tracy and many of the shoppers, there was a very clear understanding of how well Quinn adjusted to ‘growth’. I think the students who hear Quinn’s tale are also suitably impressed. Personally, I am amazed at how frequently a student provides an insightful question that allows us to cover yet another interesting aspect of our work.