A wide shot of the Andes Mountains with a snow covered Mt. Ausangate in the center. The 2020 team of eleven are hiking in the foreground on a beautiful day.

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The “swirl” of our first week home
31 May
By 2020Visionquest
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Black lab lies on a white blanket on the floor and gnaws on a bone.“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
–Paulo Coelho

Training with Swirl will continue for the rest of our working time together. Just as I strive to always be learning and growing as a person, so, too, do I work for my new guide Swirl and me to be learning and growing as a team. We completed our weeks of formal training together at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Oregon, which included the foundational work for how to sustain this training going forward. Arriving home in New Hampshire meant many new things for him. I could maintain his confidence with a couple of basic approaches.

As I introduced him to new routes, I initially chose simpler and shorter options. The goal is to remind him that the work is effectively the same that he has learned, with just the surroundings being different. I have been patiently understanding that new distractions have a role and encouraging with positive reinforcement of the good work he knows. Each time out might include a little more difficulty in the type of roads, sidewalks, traffic patterns or simply the distance travelled.

I always reinforce the return home celebrations. Knowing my home is vastly the more challenging “shoreline” work, meaning without sidewalk, I ensured a couple of trips to the downtown sidewalk where he would find comfort. We even added a three-mile walk in the Mine Fall Trail system which was by far his favorite work of our time together. Building wins along the way with the challenge makes for a healthier and happier team.

At home, I utilized our obedience work for consistency, comfort, and the confidence building these easy successes ensured. He’s been mostly on leash within our home to stay beside me as I helped guide him to understand appropriate behavior in all areas of our home, even as I would trust him to guide me around obstacles and to find straight lines out in the world together.

This is of course well interspersed with guided play as part of the reward system to ensure a balance in our lives and time together. He gets time playing with his “sister” Nama, though it is also in balance to ensure I’m his primary source of play; ultimately I want him to want to work for me as we build the best bond possible. It takes a special bond to do the work we have planned ahead but we are well on our way with a thoughtful foundational plan provided to us during our initial training, and which we will continue to build on in all of our work together if we truly want to reach the heights possible for us as a team.

In short, the first week included a “swirl” of activity, and he’s been an incredibly loving, fun, and willing worker. Our baseline has grown steadily with a few mistakes and learning opportunities from each of us along the way. His stamina is growing for the mental challenge as well as the physical distance, with a three-mile route being our longest thus far. We have built our routines, but are by no means in a rut with them. I’m looking forward to staging up to still more challenging work ahead.

Here are some videos of our recent work:

Swirl learns how to find the stairs

Swirl learns how to find his way home

Be well,
Randy Pierce

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