One thing The Seeing Eye urges graduates to do when we get home is keep our new dogs attached to us. Literally. 24/7. So picture me now, working at my computer. Harper is at my feet, his leash looped around my ankle. Any time I decide to head to the kitchen to warm up my coffee, I wake Harper up. “Harper, heel.” Harper walks at my side to the microwave. “Good boy, Harper.” When we get to the microwave, I give him another command. “Harper, sit!” Harper sits. “Good boy, Harper!” I want him to stay there while the coffee warms up. “Harper, rest.” He does. “Good boy, Harper. Good boy!
Twenty years ago I managed all that while our son Gus was little and living with us. From Long Time, No See:
Take my first morning home with Pandora. I failed to level off the dry oatmeal before putting it in the cereal bowl and it overflowed in the microwave. I shifted between the sink and microwave to clean it up, all the while with Pandora’s leash wrapped around my wrist, per Seeing Eye instructions for our first weeks together.
I succeeded on my second try, and used Pandora to guide me to Gus. Then I carried him to his highchair and wrapped Pandora’s leash around my ankle — I needed both hands to feed Gus. I needed four hands, really. Pandora kept slinking under Gus’ highchair to clean up all he dropped, and she needed correcting. And so on.
When it finally was my turn to eat I punched the button on my talking clock. It was already 10:30! I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet.
Anyone who knows me knows how important my morning coffee is. And anyone who has read Long Time, No See (or has been at a presentation where I read from my memoir) knows what made the coffee I finally brewed that morning so memorable!
Understanding the method behind the 24/7 attachment madness makes it easier to execute. Praise is really what it’s all about for Seeing Eye dogs, and having them at the end of the leash all the time gives us plenty of chances to tell them how great they are. If Harper sits when I tell him, I praise him. When he heals, lies down, rests on command, he is praised. On the other hand, if Harper misbehaves (sniffs inside a garbage can, nibbles at crumbs on the kitchen floor) I can catch him in the act. We can’t see our Seeing Eye dogs, but if they are only a leash away while they’re being naughty, we can correct them.
All of this transfers to our work outside, too. I praise, and often pet, Harper anytime he stops at a curb, or at the top of the stairs to the subway. If he messes up, I correct him and give him a chance to do it right. And if he succeeds the second time, guess what? He gets praised!
Let’s say we’re walking outside and Harper runs past a curb. That’s when I step into my role as teacher. I give him a correction, either verbally or with the leash, then show him where he made his mistake.
Next, I bring him back to the curb, tell him to sit, tap the curb with my foot and praise him. “Good boy, Harper! Here’s where you stop. Good boy!” We take a few steps backwards then, maybe two dog lengths, and we re-work the approach to the curb. Harper almost always, always gets it right the second time. And when he does? I praise the bejeezus out of him. “Good boy, Harper! Attaboy!” I rub him up. His tail wags. “Good boy, Harper. Good boy!” Harper eats it up, and he rarely misses that curb again.
The Seeing Eye recommends we keep our dogs on leash for at least two weeks, and today marks my two-week anniversary at home with Harper. Giving him more free time has given me more time to think. That quote from Long Time, No See? It made me realize something. In a way, that was Pandora’s book. She sat at my feet as I used my first talking computer to write and revise the manuscript. She went for walks with me when I needed to clear my head. She led me to meetings with the publisher after the contract was signed. Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound is Hanni’s book, of course.
Harper and I may not be attached at the hip anymore, but the work continues. I look at our first months together as a ten-year investment in Harper, and in our work as a team. Working with Harper has motivated me to make a New Year’s resolution. I’m getting to work on my third book. With any luck, it’ll be just like working with Harper. A labor of love.