Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is it self preservation or genetics?

Contributed by: Dianne B. Phelps

Stephanie and Tony brought Reyna to my home for a visit the other day. They were helping me with some computer issues, and Reyna came for a play time with my working guide dog, Hibiscus and to visit my retired guide, Primrose. Reyna and Hibiscus had a blast playing and showing off for the humans who were watching.

(Pictured is Reyna and Hibiscus laying next to each other at a guide dog graduation)

At one point in the afternoon, Reyna acted as though she might want outside. So, I offered to take her. I am not convinced she really did anything for I was afraid to touch her on her back when she stopped moving as I do with my own grown dogs. On the way back inside, Reyna and I were positioned so that as we walked back into my house, if she walked straight ahead she would have to walk into some patio chairs which sit to the left of where we were. In this situation, Reyna, a puppy, could have stopped or jumped up and into the chairs to find her way out or what she actually did which was to move to the right strongly in an effort to clear her around those chairs. When this nine-month-old pup did this, I was absolutely amazed because she felt like my current guide dog, Hibiscus and retired guide before, Primrose doing the same thing.

Guide dogs aren’t usually expected to guide with just the leash, but in a heel, most guides tend to walk slightly forward of the blind handler, and if something is in the way, they do react to it much as they would in harness. I always see this as the sign of a really good guide and was totally amazed to see this action and body communication from a nine-month-old puppy. Had we been farther to the right with the chairs on the right in our way, I doubt she would have tried to clear me in this way, but because of our position, it caused her to move both of us just as a fully trained guide would with all the strength and communication I usually experience with my fully trained dogs.
(Pictured is Reyna and Hibiscus laying down and Reyna is using Hibiscus as a pillow)

All I can say is, “Good job! Reyna!. You are well on your way to becoming a guide with this demonstration!” We will never know for sure whether this was simply Reyna’s need for self preservation or whether a certain type of guide dog intelligence is in the genetic code of these pups.

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