A Dog Guide Diary by Gil Johnson and Harley at The Seeing Eye, Inc. (Part 4)

Gil Johnson and Harley

Gil Johnson is a talented woodworker and the author of Gil’s Guide to Home Repairs on the VisionAware website. You can learn more about Gil’s early life and professional accomplishments at Meet Gil Johnson.

This month, Gil is at The Seeing Eye, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey, training with his new guide dog (pictured left). In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of his diary, Gil documents the experience of meeting, and learning to work with, his new friend and partner: a black Labrador named Harley. In this final installment, Gil and Harley recount their homecoming after 19 days of intensive training.

Saturday, May 18

Harley and I are back home safely. We flew nonstop from Newark to San Francisco on Thursday, May 16. It was a 6½ hour flight and Harley did amazingly well. He lay at, or under, my feet and moved only occasionally. My neighbor and his wife met us at the airport to drive us home.

When we entered the house, Harley ran around like a maniac as he greeted my wife, my grandson, and my grandson’s teacher. He grabbed a pillow off the couch like it was placed there just for him. He did settle down after a bit and began exploring his new home. We have decided to keep the bathroom and bedroom doors closed for a time to prevent him from drinking out of the toilet, snagging clothes and tissues, and getting into other types of mischief.

Yesterday, Harley and I went to the post office. This was our first walk without the trainer giving me feedback about what was ahead and what Harley was doing or not doing. It went pretty well, but probably was a bit more challenging than the first trip after coming home should have been.

Harley wants to do the right thing so badly that when I correct him for errors, as I must, he turns toward me and puts his head between my knees as if to say, “I’m sorry.” I think he will be fine once he becomes familiar with our neighborhood and can read me better. Of course, I have to get better at reading him, too. I’m sure the adjustment to having a new guide dog was just as challenging when I brought Nero [Gil’s previous guide dog] home, but I don’t remember.

Harley’s Turn: Settling In

Head shot of Harley the guide dog

I hardly know where to start. That long ride we took, when I had to lay on the floor, was okay except for the time you left and the lady sitting next to you hung on to my leash. I was really happy when you came back. You didn’t feed me very much that morning or give me much water either, so I was hungry and thirsty. You did give me a cold, wet thing to chew on – I think you called it an “ice cube.” I only had one and didn’t want any more.

When we came into my new house I was really happy! I had lots of stored-up energy and there were new people to meet and get “pets” from. No one gave me anything to eat, though. You finally gave me some water and later gave me my dinner. But you didn’t give me any extra, as you should have, for being so quiet on that long airplane ride.

When we went out walking, I admit I did make a couple of mistakes. I don’t know why, but I got confused. After you corrected me, you did give me lots of pets and “good boys!” so I guess it is okay. I’ll do better next time.

Tuesday, May 21

Since returning home last Thursday, Harley and I have gone out every day. I think our first trip was a bit too much, but I had to get to the post office. He had trouble with a couple of crossings and couldn’t find the post office because I didn’t recall a turn we should have made to go there directly. We found it eventually, however.

We went out again on our second day home and it went pretty well, except for one intersection that was more complicated than I remembered. There is an island dividing the northbound lanes from the southbound lanes. Nero always “skirted” around the end of it, so I didn’t even know the island was there! Harley went right to the island and it took me a while to figure out what to do. I have asked my grandson to go with me to work on a few such intersections. I am sure Harley will do well.

A Message to Harley from Gil (Dad)

You and I are getting along better each time we go out. I am learning how to communicate with you, and you seem to be following my commands better. I tell you “good dog” all the time and pet you now and then as we go along. I do wish you would do less sniffing, both on our travels and when I take you out to relieve yourself. I would like it if you would just take care of business and save the sniffing for later.

And another thing: When we came home from the airport, you ran inside the house, snagged a throw pillow from the couch, and ran around with it like a crazy dog! When my grandson’s teacher came here yesterday, you did the same thing. Although it makes everyone laugh, those pillows are not your toys. You don’t seem to do that except when the teacher comes in, however. Are you trying to impress her?

Monday, May 27

Day by day, Harley and I are settling into a routine. Each day when we go out, Harley and I are more in tune with each other. He still makes some mistakes at intersections, but far fewer than he did at first. When crossing wide intersections with a dividing island between the lanes, he has learned to “skirt” around the island as I prefer.

He also forgets sometimes to give me enough room on my half of the sidewalk, but when that happens, I remind him gently and we go back a little way and walk forward again. If I get his attention focused on the obstacle I brushed with my arm, he will move over enough on the second try, if he can.

I continually use two commands when we are out walking:

  • “Steady” tells him to slow down a bit so he doesn’t pull my left arm out of my shoulder joint. (He has a strong pull!)
  • The other command is “Straight,” accompanied by my right hand pointing straight ahead.

Harley sometimes gets distracted and wants to turn to the right to investigate something. I have to pay attention to where we are going and use the traffic direction to help keep me in alignment. I know I must have gone through many of the same things with Nero, but walking with Nero became so automatic that I didn’t need to give it the attention that I must with Harley. I believe he and I will get there.

The Final Word from Harley

One thing I like to do is to run through the sprinkler when Mom is watering her garden. That’s lots of fun and when I come in I get dried off, which I like too. I think I heard you say that Nero didn’t like water. I don’t know what was wrong with him. I’m ready to go swimming!

I keep waiting for an opportunity to supplement what you give me to eat, even though I know you will use that awful word “FWUI!” if I do. Maybe you’ll become more generous as you get better at directing me when we are out walking.

Well, I’ll end this now. Maybe I can find some extra food you left unguarded on the counter. I’ll check back in from time to time and tell everyone how your training is progressing. You’re learning slowly, but you’re learning!

Love to all from Gil and Harley