Doggy Diaries – The Juno Walk

The Juno Walk is a simulated dog walk. I can only assume that a guide dog is never actually named Juno, since this seems to be the term everyone uses for this kind of walk. The point is to show someone what it feels like to be guided by a dog.

First, I’ll explain the dog harness. There is a hard rectangular shaped “handle” that comes up from the dog’s back. The harness is a leather strap that buckles under the dog’s belly, and then their head slips through between another strap, and the handle, so it holds the dog around the chest. The way the Juno walk worked was, Dave gave me the handle, and then he held the chest strap and pulled me with it.

We started off doing sighted guide (where the blind person holds on to a sighted person’s arm, just above the elbow. This is also called “human guide”, because a blind person can guide another blind person in this way) to a straight walkway in my complex. Once we got on the walkway, he explained the kind of commands to use. To tell the dog to go forward, I said, “Juno, forward”. To make turns, the command is Juno, left or Juno, right. Dave asked if I was ready and I said ok…not knowing what to expect. He reminded me to keep tension on the handle, because this lets the dog know its time to move. When the arm is slackened, the dog thinks you wish to remain still. So I said, Juno forward! And Dave took off.

My braille teacher had said this would be like getting my car keys back. When Dave took off and I was pulled with complete trust, it was like being set free. I could just walk. I could walk briskly. I didn’t have to sweep my cane and interpret every little thing. I didn’t have to pay attention to my shorelines. I could just walk! It was the most amazing feeling. There is a little rise in the sidewalk, so Dave showed me the way the dog would react to this. Its not very high, but one could easily trip over it. Dave came to a stop, just like the dog would. He told me to probe the area with my left toe, the leg closest to he dog. Once I figured out what it was, I said Juno forward again, and off we went.

After something like this, I would praise the dog. Guide dogs work primarily with praise, and they love to do a good job. We made our way to the office, and Dave stopped. The dog at this point, wouldn’t really know what to do. Its up to me to know that we are near the door. Dave said to tell the dog to “go to the door”. So I said, “Juno, go to the door.” Dave walked me to the door and told me to find the handle. I raised my right hand and the handle was right there! He said the dog will position you to find the handle easily! Wow…

Oh another thing he showed me on the way to the office was if the dog thought we were at the destination and made to turn. Knowing we weren’t there, I would say, “No Juno, forward.” There is definitely a lot to knowing a place before actually having the dog guide me around. I’m built for this, as my spatial location is good. Once when driving in the car with a friend and discussing Mexican food I said, “There is a good place right up here to the right.” I was correct. How I knew exactly where we were, I have no idea. It wasn’t like I was sitting in the car paying perfect attention to turns and stops. So I’m confident I will know how to teach the dog routes.

We made our way back, Dave still going at a good pace. When we hit the spot on the sidewalk, he stopped, I probed, and said forward. Smooth. Seemless. We stopped and talked about overhead obstructions. He said in this case, the dog usually needs some instruction the first few times I would encounter it. I’ll probably hit some branches here and there, at which time I would take the dog back, tell her to “look”, shake the branch and say no, firmly. Retrace the steps and try it again. If she alerts me, I shower her with praise.

Dave had me do sighted guide back up to my door and it was so tedious and slow compared to holding the harness. I told him how much different it is, and he explained that with the harness, I’m holding an inanimate object, connected to a live being. When I’m holding an arm, its different. Its like a steering wheel of a car. You have complete control if you trust your car. With the harness, you have complete control over your dog. When you’re holding on to a person, you don’t really have control, and each person has different ways of alerting you.

For example, my boyfriend kicks curbs and steps for me. I probe with my foot and continue. Its silent communication. Most of my friends are girls, so they might be wearing sandals or nice shoes, so they will all say “step” or “curb”. Its very verbal. Some of my friends are very good at doing “narrow”, where you put your wrist behind your back to signify me that we are encountering a narrow pathway. But my boyfriend does not do this. I feel him turn his body, and I know. So I pick up on cues when I travel with someone on a regular basis. But still, the going is tedious. They are not trained to simply be my guide. They are talking to me, thinking about their day etc. A dog is just guiding me. She is focused on her job, and I think thats a big reason why its so fluid.

There is going to be a lot of trust to be built between me and the dog. Dave I have known and been trained by, so I already trust him. I’m sure the experience with a dog will be completely different at first, until I learn to trust an animal with my life.

I don’t think that will be a problem though. Animals are loyal. Sometimes even more loyal than our closest human companions. This dog will be trained to have my best interests first on her list of priorities.

Why do I keep saying “her” and “she”? I have no idea what dog I’ll get. The school plays matchmaker, so I don’t know if I’ll get male, female, black, tan. One of the women I talked to said almost everyone calls the dog “him”. As in, “Can I pet him?” “What’s his name?” I’m going against the norm for now, and calling the hypothetical dog “her”. =D Of course I’d like a girl dog, but who knows?

One thing’s for sure, I’ve always wanted a dog named Sasha.. I don’t know why. If my dog ends up being named Sasha, I think I’ll faint right there at the school. 😉

Oh yeah, we also simulated the walk from my door to the dumpster, which is a walk I know well. Dave said after a few times, the dog will stop at turns but I’ll feel her leaning to the left or right, because she’s pretty sure I want to go that way, so he simulated this. He said that eventually all I’d need to say is “Lets go to the garbage” and she’d take me right to it!

I’m really glad he knows how to do this walk. Its neat to feel what it will be like, and now the anticipation is even more built up. Now I really can’t wait! It was also reassuring to know that he thinks I’ll be a great guide dog user after the way I reacted to the simulated walk, and the kind of tension I kept on the handle.

This was fun, but now the real work begins. We have to finish up my cane skills. We haven’t done residential in awhile because its been hot, so he wants to see that my skills are still there, and then we’ve gotta work on intersection crossings at big intersections, and plan some routes I can take the dog on. It’ll be good hard work, and I’m looking forward to it. When we first started O&M, it was nice out, so we did a lot of work outdoors. We’ve had to kind of hibernate for a few months now, and the lessons haven’t been very challenging. I’m looking forward to getting back to work, and working towards this new goal!

2 Comments

Filed under Adjustment to blindness, Doggy Diaries, guide dogs, Juno walk, Orientation and Mobility, pooch preparation, white cane

2 Responses to Doggy Diaries – The Juno Walk

  1. I am so excited for you to get your guide! I am just starting to read your posts so not sure how far along you are in the process. It is such an amazing experience! I have walked with a guide for 13 years and love it.

  2. R

    Well, I won’t ruin the surprise lol. Though not a whole lot has happened in the process. Every little thing gets a blog though 😉

    13 years, wow. I can’t wait!

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