Q: Why did the guide dog cross the road?
A: Because she saw a squirrel and her brain switched off
To be fair to Fiji, I need to assure you that over time she’s learned to control her instinctive reaction to squirrels. Yes, I’m still able to tell from the way her body quivers with restrained excitement that she has seen a squirrel and is hyper-aware of it’s every movement. But she controls her excitement with unbelievable self-discipline – at least, she does so nowadays
A year ago, when Fiji and I had been working together for a few short months I had to stop her from just rushing off after squirrels – dragging me along behind her. It happened quite a few times. To be sure, I admit that once or twice her response was entirely justified – like the time a squirrel scampered past us down the road and proceeded to climb up a tree and throw twigs at us. That’s simply too much to ignore, even for a well behaved guide dog!
I guess her new-found restraint has as much to do with familiarity – we see squirrels almost every time we walk at this time of year – as it does to Fiji’s awareness that she cannot simply scamper off in hot pursuit when she’s working. I’ve also become more proficient at managing the situation. I used to stop walking and try to calm her down, but after numerous dismal failures realized that stopping at the point that the squirrel is in her direct line of sight was only adding insult to injury… or should that be adding opportunity to excitement? So now I simply brace myself and continue walking, telling Fiji to find the way to keep her attention as much on the road as possible. And generally it works pretty well.
Now it’s time for Fiji and me to go and run the squirrel gauntlet once again – wish us luck!