Tech-Dogs, What the Heck Is That?

Written on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015

Tech-Dogs is the name of the Guide Dogs for the Blind technology alumni chapter. It is made up of guide dog handlers who love and use technology. As we were going about our normal day, that name popped into my head, and I was reminded of how fitting it is. Technology and guide dogs have made travel so much more effortless than it used to be. This is not to say that it is effortless in the least, so maybe effortless is not the right word. I still have to seek out and use the necessary information and technological tools, effectively communicate with and give directions to my dog, use safe orientation and mobility techniques, and put all these together to get where I need to go. However, this can be accomplished much more smoothly, efficiently, and independently than it might have been without help from both my technology and my trusty guide dog.

This morning, Case and I went to breakfast at IHOP. We took the bus, using our GPS to locate our designated stop. We crossed the street at a busy intersection, and walked down the sidewalk in search of the IHOP that the GPS said was only about 100 feet or so ahead. After we had walked for a minute or so, I noticed that we were getting further away from our destination. I also remembered walking here before, but it had been a while, and I knew we had to turn in at the first driveway. I seemed to remember the driveway was closer to the corner. We turned back around and looked for the next opening on our left. I kept asking my dog to go left, knowing he would as soon as he could. Sure enough, a little ways down, Keats made the left as requested, and I noticed how there was really no indication that there was a driveway there, which explained why we walked right past it. Let me say that this is Keats’s first time guiding me here. To his credit, he did slow down at that driveway the first time, but I didn’t think much of it. Next time, we will both know better. So, we turned into the driveway, and Keats quickly found the door inside, carefully guiding around a railing and through a narrow sidewalk. He continued his awesome work in the restaurant, being careful to slow down for narrow spaces. He backed right in in front of my feet at our booth, and laid there quietly the entire time.

We began walking home, and then we decided to go run an errand because we remembered the place was really close, except in the opposite direction. I had marked the door with my GPS last time we were there, so I targeted it and off we went back the other way, or tried to anyway. My boy is too smart for his own good sometimes, and he just didn’t understand why the heck we were walking the opposite direction and backtracking. I had to really encourage him to move, as he kept stopping and looking up at me as if to say, “Really Mom? Why are we going this way? We were walking the other way.” He might have also been thinking we were going to rework an error, in which case we would have turned around, walked a few feet, then turned back around to head in the direction of the error, to give him a chance to do it successfully. If this had been a rework, I would’ve pointed out the error. Still, he might have figured he would help me out by trying to stop and get ready to turn back around. I don’t really know what goes through his head when we have to turn around and go back the way we came, but I do know he is usually not too happy about it. I finally convinced him we were indeed going this way and he started walking at normal speed. Casey had pulled the location up on his iPhone GPS using the Blindsquare app, and I was tracking it using Sendero GPS on my Braille Note. We weren’t sure if it was before or after the closest intersection. The GPS reported that the intersection was closer than the place we were headed, by about 100 feet, which told us we had to cross the intersection. We also realized the address of the place was on the side street, so we turn right at it, then I started suggesting a left to Keats. He confidently walked up to the intersecting sidewalk, turn left, then after I asked him to find the door, we went right to it. We found the restroom after getting some directions from the staff person and reading the braille sign to determine the correct door. After exiting the restroom, I asked Keats to find Casey, who was already sitting down in the waiting area. He began wagging excitedly, walked right up to Casey and put his nose on Casey’s lap. Then he proceeded to find me an empty seat after I asked him. What a good boy! I try to take advantage of opportunities for him to practice his commands. It makes him all the much more confident and reliable.

So, would all this have been possible without the aid of technology or my guide dog? Yes indeed, but would we have been as efficient or independent? Absolutely not. I am so thankful to God for my guide dog, my technology, and for giving us resources and opportunities beyond what we could have ever imagined years ago.

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