Friday, November 7, 2014

The Tajji Diaries – Unexpected Help

Tajji on the fieldIt’s been a while since I posted our adventures rehabilitating our retired seeing eye dog, Tajji. We’ve had her about 8 months now and she has made progress on her reactivity to dogs (and sometimes people) that made it impossible for her to continue service work. Most of our focus has been on learning to read her signals of distress and teaching her ways of self-management as we keep her safe.

Our promise to her was that she would never have to work again. Guide dog work is not only stressful psychologically and physically, it amounts to sensory deprivation for the dog. A working guide dog cannot follow normal canine behavior or even respond to the richness of sensory input that a normal dog enjoys. Dogs, even “sight hounds” have keen olfactory senses, but a working dog is taught not to sniff. Imagine Tajji’s delight when we not only permitted but encouraged her to sniff while on walks! A working dog must be constantly alert (hypervigilant) for dangers to her handler, and must make rapid decisions. We let her take her time assessing a new situation, removing her as best we can when she shows signs of discomfort. (In our reactive dog class, we modify this by giving her simple, pleasurable tasks like nose targeting or eye contact to help her reduce her own anxiety level.)

Because we never ask Tajji to do seeing eye harness work (nor could we -- we do not own such a harness, and her front-clip harness of soft webbing is quite unlike the rigid one she used to work in), we do not encounter her trained behaviors very often, other than manners and basic obedience. One notable exception is that she has been taught not to move when she is lying or sitting and a person approaches. This makes sense in terms of letting the blind person know where she is (and will be in the next minute). Our other dogs have scrambled out of the way, especially at night. Tajji doesn’t budge.

One afternoon, while rushing about the house in my bare feet, I caught one of my little toes on the corner of a book case and dislocated it. (Pause of OUCHOUCHOUCH.) I realigned the toe and hopped over to grab some ice. Ice, wrapping the toe against the rest of the toes, elevation…you know the drill. I was dismayed at how painful it was to walk on. A few hours later, I encountered Tajji-on-the-floor. She stayed put, but I stumbled and jammed my toe, although against what, I’m not sure. Most likely, her body. (More OUCHOUCHOUCH.) But when I set my weight on my foot again, the pain was miraculously reduced. My guess is that the collision with Tajji had adjusted the joint back to its proper position. Now all I had to deal with was swelling and maintaining stability.

Our family joke is that Tajji deserves a chiropractic license now.

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