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The power of unwavering faith

The power of unwavering faith

If you’ve ever trained a puppy, you know that it goes through several anxious seasons called “fear imprint stages.” When the fear stage occurs, things that never bothered the dog until yesterday suddenly become a source of terror. As a dog owner and handler, you just have to get them through it.

But imagine it’s me, and on the other end of the leash is the puppy who will become your guide dog – if he succeeds. There is much more at stake than your typical pet being afraid of something you can control. As a tenant, I was allowed to have a service dog in training, by law, but if she “dropped out” due to failure to do her job well, I couldn’t keep her.

We had spent every waking and sleeping moment together since I had taken the squirming 9-week-old puppy from his mother’s side. She just HAD to excel. Period. There is no other option. And in particular, she needed to be able to take public transportation with me as I went about my day at work and running errands.

We had our challenges right from the start because from our first car ride together she got car sick. I kept believing that she would grow out of it. The first time we got on a city bus together, she made a 3-foot puddle on the floor, which luckily was already wet from the snow boots. “I believe in you,” I told her. She could outgrow that too after we took a few walks.

One spring day I was at a bus stop with baby Thunder. She had finally gotten over the car sickness every time we were in a car and was drooling on every bus. Once we beat those trends, I felt like we accomplished a lot. She had become a champion rider who mounted any vehicle with a wagging tail.

Except for that fateful day, everything fell apart.

Thinking today was just like any other day, Thunder and I went to the bus stop. The bus rolled up and my champion puppy – my future guide dog – turned into a howling coward. She cowered under the bus bench, shaking violently. I literally had to grab her by her guide dog training vest and force her up the stairs.

One of the other passengers made a snide comment about what a great guide dog she would be if I had to take her on a bus. “She’s working out,” I said. “I’m sure you don’t get everything right the first few times either.”

It was a critical moment for her and for me. I realized she was in a stage of fear and it was up to ME to get her right through it. The handler’s emotions are transmitted through the dog’s leash. If you are anxious, the dog will sense it. If you are upset, the dog will understand. If you don’t believe in the dog, she won’t believe in herself.

What would be your natural thoughts at a time like this? Remember, I had raised and trained the dog for several months at this point and she was about to become my guide dog. As my guide dog, she helped me navigate obstacles, find doors, and stay out of harm’s way as we traveled together. If she failed, I couldn’t keep her. Maybe you’ll run “brain TV” scripts about the dog failing and you having to give her up after months of bonding and training. You might have doubts about your dog every time you approach a bus stop.

I had to have unwavering faith in my dog’s ability to overcome his fear. I could not entertain even a moment’s doubt in her, and I could not hide behind a false faith. She should have felt my confidence through the leash. He had to believe with every fiber of his being that everything was okay.

What I did? I spent time every day imagining how to competently and confidently travel on buses, planes, cars, trains, moving sidewalks, and even escalators. I confirmed with Thunder that she was a confident and competent driver who kept me safe.

It took her a few weeks to get over her newfound fear of buses. I kept my faith strong and told her every day how much I believed in her. Thunderstorms really got over her fear. She learned how to guide me safely through obstacles, how to find bus stops, doors and mailboxes, and how to keep me safe when we travel.

Thunder became the champion guide dog I knew. All I had to do was believe.

#power #unwavering #faith

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