IAP 2017-E5: Darren the Guide Dog

IAP 2017-E5: Darren the Guide Dog

In this episode:

Co-host Mark Miller, who is sited, takes co-host Jeremy Curry’s guide dog, Darren, for a mismatched and confusing walk across a busy Chicago street. Learn a bit about the unique relationship between a guide dog and their owner through the story of this little misadventure.

The Interactive Accessibility Podcast (IAP) is an entertaining approach to accessibility. We enjoy sharing our discussions on accessibility and how it relates to technology, real-life issues, information, businesses, and people with disabilities.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Download Podcast as mp3

Listen to IAP 2017-E5: Darren the Guide Dog


[background music]
Announcer: Welcome to the "IAP," the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, bringing you the people, technology, and ideas helping to make your world accessible to everyone.
Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IAP. I am your host, Mark Miller. Thank you for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey, even link to it from your accessible website. I'm here with my co-host Jeremy today. Jeremy, how you doing?
Jeremy Curry: I am just dandy, my friend.
Mark: [laughs] Dandy. That's pretty good.
Jeremy: Dandy, yeah.
Mark: Pretty good.
Jeremy: No dandelions out, though. Just dandy.
Mark: Speaking of dandelions, speaking of parks and places where dogs might go to the bathroom...



Mark: How do you like that for a segue into our topic?


You and I were out recently. We had our company meeting out in Chicago. Believe it or not, this may be interesting for the listeners to hear. This is the first time you and I actually met each other in person. We've had...

Jeremy: That's crazy, isn't it?
Mark: It is. We had a long, fun, wonderful relationship, mostly over telephones and Skype and things like that. We've worked very closely together for a long time. This is the case with many people in an organization like ours where they're distributed across the country -- the employees -- which I think is the case for most people.


Jeremy, you and I met for the first time. For our listeners who may not know, Jeremy is low vision and uses a guide dog, Darren. This is what I want to talk about today because this is an interesting experience for me.

At one point, we were rushing around trying to get a whole bunch of stuff done. I think you came to me and said, "Hey, can you do me a favor? Can you take Darren out to go to the bathroom?" Right?

Jeremy: He was going to explode, otherwise.
Mark: He was going to explode, which is a terrible feature in a dog, especially in the middle of the meeting.



Mark: We were in Chicago, so busy city streets and stuff like that and limited places to go to the bathroom. You've located an area appropriate for Darren to do his thing.


You handed me the reins, so to speak, and I had this experience of taking your poor, confused guide dog out to cross a busy city street and find this little area that's appropriate for him and all that.

I'll share my experience here because it's very interesting, but before I even get in to it, I wanted to ask you.

How often does that happen that somebody who is, I guess, sighted, or more accurately, just unfamiliar with the particular way that your dog's used to interacting with people, that they get a chance to grab Darren and go for a walk? [laughs] Does that happen often?

Jeremy: Pretty rare, because I only give him to people I trust. Usually, it's my wife doing it. I have maybe one or two other close friends or family that I'll trust. People tend to think that he's a regular dog, so if he wants to sniff something or eat something off the sidewalk, they're like, "Oh, that's cute." You can't do that with a guide dog.
Mark: It's not appropriate.
Jeremy: He's my lifeline for a lot of things. I have to really be trustworthy of people, so it doesn't happen too often. He's not used to that very much.
Mark: Well, let me take a moment out to say thank you for trusting me so much. I didn't realize that, over Skype and the telephone, I'd earned your trust in that way.
Jeremy: It's part of rapport building, I hear.
Mark: [laughs] That's right. Anyway, that's what I wanted to talk about. Maybe talk a little bit about guide dogs, in the context of this lack of rapport that your dog and I had on this trip out to do his business. To lay the scene here, to set the scene, we're on the second floor of a hotel, a little boutique hotel. Darren and I managed down the stairs without any particular confusion.


We meander over to a spot, we cross the street, and the first experience I have with this dog is I'm curious about how the dog's going to react. I have my own dogs. I train them pretty well, and I have a clue. I'm not a pro or anything, but I'm pretty good. I don't let my own dog sniff when it's not appropriate, and eat stuff off the sidewalk.

I have that sense of work when we're walking. I try to give my dog a sense that you're on the job now, as well, which I actually think is important. I think they need that. When I set him free, he's free. Darren is on the job because you've left his harness on him. Is that correct? If he has his harness on, then he knows, "I'm working"?

Jeremy: Yeah, he's semi-working. You're just taken the leash and leaving his harness down. He's still basically in work mode.
Mark: He's got the association. That's the first thing that I know enough to know, and that you'd explained to me. When that harness is on, the work mode is on, too, for him.


The first thing we do, we're in this busy city, Chicago street, and there's construction right on the street, so it's this crazy. For people with sight, it's risky. You're taking your life into your hands to skip across this street, for sure.

Daredevil that I am I guess, I'm waiting for Darren to stop me. He gets nose three inches from traffic, and it's like [imitates traffic] passes. I'm like, "You're crazy." [laughs] I would have stopped three feet behind this dog, easily. I would never have stepped out that close. I don't know. I think Darren might want to smell the drivers as they go by.


Mark: Here I am, like, "I'd better not fall forward, or I'm going to just bounce off one of these moving cars."
Jeremy: It's just that he's not used to the Chicago taxis. He's like, "Oh, that wonderful smell of the backseat of a Chicago taxi."
Mark: [laughs] That must have been what it was. Anyways, for a person with sight, it's a little close to be looking at these cars in front of you.



Jeremy: I guess I forgot to forewarn you that he wasn't going to stop you because he knows you can see. [laughs]
Mark: Oh, is that what it is? He figured out I could see? Well then, this is going to be interesting...
Jeremy: Yeah, he's not your guide, right? He's like, "What are you doing here?"
Mark: "Why did you stop me, you sighted person? Did you see how close we got to those cars? You're crazy."



Mark: Anyways, after Darren and I almost got our toes run over, we make it across the street, and he does his thing. I remember the command and it's amazing to me because my dogs don't do this but your dog will urinate on command. I ask him to park it which seems very sophisticated language for somebody who's about to urinate.


I told him to park it and he did his thing. After he was all set, we headed back, and I decided, "You know what, Darren, I'm the human. I have sight. I'm going to control the situation a little bit more because I don't want my toes crushed."

I take a little bit more of a firm hold on him and bring him across the street. I've walked with you enough to notice him stopping you at curbs and stuff like that. I bee-lined to this curb. He doesn't stop me on the curb. He's like, "Ah, we're going over the curb."

It must be the, "I know you're sighted" thing. The dog is like, "Hey, you idiot, we're supposed to be walking on the left side of the sidewalk." I didn't realize at the time that this was what was going on, but the dog starts yanking me hardcore to the left.

I'm, of course, drawing the straightest line to the door as possible. I'm like, "We're out of sync. We're out of rapport. We're out of communication." If my dog did that to me, my reaction is to get irritated. He's not supposed to be doing that, and he's headed after a squirrel, or lunch, or whatever.

I have no idea. I'm like, "I don't want to go over there." I don't know where he's trying to bring me. Remember like "Old Battle of the Network Stars?" The very last event was tug of war.

Jeremy: Oh, yeah.
Mark: Darren and I are on opposite ends of that rope.



Mark: I'm starting to dig in, set my anchor, and Darren is like. "No, come this way."



Mark: I got two minutes to get back to the hotel and get back into our meeting. I have no idea like, "Are you trying to drag me back out into traffic? Did you want me to get hit because you think I'm stupid? Why do you take that way?"
Jeremy: Yeah, he's an 85-pound dog, too. He's used to pulling around a 270-pound guy, and you're like half my size maybe, so he's almost pulling you to the ground. [laughs]
Mark: Yeah, soaking wet in the rain. I'm 161.



Jeremy: He's got you beat almost.
Mark: [laughs] Well, maybe that's what he thought, "Finally, somebody [laughs] I can yank around. Let's see what this guy has got."



Mark: Thus, my anchor of the tug of war reaction to it. [laughs] I'm like, "What's going on?" Later, you and I discussed this, and I actually witnessed it, saw it. Talk to me a little bit about what he's doing there because he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. I guess that's the point we should get to.


Not a bad dog. Doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

Jeremy: For some reason, guide dogs, well, dogs in general track left, it's weird. People will be on the right...At least in America, they are on the right-hand side. Dogs always track left. One of the advantages of that it's just innate in dogs.


If you have a wall on your left-hand side, and your dog is on your left, and you're traveling to the left, if there's an obstacle, maybe there is a garbage can up against the wall, Darren has to actually push me out of the way in order to go around it, then he goes back and follows the wall again.

If that wall stops, and then still I can orient myself to wherever that is and turn left or right, or wherever. Versus, if I were on the right-hand side of the sidewalk, and Daren's just on my left hand side, and suppose there's a trash can to the right, Daren doesn't have to move himself out of the way because he just had to be watching out for me.

Part of it is, if he watches out for himself, he's automatically going to push me out of the way of some of those things, versus if you were on the right-hand side. For whatever reason, dogs track to the left. You will someday guide dogs will be able to track down the center of hole in certain situations.

Daren is very textbook like. If there's a plank holder and in the wall, Darren will just be weaved in and out and in and out, which is not common for all guide dogs. He is just like text book. The way I was trained, this is what we're going to do. I have to learn to trust him and not trust anything my eyes give me, because he can see way better than I can.

Mark: You do get some feedback obviously, if you're well enough to catch a big object or something that might be there.
Jeremy: Yeah, of course if there's a tree branch that's above his head, he won't catch that. He nailed a few times in Chicago.



Mark: To be fair, I get smacked into tree branches all the time.



Mark: The way that the humans are designed, we don't see up very well peripherally. It's a problem for a lot of people. They get whacked in the head. I get whacked in the head all the time.
Jeremy: Me being so tall, most people don't travel at this same altitude that I do. Tree branches are typically cut up here, 6'4".
Mark: It's even more of a problem. I'm coming in at a generous 5'9", so if you put your arm straight out, I might not run into it.



Jeremy: I can imagine, he's trying to yank you to the side like, "Come on, this is what we do. Why aren't you doing this?" You're like, "This is not what we do." [laughs]
Mark: For one, I'm like, "Ah ah, you're not going to tell me what to do."



Mark: I try to correct that because I realized it was wrong, but that was my first, "I'm the boss," you [inaudible 12:37] with the dog.


For me, I'm like, "You're headed in the wrong direction. We're going back to the hotel. In fairness to me, I guess, we would have been heading the wrong direction, because by the time you oriented themselves to the left side of that sidewalk, I really was heading for a door that I was barely cutting an angle for.

I don't know if he figured that out, but I gave him a good pull and I think at some point, he said, "All right, this guy is challenging me too much," and we made it to the door.

It was interesting because you explained all this to me at the time, because I questioned why Daren was doing that, I knew it must be his training. We were walking on the sidewalk, I think it was the next day and it was the sidewalk, and then there was a vendor or a booth or something along the sidewalk.

I watched Darren put you guys right up to the edge of the sidewalk head, as if you were going to just plough through this vendor, then right before you got it, he popped out and waved you around it, and put you right back on the left side of the sidewalk.

It was really interesting to see, and yes, as a sighted person who would jump in the middle of the sidewalk, it looked like an efficient way to travel, but your explanation, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Jeremy: Yeah, you really have to have that trust with him and that rapport, because he's got to believe that I know what I'm doing and I got to believe that he knows what he's doing. With you guys, you don't have either of those from either side.



Mark: You may trust me, don't think your dog does. The other interesting thing that came out this for me is that, you said he knows that I'm not blind, that I can see. Obviously, to some degree, he doesn't understand what part of his training is necessarily for that, and what part of it is not. I don't know, maybe he had a moment of like, "Oh yeah, forgot this dude could see."
Jeremy: Maybe he was taking you for a ride like, "Hey, let's see if I can drag this guy around."



Mark: Maybe it was pure malice, which I can't blame him for. You and I have a little bit of that back and forth with each other, maybe the dog was just playing along.



Jeremy: He could have dead. I have told you. There was one time when I very first got him years ago, because I've had him for eight years now. I can't remember what I did. I didn't feed him at the same time or something. There was something I did that morning.


We were traveling. We were walking along. I knew he saw this thing because...I don't know, it was a paw or something. He tapped me into it.

Out of his being annoying, but not like, "Hey, I missed it." If he missed it, I would go full board, because he walks really fast right into this thing. It was this reminder of, "Hey, whatever I just did, whether it was feeding him 10 minutes late or whatever, "Hey, don't do that to me again, because don't forget, I can run you into this."


Mark: Wow. No wonder you'd just see someone point with the dog [inaudible 15:41].
Jeremy: The first month that I had him, I went out to get my mail and...we're leaving out [inaudible 15:54]. It's not many cars. I haven't crossed the street in a long time, just because I was afraid. I wouldn't see something or somebody would hit me and whatever, even if I had a white cane.
Mark: That's fine.
Jeremy: I told the dog to go forward, like, "Darren, go forward." I heard this car go by and I tell him, "Darren, forward again." He doesn't go. I did exactly what they tell you never to do in guide dog school, which is I let go of the harness and took his leash, and I thought, "OK, this dog's freaking defective. I've only had him for a month and he's not working the way he's supposed to.


I took one step out and I heard this car just go whoop, right in front of me. For some reason, I didn't hear it, maybe it's because we live on a hill or maybe it's masked by the other car. I'm not sure why.

We never had trust issues after that again. I thought, "OK, he's trained to be what they call intelligently disobedient." Meaning, if I tell him to go and there's a car, he won't move.

He was doing his job and so that level of trust I have with him. Even if I think, "Man, he's doing something stupid," because I see some bit objects coming up, it's probably because he sees something that I don't.

Mark: That's interesting. I imagine that if dogs could roll their eyes, then Darren would roll his eyes at that moment.
Jeremy: [laughs] Maybe he did.
Mark: Like, "This idiot. I'm going to run him into a pole one day just to show him.



Jeremy: Almost got us both run over. "Ah, humans."
Mark: I like you imagine Darren's internal dialogue.
Jeremy: Probably most of it is like, "When can I sleep again? Can I work? When can I sleep again? Can I work out? When can I sleepy?"
Mark: Much more basic than we imagine. It's a fascinating relationship and as a person with a relationship with a dog, it's really interesting to see how that relationship's different between the two of you. I imagine if Darren and I were around each other longer, it would change between Darren and I.


The other thing, too, that I thought was interesting, and maybe this was him trying to run me into traffic, is that the listeners may or may not know but I've been doing martial arts since I was a kid. I put together a program for our company meeting on rapport building and trust, very quick simple thing in the meeting.

It was based on jujitsu, so we did these locks and stuff like that. The person was supposed to tap when it was getting to the point of discomfort to communicate to the person to stop and we used that as a context to talk a little bit about communication.

Anyways, I grabbed Jeremy as a partner. I grabbed you as a partner because I wanted you to feel what I was doing. You couldn't quite benefit from the visual example that I gave to everybody else, so my accessibility answer was to then grab you, and be your partner, and physically show you and have you feel what I was doing and have you tap and all that kind of stuff.

Well, it turns out tapping is also the command for Darren to, "Hey, come her," right?

Jeremy: Yeah, to heel. You tap twice on your side while he's sleep and he'll look up at me.
Mark: Also, you were in pain because of this technique.



Mark: Darren got up really like, "Hey." We were wondering or thinking...maybe he thought I did hurt you and he was trying to walk me into traffic. I think your dog has a real dark side.



Mark: To Darren's credit, man, as soon as that tapping happened or he perceived it or whatever this dog jumped the heck up. My dog would have been like, "Uh, you want something? All right. Oh, man," and he would have meandered his way over. Darren was ready to go. It was work time.
Jeremy: Yeah, he's always on it. He's always watching me. I mean, right now he knows I'm just sitting in my chair in my office working, so he's just sleeping, but he's almost always...
Mark: Talking to that guy that tried to hurt you.
Jeremy: Yeah, he's like, "Oh, that's that guy I tried to kill in traffic in Chicago."
Mark: Plotting his next attack on me. Run him into a hole.



Jeremy: He's always watching out for me. I think he did sense some level. I know dogs can actually smell fear. Your smell changes when you're afraid.
Mark: Well, and you were hurt.
Jeremy: Yeah.
Mark: Just to further lay the groundwork here, we agreed the communication was a tap. Easy for me because I tap all the time in what I do. New bit of communication for you. Your initial reaction wasn't to tap. It was to go, "Ah."
Jeremy: That's right, yeah.
Mark: You weren't in super pain, but you expressed that discomfort and me being the mean martial arts instructor, I was waiting for the tap. I knew you were hurt. I could've let you off the hook. Instead, I whispered under my breath, "Tap," because I wanted you to do that communication properly. It was the whole point.


You didn't just hit this spot where you thought, "I don't like this. I'm going to tap." We got you to the point where you were pretty uncomfortable. I think your comment after that was, "Man, that really does hurt," when we were done.


Mark: Of course, fine...



Jeremy: You did it again and again and again, and I was like, "You know, you don't have to keep doing this."
Mark: Yeah, and I thought, "Yes, I do. This is fun."



Mark: Anyways. All right, I think we've talked enough about poor Darren. Any last comments from you on guide dogs or anything that you think people should know before we wrap it up.
Jeremy: I think one thing that, just in case you don't know, is people will always try and pet guide dogs and the typical guide dog etiquette is to not pet them. I have a sign on Darren which people would [inaudible 21:44] is, "Do not pet me. I am working." People will read the sign and then pet him and they say, "Oh, that's cute." That's something to be cautious of, to not do that.
Mark: They actually read the sign that says, "Do not pet me," and their reaction is pet me.
Jeremy: As they're petting him, instead, yeah.
Mark: That's part of the communication thing I was trying to get down in that little presentation.



Jeremy: What they'll do is they'll say, "I know I can't pet you," and they'll look at him and still flirt with him, "But I think you're the prettiest dog ever." The appropriate guide dog etiquette is just to ignore them.
Mark: Ignore the dog, yeah.
Jeremy: Yeah, just like pretend that they're not there. The whole idea of petting them it isn't just for the sake of not petting them, but it's for not distracting them and distractions can come in all sorts of forms. It could be food, it could be flirting with the dog, it could be petting the dog, anything like that.
Mark: Why do I think that there's a bunch of single guys out there that are going to have a t-shirt printed up that says, "Don't flirt with me. I'm working," knowing that people ignore that type of advice?



Jeremy: I had a blind friend, I don't know if he ever did it, but he was thinking about getting a shirt that said, "You can pet my dog if you pet me," or something like that.



Mark: That's perfect. All right.
Jeremy: I'm married, just so you know, so I would never do something like that. My shirt is plain, no text on it.
Mark: No text on it, yeah?
Jeremy: No.
Mark: "Don't pet me either. I'm married. Don't pet me." See that's why, Darren's got his sign, you need a sign.
Jeremy: That's right.
Mark: "Happily married. Please don't pet me either."
Jeremy: The funniest thing is when people misread that sign. I don't know if it was because he was moving too fast or they weren't very literate or what, but I've heard all sorts of things like, "Do not pet me, I am wrong," somebody said, or as I was getting on the train to Chicago, somebody said, "Do not feed treats. I am working."


There's only six words and they're black letters, huge black letters, and this yellow backing. It's almost like, maybe, subconsciously people are thinking of something with the dog.

Mark: I'd make fun of those people, but I misread stuff all the time. It's just the way it is. The interesting this is that I've taught my kids and just being around, obviously, I know not to mess with guide dogs.


I was at an accessibility conference, I was talking to a woman, we were in a crowd and she backed up. Lucky she didn't end up on her rear end. She tripped over this guide dog and did a spin around to catch herself, so she and the dog were a bit entangled. She petted the dog, apologized to the person, did all these things all at once.

Afterwards, she was like, "Oh, I know I'm not supposed to pet the dog. I feel real bad." I said, "Hey, you tripped over the dog." If you tripped over a person, you would apologize and you might reach out and grab them and say, "Oh, I'm so sorry." You know what I mean? Touch their shoulder or something and say, "I'm so sorry." Like, you were actively tripping over the dog. [laughs]

I think that hand on the back of the dog for a second like, "Oops, I'm sorry," probably nobody cared about.

Jeremy: Probably acceptable.
Mark: That's not that literal, right? It's not like the dogs negatively affected by being petted. [laughs]
Jeremy: It's really intriguing me.
Mark: She did pet the person too. Her hands went all over everybody, which happens in that circumstance.



Jeremy: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Mark: I was the only one that made it out clean, because I was on the other side of her. [laughs]
Jeremy: Well, I like to mess with people a bit, too. I always know that the three questions people ask or they're in their head when they see my dog are, what's your dog's name? How old is the dog? What type of dog is he? The fourth question is usually how long has he had the dog? The first three are always there.


I'll have people just ask me that while I'm walking or they'll ask me that if I'm at a restaurant. They don't know that I can see some. Oftentimes, if we're in a restaurant and a waitress says, "Oh, what type of dog is that?" Darren is a black lab. I'll just look up at them very seriously and go, "He's a yellow lab," and just see if they say anything.


Mark: You mean my Dalmatian?



Mark: That's funny.
Jeremy: Some people...



Jeremy: ...humor.
Mark: Lack of sight does not directly correlate with a lack of sense of humor, for sure. I'll tell you that.



Jeremy: There's another t-shirt. I have a friend who's got a shirt that says, "Brain works, eyes don't."



Mark: That's funny. All right. Well, we're a little long on this. Thank you, Jeremy. I really appreciate that. Thanks for the humor and thanks for sharing that experience. Hopefully, the listeners enjoyed both.


It's really very fascinating to me. I love Darren and I even like you. It was a great topic for me.


Mark: Anyways, thank you. This is Mark Miller thanking Jeremy and Darren, and reminding all or you to keep it accessible.


[background music]

Announcer: The IAP, Interactive Accessibility Podcast, is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters blog at interactiveaccessiblity.com/blog

Share This Post