Whitney has a smart bump, and she's not afraid to use it

January 23, 2012 • Posted in Beth Finke, blindness, Blogroll, guide dogs, Harper, Seeing Eye dogs, Uncategorized, Whitney, writing by

Sometimes she's a little too smart for her own good, not to mention mine.

Today Bark Magazine published a blog post I wrote about my first weeks at home in Chicago with Whitney. I start out the post describing how the Seeing Eye-dog thing is supposed to work. The blind person memorizes or finds the route, the pair gets themselves situated on the sidewalk, the blind person commands “Forward!” and the dog guides them safely to the curb. When the dog stops, the person stops. That’s how a blind person using a guide dog knows they have arrived at an intersection. If the person wants to turn right or left at that corner, the person commands the direction, and the dog turns. If the person wants to cross the street, the dog waits while the human being listens to traffic, and when it sounds safe to cross, the person says the dog’s name and commands, “Forward!” After confirming it is indeed safe to cross, the Seeing Eye dog leads the human to the other side of the street.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyways. Unfortunately, The near miss I had with my Seeing Eye dog Harper last year had left me more anxious than I wanted to admit. I wasn’t letting Whitney lead me right to the edge at intersections. She was already beginning to know our routes –- why make her go all the way to the curb, just to wait there before I told her which way to turn? From the Bark Magazine blog post:

Whitney’s decision to keep us away from the edge of the intersections, to just go ahead and make turns on her own, well, it meant I didn’t have to face the rush of traffic in front of us. I felt safe.

Until Whitney started crossing intersections diagonally, that is. Dang that smart bump! The girl is so clever that when she knew we’d be turning right or left once we crossed the street, she figured hey, why not save time? We’ll just go kitty-corner.

For those unenlightened ones out there, a “smart bump” is the occipital bone on the top of a dog’s head. All retrievers have this bump, and when it really sticks out the way Whitney’s does, we call them “smart bumps” and convince ourselves our dogs are smarter than others. And so, my two-year-old genius was not only crossing intersections diagonally, she was also anticipating a turn at every corner, veering as we approached intersections and leaving us all discombobulated. And if there is one place you especially don’t want to feel discombobulated with a Seeing Eye dog, it’s when you’re approaching a city intersection.

So are you wondering what Seeing Eye trainer Chris Mattoon suggested when he visited last week, and whether his advice is working for Whitney and me? Well, I guess you’ll have to link to my post on the Bark Magazine blog to find out!

Carl On January 23, 2012 at 10:46 pm

What a great photo — your dog looks right at the camera!

Maria On January 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Smart bump or not, I know that girl is smart (and BTW….a real looker!!!!! No kidding, she’s really pretty! The photo is great)

Cara On January 25, 2012 at 12:18 am


Great article! I don’t know if you remember me. I commented on a post before. I’m in training to receive an assistance dog and explained how my training is a little different from yours.

But, I digress. This article is a great reminder that we always have to be the “leader of the pack” so to speak. It’s good for newbies like me to know that even veterans can make mistakes. (smile)

It sounds like Chris is a smart man. It’s amazing how much trainers know and the difficulties we have that they seem to easily solve.

Glad that you and Whitney are doing well and back on track!


PS I agree. She’s a great looking girl!

bethfinke On January 25, 2012 at 8:05 am

Of course I remember you, you left a series of well-written comments about how the training of a service dog differs from that of a Seeing Eye dog. Your comment here about newbies made me laugh – I get the feeling we veterans make *more* mistakes than you guys who are new to this whole thing –after all, we get set in our ways!
Good luck with the continued training

bethfinke On January 25, 2012 at 8:06 am

Carl, Maria, Cara,
, Thanks for the compliments to pretty girl Whitney. I’ll try not to let them go to her head – her smart bump is big enough already!

Karen Steiner On January 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm

My dog, Rose, just has a big, fat head, but I love her. Great to see you and Mike last week. XOX Karen

bethfinke On January 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm

You sure her head isn’t just one big smart bump?!
We had a ball with you last Friday, too, Karen –thanks for making the trip to Printer’s Row!

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