The destination was Union Square in downtown San Francisco, probably the busiest holiday shopping center in Northern California.It was a Saturday morning, two weeks before Christmas. We met the group at Glenn Park station and rode the underground train all the way to downtown San Francisco. Echo is a pro at riding public transport. He’s a big dog, so it’s hard to find enough space for him to sit down and to keep his tail out of the way of other passengers.
But the challenges of riding BART were nothing compared to what was waiting for us at Union Square. If you’re unfamiliar with San Francisco’s Union Square, it’s a downtown square surrendered by four streets lined with prestigious retail stores. In the center of the square, iceskaters glide around the skating ring, even when the temperatures are in the high 60s and the nearest snow is 3 hour-drive away. Imagine a dozen people/dog teams making their way around the square through a dense crowd, in slow motion, interrupted by traffic lights. We visited famous buildings to see their equally famous decorations, like giant Christmas trees, castles with electric trains going round and round, and few record-sized gingerbread men.
Echo was behaving like a service dog, well-trained and unobtrusive. He was definitely a major attraction. He looked like a sled dog, at home amidst all the fake snow and the white cardboard mountains. He was calm and attentive until we faced the “glass staircase”. This is the first time Echo ever backed away from something. I had thought that he wasn’t afraid of anything. He’s not scared by fire trucks, ambulances, garbage trucks, bridges, elevators, stairs, cliffs, screaming children, clowns, or big and little dogs, or anything else. But when he saw that staircase made of glass with light shining through it and empty spaces between each step, he stepped back. I tried a couple of times to get him to go up the staircase by offering him lots of encouragement and treats. He managed to climb two or three steps, but this was not the right time to persist. The store and the staircase were packed with people pushing forward and the noise was reaching rock band levels. So to make it a positive experience, I asked him to take one step up, and as soon as he did I praised him by saying “Good dog” and I gave him a treat. We then re-joined the GDB dogs.
Why did the staircase bother him? Was it the light reflecting through the steps? The sense of bottomless space? The lack of perspective? Why was it difficult for him, but not for the GDB dogs? I don’t have the answer, but I know that he didn’t like it at all.
But we’ll be back.. after the holidays! I’m convinced that with time and patience we’ll make it to the top and back down. Is it crucial to his training as a service dog? I don’t think so, but I still would like him to try again. But I can almost hear Echo thinking, “Let’s just take the elevator.”