What a difference a day makes.
Before we start, you may want to read other posts related to training with Ike. Secondly, you might want to read about the first day with Ike.
Isn’t that the truth? This time yesterday I had a dog in my room. Now, I have a big hairy mutt that I’m convinced must be actually crossed with a horse! He’s huge! Oh. Sorry, have I not said what breed he is? He’s a… Oh. Hold on, there’s someone at the door.
Now, where was I? Ah yes, he’s a horse. This is great though because when playing with him I don’t need to be all that careful. I’m quite a strong person so I’m often afraid of hurting dogs by playing too rough. This fella insists on it though. Of course, I need to be careful but wow he really gets into it! At every opportunity we’ve been playing, doing short obedience walks or simply sitting on the ground having a bit of a chat. Granted, it’s a little one sided but we can’t have everything. As I was saying, yesterday he was just a dog that I had to get to know because it served a purpose. Today, he’s an intelligent guide dog who has some really interesting quirks and who loves getting his back scratched! I’m learning little things about him all the time which is really boosting my confidence with him and in turn, he hasn’t stood at the door pining since I got up this morning!
It hasn’t all been good though. Let me start from when I got up. I’m not feeling the very best at the moment. I have a dodgy cold and it’s kind of kicking the crap out of me. I was awake and thinking of getting up when I heard Ike getting sick. This actually doesn’t bother me at all. When you get past the thing of oh I’m cleaning up dog sick it’s really very easy. The only thing I’d say is that I personally like to be very independent. I know that they want to make things as easy as possible while people are training here and actually, I think this is actually necessary because it’s easier to remain as positive as necessary when the only thing you have to think of is the dog. Still, I’d really hate to greet someone first thing in the morning by asking them to clean up dog sick. I’d much rather know where to find the cleaning stuff so I could do it myself. So, I cleaned it up and attempted to feed him. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a standard thing to do because if the dog isn’t feeling well the last thing you want to do is make him feel worse by giving him food. I knew though that him getting sick was just caused by his pining over moving from trainer to me as his new handler. I tried to feed him an hour after I got up but he didn’t eat again. I don’t mind a dog not eating once. Like us, they can just decide not to eat for different reasons. When he didn’t eat for the second time I decided to enlist the help of the trainer. He was great. He began to give me a glimpse into the behaviour of Ike and told me a few things that the dog needs to simply make him feel better. These nuggets of priceless suggestions were given randomly throughout the day as and when they were needed. I have to acknowledge that the trainer I have is very blunt and straight. He doesn’t mess around and I love that. I couldn’t ask for a more suitable trainer for me. He gives suggestions when I need it and he changes the way he gives me information when I ask for it differently depending on the type of route we’re doing. There are a lot of things that I need to re-learn and even more things that I’ve picked up in the past eight years that I need to forget to effectively pick them up all over again in a way that suits Ike. I am loving this process. It’s hard without a doubt but I think it’s a skill that won’t just serve me well for guide dogs it will probably help in other areas too. Adjusting to change is difficult, this isn’t change, this a complete wipe of the slate to start with a completely new set of protocols and procedures.
So, after the successful feeding with the assistance of the trainer, I took him out to spend. I find that with Ike, he relieves himself really quickly if or when he needs to go. That will be really useful when we return to work.
I made sure to play with him before our first walk to put some of the trainers suggestions into action. We didn’t always use a toy. Sometimes I just had to sit there with him letting him try to catch my hand`. At this early stage, it’s really hard to know what he likes most in terms of attention, petting, playing and even correction and positive reinforcement. To be honest, it’s really frustrating not knowing.
Things from this morning really started to look up. The first and second walks were fantastic and it was through these two simple routes that the early stages of a bond started to show. The dog reacts really quickly to commands and he is really easy to follow. We got quite wet both times so he needed to be towel dried after each one. He really loves this. Especially when it’s done in a playful way. This is really how most things need to be done with him. Through play or really positive encouragement.
For the time between the morning walks and the afternoon one we took it easy. I did a few more play sessions and a few more walks around the inside of the centre but it was very uneventful. One thing I really noticed though was he was much more attentive. I no longer had to say his name to get his attention all the time.
The afternoon walk was a little bit more difficult. Not for the dog but for me. I don’t really understand why but I needed a little bit more concentration while walking through some of the obstacles. Because things like off curb obstacles were such second nature to Freddie, I fell into bad habits by simply using hand signals or by letting him use his own initiative when navigating around them. Again, this is to be expected and it goes back to what I said earlier about re-learning a lot of things. It’s this kind of thing that I’m finding quite easy though. It’s the interaction while not working the dog that I am finding most challenging. And at the risk of sounding a little negative, by challenging I mean I’m almost ready to go absolutely crazy. I simply can’t get over this fella’s stubbornness. I know that I will just need to learn how to and I quote: Make what I want him to do something that he thinks is a good idea and that he wants to do on his own. This is easier said than done because although I’ve heard more than one person suggest this, I have no idea how to implement it. I’ll give you a really quick example. We finish in the run and he’s just spent. He trots in happily by me. Firstly, this is something really different because I’m use to the dog standing and basically demanding praise and attention for this most difficult of tasks… No, Ike just keeps walking in by me straight over to the other corner. I know he’s just having a sniff. This is understandable but calling him doesn’t seem to have any effect. I have to do a quick jig and slap my legs like someone who has a crazy itch that they can’t scratch to get his attention so that he knows I mean business when I tell him he has to come over. I’ve also been told that I need to be careful to not make this a battle of wills as again, when he does something he has to think that it was his idea and he has to want to do it. I just wish I knew what this means and how it’s done. Again, I don’t want that to seem negative. Sure, it’s written in that kind of way but that’s simply where I am at the moment. This will improve with time and when someone explains what the hell I’m meant to do.
Since the final walk today we’ve done very little. I don’t want to overdo it. We’ve played a lot and I’ve sat on the floor with him to give him some attention. I’m delighted to report that he’s now eating for me so I’m hoping this will really help with his interaction with me in the next few days. I’m a little concerned that the only time he’s done a solid spend is when the trainer took him to some grass earlier today but I’m very hopeful that this is a temporary thing and with a second regular feed in the morning he’ll be glad to relieve himself.
So, that’s day two in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to day three and asking the trainer loads of question. I seriously need to figure out what they mean by making the dog think that the task or command was his idea. If I’m to be completely honest, I’m finding his stubbornness very frustrating. I’m trying to stay positive but at the moment, it’s very difficult. But hay! Isn’t that what this is all about? With any luck, in a weeks’ time all this will be behind me and things will be going much better. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.