Run forest run!
I won’t bore you with the details of this morning. Basically, we got up, fed the dog, let him relieve himself, groomed him, had a shower ….. Me. Not him had a bit of a play to get him in a good mood then we started the interesting part of the day. I should actually take a step back just to say that last night he still didn’t sleep in his bed but I’m starting to just except that he simply doesn’t want to. He’s happier on the floor beside me. He also didn’t disturb me at all last night. When I got up he was near the door but I think he moved there when he heard others moving around.
He still hadn’t done a solid spend by 9AM this morning so I decided to try to stimulate him a little. We went for a quick walk around the grounds and he had a great sniff. Sniffing and walking are two of the best ways of stimulating a dog to relieve him or herself. It worked perfectly. As soon as I let him into the spending area he did it straight away. I know this will probably be a temporary work around until he falls into a routine that suits him.
I knew I could improve on yesterday’s walk around the town so I asked if I could do it again. I wasn’t expecting it to be so soon but I was delighted when we did it again this morning. The problems I had with yesterday’s walk were very minor. Simply the dog was a tad stressed walking at close to my normal speed and at one stage; I didn’t give him enough time or space to comfortably navigate around an obstacle. This morning, we slowed the walking pace and I continued giving him loads of praise. I remembered the part of the walk that we had problems with yesterday so I slowed him even further. Interestingly, I noticed that he was really happy around that area and actually tried to go faster but when he came down to the right sped to allow him to work around whatever obstacle it was that he had problems with yesterday it was easy to feel through his body language that he was delighted with himself. Over all, I was much happier with the walk this morning. That’s not to say I wasn’t happy with yesterdays, I was delighted that he worked so well going through a very busy street but I was relieved really today that his confidence levels are actually improving from day to day.
This walk is also a perfect example of why I am training down here for three weeks. Firstly, the dog’s confidence needs to be built up with me as its handler, and secondly, I need to become aware of what the dog needs in terms of feedback, praise, motivation and even direction. Yesterday’s walk demonstrated both of these. Today’s walk demonstrated that with very little time and a lot of attention to detail we are on the way.
We did a second walk this morning that was much shorter than the first. It was to simulate St. Stephens green in Dublin. I will walk Ike through this park during lunches. I was a little nervous at first because even though I’ve seen Ike breeze past other dogs I’m still very afraid of dog distraction because Freddie was quite jumpy around other dogs while in harness. We passed a number of dogs and even a dog that he knows very well that was in training nearby. He had a look but he stayed working and walking reasonably straight. This continues to amaze me. I can’t wait to start working him in Drogheda. The walk from and to the train station has been really difficult since I retired Freddie and I had to go back to using the Cain. It’s going to be such a relief to be able to relax during a walk again.
We had an obedience session with one of the trainers from the early training unit today but I had already done the exercises with Ike before during the past few days so after only talking five minutes we had done the exercises that she was to cover. I asked if we could go for a walk around the grounds with her because I hate being stuck inside. I’ve been walking around the grounds but only around the areas that I know about. I have a limited map of how the place is played out but the trainer was able to show me a few alternative ways of getting around. This should help when I just want to bring the dog out to do something different.
I’ll write about the last walk of the day shortly but at the moment I feel so annoyed about it that I shouldn’t write yet.
Ok. I’m calmer now. This afternoon’s walk did not go well. It started very badly which didn’t help. Within the first five minutes we came across one dog behind a gate that at first made us both jump. We were walking past his gate when he started so we weren’t expecting it. The second was loose in a house that wasn’t very far after this. After that, we had a right turn that he didn’t take properly at all and with these extra stresses things just kept going downhill. Going through the town’s main street we had major problems all stemming from this major lack of confidence. Missing curbs, not finding defined crossing points, not avoiding people and even his simple straight line was quite off. This alone would not particularly bother me but what is really getting to me at this stage is if he is losing confidence while walking through straight forward environment then he has the potential to be a nervous wreck going through Dublin at rush hour if things do not improve. Please don’t get me wrong. It is obvious that his confidence will not be at its highest point at this stage of our working relationship however I am concerned that his lack of confidence Is actually plainly visible to me throughout the day and if it is not manageable going forward it will without doubt result in issues that branch into his work and his ability to handle much busier situations such as those he will need to navigate through in Dublin on a day to day basis.
I have spoken to the trainer about my concerns at length. In all fairness to him, he is very dedicated and he really knows what he’s doing. I am certain of one thing at the moment. If anyone can show me the tools that I can use to boost the dogs confidence when he needs it it’s him. This alone gives me some hope for the next two weeks of class. I have been very honest about my attitudes when it comes to Ike as a working dog. These do not match with the thoughts of most other guide dog users and in fact, it does not match with the recommended attitude suggested by this organization however, right or wrong, it will continue to be my attitude. I see a guide dog as a practical mobility aid. A tool that requires certain allowances and compromises in order to get the optimal working standard from the animal. I am very clinical in my thinking and this defines my actions toward the dog. I understand that in order for the dog to work correctly, it has to have a bond with its handler therefore I work at this. It might take a little more time for me to attain this bond compared to other people who are inherent dog lovers. I like dogs. Their lovely animals. I would have much more time for them than cats for example. Now, of course, as I found out with Freddie, the bond we had was very strong and I think that dog is just the best thing in the world. The same kind of bond will develop with Ike but as with Freddie, I will always have that distinction between pet and working animal. The trainer’s opinion is that if I can find a way of seeing him as a dog that has emotional needs first and a working dog second then the standard of work and the confidence he brings will increase hugely. This would be a complete change in my thinking though and I don’t think it suits me. Obviously, what I am doing now isn’t helping with building the confidence in Ike so we’re going to have to come up with a compromise. I know that a decent bond is already forming. He’s a sleep on my feet at the moment. He just wouldn’t have done that even two days ago. He’s also playing with me much more randomly. He could be under the table and he’ll try to catch my sleeve when I’m rubbing him. Anything can be turned into a game with these dogs! Anyway, as I was saying, I have had a great conversation with the trainer. We have both recognised that Ike is currently the best dog for me but if we do not work through his confidence issues he will not be able to handle the busy environments of Dublin city. I will be very honest here. If Ike cannot handle the strains of walking from Pierce street station as far as Kildare Street in rush hour crowds then simply, he’s of no use to me. I would love to see him with the confidence to do this because if you are a guide dog owner, you would love to feel what I can feel through the handle when walking with this dog. I have never had so much feedback. It’s simply amazing. He has a really lovely walk. He goes along the perfect part of the foot path for me and he turns really nicely. If I could see I think I would walk like this. I think that’s really high praise for a dog that I only started to get to know four days ago. Please understand again, bad walks happen. I am not negative toward this walk, I am very worried that if a small town knocks his confidence so dramatically then how will he be in a built up city area with loads of noise, movement and people. I really hope that the trainer shows me how to improve this situation.
As a result of the conversation I have had with the trainer we have agreed to alter the training schedule for the next week. Depending on the availability of resources within the organization, another trainer or instructor as they are called may be asked to do a few walks with myself and Ike. One problem that we are having is that when Ike loses confidence he very quickly looks over toward our trainer. This is because a bond that is stronger than the one he and I have at the moment has been developed with Ike and the trainer so it’s inevitable that he will look to him for reassurance for the first while. This always happens with guide dogs on class. It is nothing to be concerned about but if I am to have complete control over building up the dogs confidence then I need to have plenty of practise before launching us both back into a busy work situation. By taking the trainer out of the picture for a walks, the dog will look to me only for his reassurance and praise so the bond should be reinforced.
I should really take a quick opportunity to make something very clear. For people who see guide dogs as a pet or a dog first then a working animal or even mobility aid second, I admire you and I hugely respect your choice. You have probably made a better choice than me. By writing my thought’s here I am not condoning them or saying their right or even saying their right for me. I am simply explaining my thinking right now. I think I needed to clarify this because I understand that people can be quite protective over their relationship with their dogs and rightly so. I would never even think of belittling that. My apologies if it may have come across in any kind of negative tone.
Anyway, the conclusion is as I said above. We’ll modify the walks and training slightly. I have to stop worrying so much about what is going to happen when we get home and I have to let the dog just relax and enjoy being around me. These might sound like simple things but for me their harder than you might think. I’m simply not use to doing nothing. Even when I’m at home just relaxing after work I’m thinking of a job I need to do or I’m waiting for something to install or download or I’m waiting for a phone call for some job that needs to be done somewhere. I do not just sit and switch off. My brain is constantly racing. Sitting in this centre from 5PM to 11PM at night drives me crazy. Yes, I have the laptop but I am trying to focus my attention on the laptop so I don’t use it all that much.
To end the post on a positive note. I’m glad we have had this wake up call. It’s a reminder of the work we have to do. It’s going to be a hard few weeks but I am ready to take on the challenge. Again, the only thing I am not willing to do is let the dog negatively impact my mobility for any extended period of time when we return from class. With the correct positive stimulus and the right suggestions from the trainer to help increase the dog’s confidence I am reasonably confident that we’ll continue to do well.
Am I worried? Yes. I’m terrified. Will it get better. I think so.