Day 8 – Training with Ike my new guide dog

Dog tired.

I am on my knees almost.  Ike has his head down and it's pushed right into me.

Today went really well. I’d love to quote something that was said to me today but for various reasons, I shouldn’t just yet. I’ll simply saying that we’re working very well together, the bond is getting better and better every day and I really think that my fears last Friday have now been dismissed. In my opinion they were justified at that time because of the sensitivity of the dog and the simplicity of the walk that caused the problems. Now, I see how the dog can behave when he’s comfortable.

Right, let’s get to the problems first to get them out of the way. I’m not happy with when the dog is relieving himself. Ideally as I said yesterday he should relieve himself once in the morning and once at around lunch time. Unfortunately today he relieved himself in the morning but when I checked again on a grass run he needed to relieve himself before we started the first walk of the day. The problem is here that if we had started the walk he would need to go a short way in to it. This would stress the dog out and it would mean that the walk would need to be cut short. Obviously we wouldn’t like this. This evening we have made changes so that a smaller amount of food is given at night time and a larger amount is given in the morning. It is hoped that this will get him into the right routine. So, although this continues to be a bit of a problem, we have a lot of ways of resolving it.

The other problem that we’re having is one that will get better with time and it connects back into the confidence thing that I’ve written about before. I’ve found that he’s stopping too soon at most crossings. He’s generally about a foot before the edge of the foot path. This isn’t a major problem. It happens with dogs during training and is usually solved with more walks and a build-up of confidence. We’ve also missed one or two crossings over the past few days. In other words, he should stop at all crossings but he has over shot a few. Again, this happens during training and can even happen sometimes after training if the dog is having a hard day, it’s lacking in confidence or it’s simply distracted by something. Again, it’s something that will work it’s self out with time.

So, let’s get to the good stuff. The first walk we did this morning was in Cork city. There were loads of people, dozens of obstacles on my right and left, about ten crossings, wide streets, narrow streets, traffic, shops, places that Ike knew from training and some really straight crossings with no dib signifying to the dog that the path ended making it very difficult for him to know when to stop. Through all this he did incredibly well. I was so impressed I actually smiled for a good portion of it. I just couldn’t help myself. He actually reminded me of Freddie a few times when he dodged left and right and even passed two men who were walking slower than we were. Some of his right turns while dodging things are so sharp it’s more of a side step than a right turn. I like this because it’s quick and a little dirty…. Hahahaha. Me all over!

We worked parts of Patricks street and over towards the regency hotel. Through a few side streets. We had to pass by the English market a few times so the smells coming from there were particularly attractive to him. He had also been walked through there quite a few times so the temptation to go back through was strong. He was very easy to handle though and by simply issuing the command “not today” he was very happy to keep trotting on. I say trot because it feels like he’s trotting more than he’s walking. He has quite a short stride for such a large dog from what I can feel through the harness and from what I can hear.

There was one crossing that he over shot but in fairness, I could have been a little more help. I was enjoying the walk too much and I wasn’t paying enough attention when he was slowing down. It wasn’t particularly important though because that crossing was very quiet and led onto a very small side street on an already very narrow road so the likelihood of there being any traffic was very small. Still, I need to remind myself to stay more alert.
Do you understand this heal command? I have had it explained to me but either I just don’t get it or Ike refuses to listen to me when I issue it. Ike, Heal…… stand and look at Drag? No. this is not Heal. Ike, Heal! Move a little and stand looking at Drag some more….. No Ike, we’ve discussed this, if Darragh says heal Ike moves himself so that he is standing beside Darragh on the left in a reasonably straight line. Ike continues standing and looking up at Darragh. I wish I could see his face at times. I am convinced he has a look of sympathy crossed with amusement at me when I tell him to do things that he has absolutely no intention of doing. He does not like sitting. He prefers to stand. This is just him. He’ll sit for a minute but that’s it. He’s done. He’ll stand again and that’s just it. If he’s feeling particularly helpful he’ll sit the next time you tell him but as soon as you take your attention off him for even a micro second he’s up again. I’ve given in now. I’m going to win some but I’ll lose even more so there’s just no point. The trainer has constantly told me that I need to choose my battles. Getting into a battle of wills is not worth the hassle. All it will really do in the end is make the dog sensitive or even at worse, intimidated by me and I’d really hate that to happen. I still don’t understand this softly softly approach of making the dog think that he came up with the idea. I think that’s just a completely different way of thinking about it. Hopefully I’ll figure it out at some stage but for the moment, I’m going to have to struggle on with my limited thinking. That limited thinking has come to the agreement with Ike that when I mean it, he has to do what I say but when it doesn’t impact his work or his behaviour in social situations I’ll give him a little more leeway.

I learned one very important lesson over the past eight years. That is that consistency is the key to a well behaved dog. To have a dog that you can rely on I find that I need to have set preconceptions then ensure that those preconceptions are made a reality as much as possible. Of course, as I’m learning with Ike, sometimes things need to be relaxed a little but the end aim is the same. I will start as I mean to go on. This means there is no standing around when I’m talking to someone. I will not tolerate sniffing when I’m waiting somewhere. When I’m on a train, bus, dart, lousis or any other form of transport the dog will lie down and remain quiet. If I am at work I will of course give the dog regular attention however it will not demand attention or attract attention to him. When working the dog will stay to the high standard it is at when it is trained. I have been accused of being too rigid or strict in the past but I disagree. When a dog knows what is expected of it it will perform better. If I let the dog stand up tomorrow in work and walk around it would wonder why it was not allowed do the same next week. This would be a lot worse in the long run. I am also very aware that at the end of the day, Ike is a dog and not a machine. Certain situations require leeway and at times the dog will need to deviate from my rules. I am also very aware that certain things are done better when the dog sees them as a big game. Although I have written my expectations in a very strict way, I implement them in a way that the dog will enjoy. For example, when in the room here, I get the dog excited while playing. I’ll then ask him to sit and I’ll hide around the corner. I’ll then hide the toy and get him to find it. This reinforces two things. One, sit and stay is sometimes fun and two when I give a command such as this it’s not always associated with something negative.

So. Back to today. After the city walk in the morning, we did some public transport in the afternoon. This involved a very simple route to the bus station. There were a few crossings that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Ike missed but he got them all perfectly. The bus was a standard city bus similar to those found in Dublin. The instruction for working dogs on and off public transport here is that the dog waits until you get on before following. For a number of reasons, this really does not suit me. I work the dog onto the bus or train etc. and I continue working him until I find a seat. I do not suggest you do the same unless you have spoken to your guide dog instructor however for me it works particularly well. I understand why the alternative method is used. If a dog rushes off a bus before the handler for example, they could pull the person off along with them. I know from experience that if this happens I’m more than able to pull the dog back. Freddie did it to me once while getting off a bus in Drogheda. While getting off he spotted something that he found very interesting and he rushed off. The first time it caught me off guard but the other once or twice that it happened I was ready for it. I’m sure Ike will attempt to do the same when we get back but he’ll learn very quickly that it’s not a good idea. The journey was very uneventful. I deliberately found the most difficult seat to get into on the bus and ensured that I put the dog right under the seat like I will when he’s on public transport when we’re traveling to and from work every day in a few weeks. This is as bad as it gets and although it was a risky move as it had the potential of damaging his confidence a bit it paid off. He was great! He settled on the floor without any problems at all. Once he got a little sensitive but I expected this as he is a little restless on the mini bus that we use a few times a day for traveling to different areas for training. This sensitivity will get better with time as the dog figures out what the best way for him to lye is.

Finally we decided that as Ike missed the free run on Saturday due to his spending issues we would take him today. He had done all the solid spends that he needed to do so there was no fear of this free run knocking his routine out too much. If anything it will do him a lot of good. This was a great time for him. We went to a local park and he bounded around like a crazy thing. I’m impressed by his independents. Freddie wouldn’t have gone off like that. Freddie required constant interaction. It was impossible to get him to go for a run on his own. Not that Ike went too far away. He stayed reasonably close and when we turned back he wasn’t far behind. His recall was actually excellent. In fact, it was almost too good. When we stopped and I was about to take out the whistle he was already over beside me before I could get it out of my pocket. I’m looking forward to taking him to townly hall just outside Drogheda. I think he’ll really love that area.

When I got back to the training centre, the other three people training with guide dogs were discussing bringing their dogs to a large enclosed run. This is ordinarily used for pups that are in kennels while being trained. The pups get to spend a certain amount of time in these runs to burn off some steam and play with the other dogs. I don’t know a lot about what goes on down there but if you’d like to know I’ll find out for you. What I could do actually is ask to talk to one of the kennel staff and assuming they give their consent I could post a recording up here to the blog that way you would be able to hear it all first hand. Let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in. Anyway, although Ike had just returned from a free run, I decided to bring him down to this run as well. Considering all four dogs are so quiet together but yet they’ve been together for over thirteen weeks I was very sureIke would enjoy a bit of freedom with them. And wow did he enjoy it! I don’t know where he found the energy because he was almost a sleep on the way back from the free run but he definitely found it somewhere. They bounded around the place playing with each other. The barks and growls would have been very concerning if I didn’t know that it was all just Ike being his usual vocal self while playing. I must post a recording of him growling at me when he’s playing. It’s very funny. He gets very enthusiastic. When the others left I remained for a little longer to play with Ike myself. It didn’t take him very boisterous for a change. Usually it is impossible to get him to let go of his quiet personality but I got a glimpse of his wild side today. I wouldn’t push it too often but when playing this dog seems to enjoy a bit of roughness. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not over board. A simple push or pulling him toward me in the right context is what I’m talking about. He got really playful outside in the run. He gets a bit nippy when he’s really wound up but it’s not half as hard as Freddie use to nip. And sorry, I shouldn’t say nip, it’s more holding than nipping and he rarely grabs my hand he usually grabs my arm. Even though I’m no longer afraid of dogs, I still have a few limits when it comes to Ike. These will of course decrease as time goes on but just like he is learning to trust me, I’m learning to trust him too. That’s why I wanted him to relax and feel free to play with me today without using a toy. I think it’s because I’m not inherently a dog person. This kind of rough play doesn’t come naturally to me straight away; I need to work at it a little more. I found Ike is the same as Freddie when it comes to judging my limits. When he pushes it a little it’s almost like he senses it and jumps back. I almost have to reassure him that it’s fine. I feel sorry for Ike actually for not being as confident as I should be when it comes to playing with him without a toy. I’m sure the dog lovers among you will find this a completely silly way of thinking. Either way, what are your thoughts on this?

After all this working and playing, Ike has been exhausted all night. Even when I was going to dinner this evening at 6PM I had to really work hard at coaxing his lazy behind off the ground! I’m only messing. It’s not lazy, just sluggish when he’s tired…. Hahahahaha. I pressed him a little though because like it or not there are going to be days when he’s tired and it won’t do him any harm to push his limits just a little bit more. Don’t worry, I made up for it. He’s been sleeping on and off all evening so I’ve been talking to him a lot and just sitting beside him having a bit of a chat and an ear rub when he’s in the mood for some interaction.

So, that’s day 8 over. Can I go home now? I can’t wait to get back to life, its trials and its rewards. I’m going back with a dog! No more listening for the opening at the Kilkenny shop there on Nassau Street to know when to turn left. No more avoiding the person who sits on the path at the gate of trinity in the evenings! No more trying to find the sandwich board to orientate myself when trying to find the coffee shop in the mornings! Oh, I really can’t wait.

5 Responses to Day 8 – Training with Ike my new guide dog

  1. I’m not that keen on playing rough either. I would sometimes find myself backing away if Ushi gets too rough. I probably shouldn’t do this though.

    I hope he spends soon for you!

    That thing with the pups sounds so cute.


  2. I’m probably going to say some things that will be construed as rather unpopular, but I have found several instances that what may have worked in the school setting doesn’t necessarily work once you return home, and I’ve had to make some leeway for that.

    Your dog will adjust to the routine that you set for him, I’m sure. I, too, don’t quite understand the whole ‘soft training’ approach, and think that sometimes it can be a bit too soft, however, I wasn’t very sure of food reward either and that worked for us when we were in school.

    I say all of that to say hang in there. How you felt with your frustrations last week are completely justified, and how you feel with the high points of training now are also justified. Be patient with yourself. It’s good that you recognize what things need to be worked on and how you can get the end results of what you want.

    Please tell Ike to teach my vince some of his recall skills. *grin*

    Guide dog training simply is not easy. It’s physically and emotionally demanding and some days just suck. But hang in there because it will be worth it in the end. Thank you for being so honest and forthright in your blog. Thank you for not being afraid to say exactly how you feel, and most of all, thank you for sharing your journey with us!

  3. Avatar Dominique
    Dominique says:

    I’m loving your training posts Darragh. I’m fondly taken back to my days on class with Holly and can visualise all the routes that you do. It’s great. Your verbal commands are exactly the same when I was on class. I would be very interested to hear the dogs in kennels, any interaction with them is a good picture for us, especially when it’s audable.

  4. Avatar DigitalDarragh
    DigitalDarragh says:

    Torie, You should hear all the pups in the morning at feeding time. It sounds like there are hundreds of them. They sound great though. It’s nice to hear them all so active. No matter what time of the day I have walked around that area there are always dogs having a play somewhere.

    Meka, Thanks for your very straight forward and honest response. The world would be very uninteresting if people were afraid to speak out so I commend you for it. I am very fortunate in that the center here in Cork is actually very open minded in terms of how users handle their guide dogs therefore when getting on and off buses for example, they are willing to except that certain methods don’t work for all people.

    Dominique, Hopefully they won’t see you down here on training for a good few years yet. When you are back down here though I’m sure you’ll find it as difficult but as rewarding as i’m currently finding it. Thanks for visiting and keep the comments coming.

    I’ll have Day nines account written and posted later tonight. It’s going well so far. Keep your fingers crossed that it continues that way.

  5. Darah, what is this soft training you talked about?

    I’m thinking of getting a guide dog here in the US, and several people have recommended Guide Dogs for the Blind–but I’m looking at other schools, too. If I do get a guide dog, it’ll be my first.

    Good luck with Ike. I’m sure everything will work out fine. I don’t think I’ll be quite as firm as you–I am very much a dog person, but if it works for you, that’s fine. Just remember, relax and don’t stress. Ike will come to understand you in time, as you will understand him. Just be patient and everything will work out fine.