The final count down.
- Firstly, you should read this so you know what these posts are all about.
- The first day with Ike
- Day 2 of training.
- Day 3 of training.
- Day 4 of training.
- Day 5 and 6 of training.
- Day 7 of training.
- Day 8 of training.
- Day 9 of training.
- Day 10 of training.
- Day 11 of training.
- Day 12 of training.
- Day 13 of training.
- Day 14 of training.
- Day 15 of training
- Day 16 of training
- Day 17 of training
- Settling in at home
- Day 1 of aftercare
In the morning I will return to work. This is something I have looked forward to since starting this process almost a month ago or even more accurately, when I retired Freddie Eight months ago. I have done two dry runs or test walks from Drogheda to Dublin and I’ve walked to the train station and back again in Drogheda seven times since Monday afternoon. I have been on three trains and one bus, stopped for a coffee, worked through a difficult train station during a quiet time and again during rush hour. I have done countless hours of obedience work both while training in the centre in Cork and since returning home. Ike and I have also spent most of our free time playing or just sitting together. As I set out to do, I have put all my time and effort into ensuring Ike is ready for tomorrow and the shock this will bring. I said that it was very important that Ike is prepared to hit the ground running when training finished and I am delighted to say that I think we have reached this level. We of course have a few things to iron out. The most important issue is the spending problems that I have written about at length over the past three weeks. I can only hope these get better over the next week or two. For the most part however, his work is fantastic, he has no problem with public transport, he trusts me more and more while navigating around busy places so his confidence is good enough to allow him to make quick decisions and he is becoming more and more aware of me and what I expect him to do every day. This has been very hard work and there is still a lot left to do. Although I am not officially finished with training and aftercare, I have pushed myself on to a stage where aftercare is a tool that will help me ensure I don’t fall back into old habits and the dog is continuing to get the feedback and commands it requires. As I said, there is certainly a lot more to do but it will now happen gradually over the next six to twelve months. Unless something goes particularly wrong, Ike should now pick up on more and more as time progresses and the number of routes he works slowly increases.
Starting from yesterday, I hadn’t actually planned on independently traveling to Dublin with Ike for the first time. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a great idea in case the dog lost confidence or in case I gave particularly bad instructions to the dog and inadvertently rose his sensitivity in a particular area. It hadn’t really been my intention when I left the house originally but when I got to the train station in Drogheda a train was pulling in. I had been practising working he dog over to platform three so it made sense at the time to progress the route that little bit further. The dog had taken the route from the house to the train station in his stride so I knew that a trip to Dublin wasn’t going to faze him at all. While on the train I also decided that it was a perfect time to explore Pierce street station as we had nowhere to be in any particular hurry, Ike was in a great mood but more importantly, it was a very quiet time of the day in terms of public transport. We had very few distractions and it gave Ike the opportunity to relax while guiding me through this environment. Because it was so quiet I could also stop at certain places to praise him for finding the ticket machine, the steps and the exit for example. The entire experience for Ike was not rushed, full of praise and rubs and even a bit of fun at times. I have actually commented to someone that Ike was so relaxed while walking through Pierce street station that it would actually surprise me if he hadn’t gone through there before with his puppy walker. I doubt he could have found the exact ticket validation machine if he hadn’t been there before.
We left the station and walked the nice short route to Nassau Street to a fantastic little coffee shop called the runner bean. Sorry, I have to give this place a bit of a plug. They do the best coffee in Dublin and the staff are particularly good. I couldn’t recommend it enough. I will almost always stop here for a coffee in the mornings and Mark, the owner of the shop always gave Freddie a lot of attention. I knew he’d do the same to Ike and importantly, I knew that this would be a huge benefit as it would completely take the dogs mind off the trials of the previous routes. It is particularly important that a working guide dog is not touched by any other person other than the handler when in harness. I can’t stress this enough. If you touch Ike when he has the harness on please be warned that it’s not the dog you need to be worried about bighting your hand off, it’s me. I like to ensure my dog is not distracted or looking for distractions while he is working. By rubbing him while in harness the level of distraction can increase to unmanageable levels. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. If you ask first and I say it is ok then I don’t mind at all. In situations such as when I stop at the Runner Bean I actually encourage people to give the dog a quick rub because in my experience it’s a major positive on a very difficult route and I know that the people who rub him are very aware of the dogs purpose and would never jeopardise his required level of concentration.
After hanging around Dublin for a while I decided to return to Drogheda by bus. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, it was one of the longer outings the dog had been out on and secondly I needed to ensure the dog was comfortable in that kind of cramped environment. I couldn’t have been luckier when I got on the bus. A driver that I know quite well was there and when he saw that I had a new dog he waited until I was sitting and I had organised the dog so that he was under the seat. It is my personal preference that the dog is never allowed to sit anywhere else on the bus except where I specifically tell him. I always put the dog under the seat that I am sitting on. His front paws and head are between my legs and his back and hind paws are under my seat. Anyway back to the topic at hand. When I had the dog settled the driver then came down for a quick chat. Again, he asked if he could say hello to Ike so I had no objections at all. He put his hand on the dog for only a few seconds while he was talking to me and then he stood around for another few minutes while we caught up on what had happened in the past few months. I hadn’t met him since November. The point of all this is that I’m not sure if the driver knew what he had done or not but by simply talking to me for a few minutes he gave the dog a completely new focus. He no longer dwelled on being put under a seat. He now focused on the driver and his conversation with me. Like the train station it was nice and relaxed. There was no rushing and no messing around. The dog was under the seat for about five minutes before the bus started moving. It wasn’t that Ike was stressed or in any way bothered by getting under the seat but in the worst case scenario if we were in a rush to get in and get sorted Ike could have seen this as a negative environment and we could have had a few minor problems the next time we were on a similar bus. Because it was so positive for him we should never have any problems at all. That’s really my priority at the moment. Trying to make each new environment and experience as positive as possible. Drivers such as the one I spoke to yesterday, the staff in the Runner bean, the quiet train station and even the people who intermittently stop to ask about this new dog have all helped to break up routes and make new environments less daunting and more enjoyable for Ike. I think that is one of the main reasons why tomorrow is going to be a success.
Today was like a practise run. It was the second day of aftercare with the trainer from Irish guide dogs. We had planned to go from Drogheda to Work in Dublin at the normal time. This would ensure we worked through the same kind of rush hour traffic that we will encounter tomorrow morning. I left the house just after 7AM for the 7:34AM train from Drogheda to Dublin. I was actually quite grateful that a man in Drogheda train station recognised that I had a new dog and gave me a few directions when Ike got a bit confused but that was to be expected as we had never got on to a train from that platform before and there were over a hundred people getting on at the same time. It is something that will take Ike some getting used to. That was actually the only minor hiccup though. Not bad when you consider everything? When we got to Pierce street station in Dublin I got off the train just like I would have with Freddie. I expected Ike to do the same thing that Freddie did within reason. I was right! Ike remembered the say to the ticket validation machine that we found yesterday and with a lot of prompting and some directions he found it. I find that the best way of working a dog through rush hour is to just keep moving. The dog will find the clearest path. This usually ends up to the right of the crowd in Pierce station. By walking on the right of the crowd the dog seems to have clear access to the steps and also can move past people queuing at the very last ticket machine in the row. This is actually wider than the others to allow access by people using wheel chairs or buggies but fortunately it also leaves you almost directly in line with the steps down toward the exit. This is how Ike was able to navigate around this very busy environment and I would say that it’s reasonably likely that he will continue to do it like that.
The route to work from the station was very straight forward. Ike had done it yesterday so it wasn’t anything he hadn’t done before. Of course it wouldn’t be fair or practical to expect him to remember it at this stage so he needed a lot of prompting but he was very comfortable even while walking through areas with quite a lot of pedestrians going in the other direction. Again, I stopped Ike at the coffee shop just to make a point that he would need to find that particular door in the morning. Again, it was no problem to him. He stopped where I thought he should and continued to find the turns that needed him to find. There weren’t any places where I lost my Barings or where my orientation wasn’t great which was very nice. The one thing I do notice though is with Ike he is not a dog that tends to walk on the left at all. Freddie drove me crazy by always hugging the wall on the left or even the curbed edge on the left. There were a few reasons for this but I continue to smile to myself when Ike freely walks in the centre of the path or even nudges me over to the right. It’s really comfortable walking like that.
The only area that I had a problem in was the one I thought was going to be really simple. I was walking up Dawson Street on the way up to Stephens green. I will bringIke up here to relieve himself at lunch time every day. For some reason I forgot there were two sets of traffic lights on my right and I told the dog to stop at the wrong one. That in its self isn’t too bad. It’s been eight months since I’ve walked up that road but the major mistake I made was not providing the right commands to instruct the dog to find the next crossing. That began to cause a bit of a dint in his confidence that showed it’s self on the way back to the office. I seriously need to be very careful with this. I know it’s a simple mistake and I know it’s something I have warned myself but when there’s a lot happening on all sides of you and your trying to find the right crossing at an intersection that has really terrible tactile markings and a very dodgy shape to it it’s almost impossible to think of the right commands and hand signals to show the dog the right way to go. On a separate note, it would be really nice if the audible indicator beacons on these lights were at different intervals or at the very least didn’t sound at the same time. It’s very off putting.
That’s about all of the highlights for today from what I can remember. I got the train back to Drogheda today and walked back from the train station as you’d expect. I also did this route to the train station and back another few times during the day. It kept the dog active and out of the house for a change.
I’m really hopeful and optimistic for tomorrow. Both Ike and I have put a lot of work in since the 11th of January. This combined with the fantastic work of Irish Guide dogs should make tomorrow a very successful first day back.
Come back tomorrow evening for an update to find out how this first day back at work has gone.