The first day back at work – Training with Ike my new guide dog

The first of many.

Ok. Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first.

Right. Now that that’s done, I can get on to the important part. If I said that today was great or even fantastic or no. Even the best day I’ve had in over a year I still wouldn’t even come close to how happy I am with how it went. It could not have possibly gone any better.

Starting at 6AM, I got up, fed Ike, showered, gave him a bit of attention and let him out to relieve himself. This is where it started to go well. He actually did a pee and a Pu! This is such a fantastic accomplishment I nearly shouted good boy in the middle of the yard. I did a few things a little differently last night. Firstly, I groomed him at around 9PM. This let him relax and it meant that he had a good half an hour just getting a nice rub and a bit of a chat. After that we had a little play to get him feeling like he needed to go. When I let him out he needed very little encouragement and we had a nice solid spend. That was great because it meant that when he went this morning he had no pressure on his bowel while walking to the train station. I know I know I know. You are sick of reading about me talk about crap. I’m sorry. I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t need to worry about when Ike needs to relieve himself. It’s such a weird thing to have to consider before and even after every single walk. It’s actually quite frustrating and to be very frank with you, if it doesn’t get resolved very shortly I will have to take particularly unlikeable action. I think I’ve explained this before. The dogs spending routine is not something that can be considered lightly when you’re working from 9 to 5 and on top of that you’re commuting. It’s important that the dog does everything it needs to do when you give it the opportunity. If it doesn’t or it can’t do everything it needs to do then it will simply have to do it while walking. This is completely unacceptable. I simply cannot have a situation where I’m walking and I have to stop at some grass so the dog can spend. I do not believe that this is an unreasonable expectation. Of course, it would seem that this is now a reality and the only reason why I am putting up with it at the moment is because it’s a short term one. If it becomes long term or the solution poses too much of a problem then as I said I will need to look at my options. Right. Getting back to the positive stuff, we made it to the train station very comfortably. It is the most relaxed I’ve seen Ike in over a week and a half. Because he was relaxed I was really positive about everything. It was simply a pleasure to walk with him. I haven’t felt that kind of freedom in a year and a half at least. Yes. Your right, I retired Freddie eight months ago but for quite a while before that I had to be very considerate of his arthritis and his problems maintaining concentration during complicated routes. This morning’s walk was the first opportunity I had found to actually completely trust Ike. That might sound a little strange. Particularly because I actually don’t really mind the occasional knock by a pole or tree. It happens from time to time through no fault of the dog because I have a tendency to walk too fast. Still, it was really nice to be able to trust him completely.

Getting on to the train was reasonably straight forward as well. There was a small crowd getting on at the same door as me but a man near me told me to go ahead so they waited until I had given the dog the instruction to go forward before they started moving. Again, like the past few days he got under the seat without much hassle at all and he was very happy to lye still until we reached our stop an hour and a quarter later.

When we got to Dublin the route through the train station was quite difficult for him but he handled it well. Finding the steps off the platform to the ticket validation machines was very snappy for him. He seemed to just know exactly what I wanted him to look for as soon as he got off the train and he was delighted with himself when he got the praise for walking right over. I was actually a little confused at the start. I almost thought he had been distracted by something. I thought we were further down the platform and it took me a second or two to realise that we were about a half a step away from where I wanted him to find. It can be quite difficult to get decent orientation in a busy train station. It’s so noisy and there are so many people I find that sometimes depending on where the train comes in I have really no idea how far up the platform I am. This is one of the reasons why I love having a dog. They learn from repetition and routine what you’re looking for and they bring you right to it with a bit of prompting, encouragement and praise. It was just a little surprising this morning that Ike was able to find the steps when I gave him very bad directions in terms of my hand signals. After finding the steps we got caught up in a small crowd of people but they were moving in the right direction. I think the best thing to do in that kind of situation is to encourage the dog to just find the way and keep him nice and steady so he doesn’t try to find a clear path somewhere. Once he focuses on his next milestone or his next target or whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t particularly matter if he’s in the crowd or not. Sometimes, the worst thing to do is let the dog get out of the crowd because when there are people walking in the same direction at quite a slow speed there are a lot of small things that can distract the dog. This goes against my normal thinking when walking around the train station. As I said yesterday. Ordinarily, the dog will move around to the side of the crowd so that they are on his left. This way he can keep walking right to his destination without trying to walk through other people. The difference is that when in a crowd you have to refocus the dog on his destination or target when you get out of it because all of the other things around him can potentially grab his attention. We finally got to the ticket machine and the rest was plain sailing. We found the steps down and out of the station and although I’m not particularly comfortable with walking without the hand rail on my right he didn’t seem to have a choice but to bring me down the middle or on the other side. Fortunately, he didn’t pull on the harness at all so I didn’t have any problems. I will be the first to admit that things like open spaces, really noisy areas and steps down with no hand rails really irritate me. In situations like this I instinctually go a little behind the dog. I think I wrote this on day three of training. It’s something the trainer saw me doing and it’s something I almost fell back into this morning in the train station. I really have to be very careful of that. By moving behind the dog he is more likely to think that I want him to turn or veer right because body position and angle can be used for providing direction to guide dogs depending on the situation and the context it’s used in.

After the train station we very comfortably walked down Pierce Street. We have one problem on this street. Actually, I’m not being fair to Ike. It’s not a problem; it’s a tiny issue that we will probably overcome in the next few days. Firstly, he stops too far away from the traffic light pole on that crossing at Pierce station and secondly, when he crosses from pierce station to the other side of the road, he really does not want to go left. It’s not like there’s something there he doesn’t like, he just thinks that going right would be so much more interesting. I have no idea why this is. Yesterday and the day before, I did what I will call an official left turn. This is where you make the dog stop, you take half a step back and you instruct the dog to come across you to your right. As the dog does this you continue prompting and encouraging the dog while you move in a 270 degree turn around to your right clockwise. The result is that you are facing left of your original position. The benefit of this is that the dog will almost always be completely focused on the turn it has just performed and it is also facing directly in line with your intended direction. It may look a bit silly from a distance but as a trainer told me years ago, when you want your guide dog to do something, you’ll shout, sing, dance, clap or role around the ground if it does it for you the way you want it to. He was absolutely right. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that you’re going to look or sound completely stupid because at the end of the day, once you get to where you want to go it’s most likely worth it.

When we finally got to work I was very conscious not to just fall back into my normal routine. I had been warned about this a few times by a number of people. The priority was to get in safely, keep really positive and keep Ike as happy as possible. With that in mind, when I got to the office I sat with him for a moment just giving him loads of praise and a lot of attention. I then prepared his bed so that it was in a decent location near my desk and made sure he was resting comfortably. At that point a few people came over to say hello. They had loads of questions about the training and they were very interested in meeting Ike. Again, everyone who came over asked because they knew from my time with Freddie that I have no problem if people want to talk to the dog while he’s not in harness. I just ask that people let me know beforehand. For the entire morning I caught up on mail, minutes of meetings, project plans, new outstanding tasks and other work that I have to get done and work that was completed while I was away. I therefore had very few reasons to leave my desk. The one time I had to go into a different office I just put Ike onto the lead and took him with me. It was only a few seconds down the hall but it was out of sight so I was a little concerned that Ike would take advantage or at worst start barking or crying. I know that this is something he’ll get use to with time but today wasn’t the day to start working on that. This little distraction was also a perfect opportunity to begin to teach Ike about what I will and won’t except in terms of his interaction with people in the office. I am particularly strict. I’m very aware of this. It’s not that I’m strict on Ike; I’m stricter on other people. I expect that they’ll recognise the dog as a working animal and treat him accordingly. I am very fortunate that the people I work with are all fantastic so I have no concerns at all. What I need to teach Ike is that although he may want to sniff, people won’t pay any attention to him unless he’s in his bed beside my desk. This means I can walk around the office freely and I should never have to be concerned about him looking for attention.

Lunch was the next challenge. I was actually quite nervous about this. The main objective was to bring him to a park called Stephens green to let him relieve himself. I walked up and down along one patch of grass for twenty minutes at the start. He just would not venture from my side. Even though I let him use a flexible lead that extended about fifteen feet he didn’t want to leave me at all. I walked a little further down the park to another area and almost as soon as I extended the lead he had a nice long pee. Now, why he wouldn’t do it in the first area I have no idea. In fact the first area should have been better for him. He’s just a strange animal. That little description doesn’t really go into enough detail. It doesn’t talk about how I walked up and down that path telling the dog to relieve himself. There is a specific command for this. No, I’m not telling you what it is! I really wanted him to do something. Firstly so he got into the routine of knowing that he could expect to have this opportunity half way through the day and secondly because I knew that if he didn’t go I was going to have to stop somewhere on the way home because there was no way he would be able to walk from the train station back home without relieving himself for the entire day.

Anyway, after we took care of that, I grabbed a sandwich and went back to the office. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting during that route. Ike had done it before as it is a hop on the route to the train station. On the way back I didn’t have my right hand free to provide prompts for him if he wasn’t certain of where I wanted him to go but fortunately he had no problems understanding my verbal commands.

Going home could have been terrible! As any train user in Dublin knows, waiting for a train at 5PM is crazy. The stations are really crammed and getting on is like a fight for survival. It’s every man for himself and you’ll only grab a seat if you’re willing to push as much as you’re being pushed. Freddie had a knack for handling this kind of situation. He wasn’t at all fazed by it but Ike had never experienced it until today. Because of his sensitivities it could have gone really badly. I really wanted the end of the day to go smoothly so I asked a few people who worked in the station to make sure that the crowd trying to cram onto the train provided me with the opportunity to get on without anyone trying to push against the dog. I also spoke to a few other passengers who were getting on that I recognise from getting the same train as me every day. I have spoken to a lot of them before while waiting for the train so it wasn’t particularly difficult to let them know that Ike was a new dog, he had never done this kind of thing before and I would really appreciate it if they would give him some space when the train came. With my cautions and the assistance from the staff in the station people were very good about it. They stood back for the few seconds that I needed to provide Ike with the right commands to find the door and get on safely. This is something I will need to do another few times while Ike gets use to this kind of environment but I’m reasonably confident that Ike will find his own way of dealing with it just as Freddie had to do when it was his turn to fight the battle.

The hardest part of the day was actually the part that I thought was going to be the easiest. When we got off the train we began the walk from the train station back home. The first thing that went wrong was I found that Ike was particularly agitated. He was really stressed about something. I thought it might be the high volume of traffic passing quite close to him or the fact that there were a lot of people walking behind us but nothing I did made a difference. We got five minutes into the walk when Ike needed to relieve himself badly. There was nothing I could do about it. He gave me no time to react. Before I could even consider stopping him it was all done. I am actually quite surprised. It’s strange that he didn’t need to spend all day but then he need to do it in the evening. If he could have just held on for another twenty minutes we would have been great! I’m hoping that this change marks an improvement in his solid spending routine. So, although it shouldn’t have happened, I’m trying to be positive. The next thing was that the wind really picked up. I haven’t experienced that kind of wind in quite some time. It really was very powerful. There’s one thing about the wind that you don’t really think of when you are not using a guide dog. That is that it blows leaves, paper, trees and even gates around. This posed a major distraction for a few moments until Ike settled down. It was quite a reasonable distraction I think. If he’s going to get distracted he may as well get distracted by leaves and other things blowing around the path. I have to admit, if I was looking where I was going I think I’d be distracted by that kind of thing too! The next thing to hit us was the torrential rain. Again I hadn’t experienced that kind of rain in about a year. It was really strong and by the time I got home I was completely saturated. My shoes were flooded and the water was just dripping off me. It took me almost twenty minutes to dry Ike. This is not something I particularly like doing. He loves it though. If he wasn’t trying to play with the towel he was trying to play with me. In one way it was a great end for him. Coming in and getting dried and having a good play was a nice way for him to unwind. It also let him be a pup again. He’s very funny when playing with the towel. I noticed this yesterday. When you hold the towel up he puts his two front paws up to try to pull it down so he can grab it with his mouth.

Funnily enough I felt quite guilty about letting him get so wet while we were walking home so I actually dried him and had a bit of a play as well before I got out of my own wet clothes. I couldn’t have left him there while I got changed. I’d have felt terrible thinking of him standing around with so much wet hair. He’s a particularly long haird dog. It must be very uncomfortable for him when he gets so wet. I’m dreading grooming him in a while. His hair is going to be all over the place!

Again, I couldn’t have asked for our first day back at work to go any better. It was one hell of a challenge and I’m quite tired after it all. I’m looking forward to tomorrow but I just hope it doesn’t rain as much. I would hate to get into work with him as wet as he was tonight. I actually think I’d have to go and buy more towels just to dry him off. I used an old towel that I had from when I had Freddie. It is a big beach towel. Even with that massive thing it was soaked after drying Ike. I only have a normal shower towel in work. It would never get him dry if he was as wet as he got tonight.

Sorry if I’ve rambled.

Tomorrow is another aftercare visit from the trainer. It could actually be the last visit that I will need. Of course there is more for Ike to learn and there is more for me to do as well but in terms of what the trainer can do for us I think tomorrow will be the end.

Just one more really quick note. I said earlier that was very conscious of not falling into my old routines from when I had Freddie. I should say that this is really easier said than done. I hope I didn’t fall back into any old habits while working Ike today but there were times when I needed to remind myself that I had to spend more time doing certain things. Even something as simple as telling the dog what direction to take when we get to our floor. Because it’s something that Freddie needed no prompting for I found it really hard to remember to give comprehensive and detailed directions and commands to Ike for finding the lift, finding the door, finding left etc.