I’ve neglected this blog lately. It’s a shame! I enjoy writing in it.
Last Friday marked twelve weeks since I was in the guide dogs centre in Cork with Ike. It’s hard to believe that he’s been here for twelve weeks already.
Things have settled down substantially lately. I said in my last post about Ike that I was changing his food. He’s now on James well beloved. This is a food that is specifically designed for dogs with very sensitive stomachs. It’s also fully natural so it is still very good for him. When he started eating this it was like someone had pressed a button for him. His spending routine became much more reliable and in fact we haven’t had one incident where he has needed to spend on a walk in almost four weeks now. This is an incredible achievement for him. I am delighted that we’ve finally got there. It certainly took a lot of work and a lot of time but I think it’s been worth it.
Ike has been working really well it has to be said. I’ve kept him to reasonably regular routes as I said here before. The main routes he has are to and from work, around my local area, around the area of my office and a few places in Drogheda. I’ve been very careful not to throw too much at him too quickly. There are also places I just couldn’t consider going to yet. For example, I couldn’t walk from my office to Connolly station through the IFSC because I have no idea how to do it myself. There’s a shortcut through the Irish Financial Services Centre that cuts a lot of time off the walk but Freddie knew the way. I just followed him. That’s not something I’d like to get Ike to do yet. I don’t think he’ll be up to taking that kind of responsibility for a few months yet. As I’ve said a few times, his confidence is one of the main things that he needs work on. He’ll have to have a lot of confidence to walk around that area because there are a lot of open spaces and the straight line principal will basically have to go out the window in that area.
Of course, when Ike isn’t working he’s enjoying himself. There are a few people in work that make sure he remembers he’s still a pup from time to time. I don’t encourage that but at the same time, they don’t do it all that often and they know when to stop so I don’t have a problem with it either. It all goes back to my aim when I got Ike first. I want to make as many of his early experiences as positive as possible. That has been of major benefit actually. He enjoys getting into the office to get attention from people. He also enjoys the walk from the train station in the morning when we get to Dublin because again, he knows that on the way there, we’ll stop for a coffee and he’ll get even more attention. These little distractions from time to time keep his mind at rest. As we’ve progressed, he’s needed less and less distractions and less attention but I’m continuing to ensure that everything remains very positive for him. In some situations I’ve actually had to cut back on the positivity because it was having a negative impact on his obedience.
If for example we drove to my parents’ house I’d let Ike out of the car and let him run up the driveway to the front door. He loves being able to walk from room to room getting people’s attention but the lack of control was starting to become a problem. When I called him back or gave him another command it took him a long time to listen. Instead of coming back to me he he wanted to play instead. This wasn’t his fault. In Ike’s mind this was his free time. Listening to me wasn’t that important. I’ve had to start consistently keeping control of him. As a policy when I’m somewhere I know such as my parents’ house I won’t keep him on a lead because I don’t think it’s necessary or fair. Instead I’ve begun telling him to come. When he begins to walk ahead I say no in a relaxed but firm tone. I also hold my left hand out slightly with my palm toward him so he knows to stay behind it. I use to do that with Freddie. My palm was basically a stop sign for him. If we were out somewhere and someone told me he was getting up when across the room all I had to do was open my hand in his direction then point down. I don’t know what it is about it but he always got the message. Ike is also instinctively doing the same thing.
Of course, my family think I’m being very strict by keeping more control over him and they continually give out about it however my firm opinion on this is Ike is my guide dog. I entrust my safety to him every day of the week. This means that I need to rely on his obedience and attention. Letting it waver even in one situation could impact other environments where his attention and obedience is absolutely vital. I make the rules that he follows. I say what he can and can’t do. I feed him, I let him out to relieve himself, I walk him, I play with him, I praise him when he’s done something well and on the very rare occasion where it’s required, I correct him when he’s done something that isn’t acceptable. I am Ike’s one stop shop for what is and isn’t allowed because Ike is my one stop shop for mobility. That’s just as simple as it gets. I admit, when I got Freddie first I was probably somewhat susceptible to others opinions of the way I interact with my guide dog however now I completely ignore them.
I’d also just like to summarise a few other problems that I’ve had with Ike that just took time to sort them out.
He hated his bed. Even in the centre he wouldn’t get into his plastic bed. With the mat on the floor he was a little more comfortable but even with that he was a bit hesitant. When I got him home I really wanted him to sleep in his bed. I wanted him to be comfortable in it and importantly, I wanted him to recognise that this is his space. It’s a space that I don’t interfere with at all when he’s in it. He however got really nervous and anxious while just sitting in it. I sorted this out over about a month by spending a certain amount of time every day just sitting beside his bed talking to him while he was in it. I also gave any treats such as bones when he was sitting in it. I did everything I could think of to make him more relaxed. As time went on he became more settled. Now he’s quite happy to go there to relax in the evenings and I actually have to go over to him in the morning to give him a bit of a rub before he’ll bother to get up.
The other problem I had with Ike is in cars. He really didn’t like them and in fact got quite travel sick. I am a little frustrated that the centre didn’t make me aware of this during training as it was something I could have prepared for to make this particular experience even more positive for him. I didn’t give it a second thought. Freddie had no problems jumping in and out of cars and because I admittedly have limited experience with dogs I never really considered that Ike would be uncomfortable in them. It was only through a brief conversation with his puppy walker that my suspicions were verified. The way I got around this was quite simple. When Ike was in the boot I sat in the back seat so that I could reach my hand across to give him a rub. This always calmed him down. I reduced the attention I gave to him over time. I also ensured to correct any crying or any excessive walking around so that he understood what I expected. E rarely use taxis but for the first few times I arranged to have a friend pick us up. This was great because he loves dogs and gave Ike a lot of attention. I also made sure that we weren’t in a hurry and when we got out I had a few minutes to play with Ike. This was a little strange. When traveling to the train station in Drogheda for example I got a taxi early one morning so that I had some time to play with Ike after we got out of the car for a moment. It wasn’t particularly crazy playing. It was just a case of letting him run after his toy for a minute or two. This kind of rewarding destination approach was suggested by his puppy walker and has worked wonders for Ike. It has now got to the stage where Ike travels in cars with no problems even though we probably have only used a taxi once in the past month. At least now I can depend on him to behave properly and remain reliable when traveling in cars. I couldn’t do that twelve weeks ago.
So. There you have it, a quick summary of Ike after twelve weeks.