OH I know what I want. What I want was introduced to me today.
Mr. Banks is the guide dog in training that i met as part of the official matching visit. This is where a guide dog applicant meets a perspective dog. Or, possibly even several perspective dogs.
Mr. Banks is a cross between a golden retriever and a golden labrador. At first he seems less sensitive than other dogs I’ve trained with but I must point out that I only had a short time to get to know him today. The real fun will start when I attend the national centre for Irish guide dogs for the Blind of Ireland in Cork in October.
Todays matching visit was very interesting. I met with two dogs. Dog 1 is Mr. Banks and Dog 2 is ….. lets just call it dog 2. The first walk with Mr. Banks was not comfortable. I wasn’t happy with it at all. I found that he pulled a lot, he was very distracted and he seemed stressed during the entire walk. The walk with dog 2 was much more comfortable. I instantly read the dogs body language easily. I could step out properly, changes in speed and direction were felt equally well from both my perspective and the dogs perspective and I really liked that it was focused on my commands. However, I was warned about the dogs high sensitivity and based on my past experience I decided that a dog with such high sensitivity wasn’t suitable for my needs at the moment. I would like to say something very clearly at this point. Dog 2 was simply amazing. If I wasn’t so aware of the demands my life style places on a guide dog I would have snapped this dog up in an instant. It is very important to be aware that different dogs are suitable for different handlers. The fact that I didn’t think dog 2 was suitable has absolutely no baring on it’s suitability for someone else. In fact, I almost envy the person who is lucky enough to train with this dog. They are going to have one fantastic guide. Mr. Banks is equally good though. Let me continue to explain.
During the walk with dog 2, I had some time to reflect over a lot of the skills that I haven’t been using for the past year. Body location, handle tension, verbal commands and hand signals are all vitally important when using a guide dog. Although I still remember a lot of the techniques used when working a guide dog, a few of the more subtle requirements didn’t return to memory as easily. For this reason, I asked for the opportunity to walk with Mr. Banks again. The next walk was much more enjoyable. He was still a little distracted and the speed of his starts from a straight stand kept taking me by surprise but I was much more prepared. We walked to a local coffee shop through some busy areas and narrow paths. I began to find some of his little movements entertaining. He almost dives off ramps for example. Because I was more aware of the methods I could use to keep him focused he was a lot easier to work. I came to the conclusion that I will probably need to work a little harder on my working relationship with Mr. Banks but I can tell that it’s possible that he will work very well for me. I could be wrong here, but it seems that if I want a dog that can put up with my life style, I need a dog that will be a little less sensitive. This might mean that his work needs a bit more attention but overall the package should be more suitable.
I am being very cautious during this process. I am going to blog during the training process but to be straight with you, it’s more for my benefit. I find the previous posts on this topic to be a very interesting source of information. They remind me what I’m getting in to and they remind me of the challenges I’m facing as well. I am aware that certain opinions would suggest that publicly tracking the training process could give an unbalanced view of the struggles of training with a guide dog. It is a difficult time for both dog and handler and if this is not openly acknowledged it is very possible that the tone of the text could be lean toward the negative unintentionally. I am very conscious of this. I fully respect this opinion as I understand that if a perspective guide dog handler was to read such negative experiences it could potentially put them off applying for a dog in the future. I will be as fair and as balanced as possible while documenting my progress however, of course, my account will be truthful therefore with all the good posts I am sure to write, there will be a fair amount of negative posts. Training with a dog is hard but rewarding. Some days things will go well and some days they will be terrible. The important thing I would ask you the reader to keep in mind is that when a partnership between a guide dog and a handler works, it is unbeatable. As time goes on, the good days become more frequent than the bad.
Bring on October! I can hardly wait!