Day 1 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

Roam wasn’t built in a day.

I’ve been noticing a major increase in traffic to this site over the past two days. It’s making me a little apprehensive so will you all just go away please? Ha! I know a lot of you are looking forward to these posts so I’ll try to make them worth your while. In all seriousness though, I have to say a very sincere thank you to all my regular readers of this website. Your support in comments, email and messages on both Facebook and Twitter has been very appreciated. You are the reason why I am writing an account like this again.

They say Roam wasn’t built in a day but are they really sure? With the day I’ve just had, I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t possible to build an entire city in a day because the dog that is lying beside me at the moment is so nice and chilled out I couldn’t see it getting any better! How could we build on what already seems to be perfection. Isn’t that brilliant? No. Not that it seems to be perfection, the fact that I’m this comfortable around a dog after only meeting him properly twelve hours ago. Imagine what we’ll be like in twelve months? I’ve had to remind myself that it’s only our first day together. That’s because he has completely exceeded my expectations. In and out of Harness. I’m seriously impressed with him. The fantastic thing really is that this is only the first of many many days where we can get to know each other better.

I was dreading the introduction this morning. I was afraid he wouldn’t get on with me, he’d be too attached to the instructor, he’d be too giddy, too mouthy or even just too lazy! I really didn’t know what to expect. I admit, I’m not a dog person. I need to consciously be aware of my interaction with dogs. I like dogs, don’t get me wrong, I also love having a guide dog. But, compared to “dog people”, it doesn’t come as naturally to me. So, I was just a bit nervous about the whole thing. Mr Banks as he will be referred to on this blog and all other online social mediums was as cool as anything. He walked into the room, had a sniff of the ground, the chair, the bed, the wall, the air, the toilet, the shower and everything else he could possibly reach then he decided that I was far more interesting than all that stuff so he decided to do circles around me. He seems to love getting his ears, chest, back and just above his tail rubbed. Oh. He doesn’t pass up a good chin rub either. Once you keep doing that, he does a figure of eight constantly to make sure you give all the important parts the right amount of attention. He’s quite helpful really. So, after the initial excitement he had another quick exploratory sniff of the room. I’m not sure where he found it but he started teasing me with something in his mouth. He’d walk up to me, and touch me with his head but he wouldn’t actually show me what was in his mouth. After some playing, I found out it was a door stop. He thought that was a brilliant game but when I finally extracted it, I took out a more suitable toy. I had taken a new ragger with me for him because this is the toy I’m most comfortable with. It is a rope with a not on each end. Working from left to right, it’s frayed on the end, then there’s a not, then it’s a twisted rope, a knot again and the other end is frayed as well. It’s great though. The dog holds onto the twisted rope in the middle and the human holds onto the two frayed parts. This gives plenty of grips for both dog and human. The one who pulls it out of the grip of the other wins. It’s that simple really. However, it can be a battle at times before someone finally gives up. I have to admit, I under estimated Mr Banks the first few times. I didn’t think he’d be that strong, sneaky or resourceful. He plays, relaxes then whips it out of my hand. Or, he plays for a while, lies down then roles over and uses his paws to try to push my hand away. I’m wise to him now. I know his tricks so his days of winning are over! Some dogs can’t be left alone with a ragger and I think Mr Banks might be one of them. They tend to chew the rope if their board. It’s a real pity because the ragger is such a nice toy for them to play with. I’m very glad I took one with me. Having the confidence to play with Mr Banks right from the start has made the day go much faster I think. I think he might be aware on some level that it doesn’t have to be all work and no play as well.

Ok. The play is great fun with Mr Banks but let me tell you about the really brilliant part. We did three walks today! Yeah! Three! I can’t believe my luck. They were three nice long walks as well. They weren’t technically perfect then again, there’s no way anyone could expect them to be perfect, but they were relaxed, enjoyable, effortless and completely void of any stress. I think I can say the same for Mr Banks as well. His body language felt great through the harness. We walked through some very quiet residential areas and a small town. There were a few points I was a little concerned about during the matching visit but it seems like these have been almost completely taken care of. It is actually like walking a completely different dog to the one I met a month ago. I even said this to his instructor. I think it’s important to reiterate that by the time perspective guide dogs start class with a handler, a lot of work has been done by puppy walkers, the early training unit and the advanced instructors to get them to this level. So, for this reason, I would encourage you to use the donate button that I’ve placed on the right of this site. Sorry to talk about fund raising but seriously folks, this charity deserves it. Without them I’d be looking at more time using a cane. You can’t begin to understand how much having a guide dog improves my quality of life. Anyway, getting back to the work, as I said, it wasn’t perfect. He made a few mistakes and so did I. For example, I need to remember to step back when doing the continental heal, I need to be more aware of when he’s becoming distracted, I need to improve my body position when he’s approaching a curb and I’m sure there are a lot of other things I need to be aware of as well. The great thing is, this is only the first day and things will improve gradually with time. Now, to be clear, there are going to be days that go badly. There are days when I’m going to want to give the whole thing up. There are going to be days where he doesn’t work well at all. But, that’s all part of it. What I’m talking about is the overall training process. Oh, although I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts, I should also reiterate that what works for one guide dog partnership will not necessarily work for another. I will try to reframe from talking about specific solutions that I will use while training with Mr Banks however, if one slips out that you think might be useful to you, please consult with your guide dog mobility instructor before taking any action and also give me a good slap on the wrists for being so stupid as well.

Mr Banks is certainly a cheeky fecker. 50% of the time when I tell him to do something he doesn’t do it. 25% of the time it’s simply because he doesn’t want to and the other 25% is probably because he’s still getting use to me but I’m quite quickly learning that he has his own mind. If he’s intently sniffing the door handle and you tell him to leave it alone he will possibly completely ignore you because, let’s face it, the door handle is much more interesting than a human. I don’t actually mind a bit of give and take. I know that given time his obedience will improve but I’m not pushing it just yet. I want him to relax first. Of course, it’s important to be consistent so maybe I’m making a mistake but without going into details, in the unlikely event the outcome a year ago was my fault, I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. If there’s any chance that I could have caused sensitivity in the past, I want to be quite certain that I don’t do it again. If that means working a little harder to attain the required level of obedience while keeping Mr Banks completely chilled out then I’m absolutely fine with that. For the next five weeks, Mr Banks is my one and only priority in this world. Absolutely nothing else matters. I’m really trying not to make any comparisons between other experiences and the new relationship that I’m building with Mr Banks so please feel free to virtually hit me with a big stick if you find that I’m doing that too much.

So, let me finish this very long blog post up with a few things that I really like about Mr Banks at the moment:

  • He’s very interested in everything that goes on around him.
  • When I get up to do something he takes an interest in me instantly. So much so, if I do something that he thinks might result in a quick rub, he comes over to stick his nose in. I like this interaction. Mainly because I know where I stand with him. If he wants me he comes over. If he doesn’t want me, he lies in the middle of the floor.
  • He’s very vocal and creative while playing. I really like that he can completely relax. That’s very important.
  • My god when he is let out to pee he does it within seconds! He’s incredible!
  • The person holding the food bole is god. This is nice. He really seems to love his food.
  • While working, if he’s walking around people or avoiding an obstacle his pace is really comfortable. He slows when he needs me to get that little bit closer to him but if my normal distance is fine he just fly’s right on through. I learned that today when I stupidly didn’t pay enough attention and I rubbed off a bush. That’s damn good for a first day when the worst I’ve done is rub off a bush though!
  • He already knows where the toys are kept and when I walk past that door he is very interested in every single action. I expect he’ll learn that I enjoy winding him up just a little before too long.

Some things I’m not so sure of yet.

  • The dog bed is evil and must be eaten at all costs. Either that or, the bed is the most delicious thing in the world and must therefore be eaten at all costs. Either way, his bed gets eaten quite a lot. I’ve given him a Cong to chew now so maybe he’ll get his teeth into that instead.
  • If something is on the floor, it is logically his to do with what he pleases. Usually this means he’ll carry it around to show it to the world but I suspect if I wasn’t there to extract it, it would get eaten. This is a minor concern. Not because I can’t manage it but more because it means that he’s going to have less freedom if it continues. That’s a pity.

So, there you have it. My first day with Mr Banks. It’s almost over and you know what? I’m kind of glad! I didn’t expect it but I’m actually tired!

Bring on tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what happens.


6 Responses to Day 1 – Training with Mr Banks, my new guide dog

  1. He sounds like a keeper. Best of look to you and Mr. Banks.

  2. Avatar Louise Taylor
    Louise Taylor says:

    That sounds like a brilliant first day! Do you know, with both dogs I’ve had, I was never taught the continental heel!

  3. I love how you can write in so much detail about training, and explain things really well without being boring or long-winded. He sounds like a great dog and a real character already. O.J will be delighted now with two young dogs to play with. In his head he’s 2 years old as well 🙂
    And if it makes you feel any better, I usually still have to tell him something at least twice before he does it. He still likes to see what he can get away with.

  4. Digital Darragh is kind of tired!!!!!! I like Mr Banks already. He sounds like a big relaxed clever individual. Definitely an individual. Get him out of that habit of eating things left on the floor – could be a bit of the pipes some day……

    Really pleased that your first day was so engaging.

  5. Very happy for the both of you that its going well! I might see you training someday here in Cork! 🙂

  6. Well, sounds like things are really going well with you. I am delighted. Because all of this training is very fresh in my head having only come back from that very same centre just a few weeks ago its nice to read you describing it in a different way. Sounds just like the kind of dog you need and one that will require lots of handling by you and lots of fun times for you, the dog and Emma ahead I reckon. 🙂